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The fight to remain relevant after Covid-19


Xolile Sizani, Group CEO , Servest


By Xolile Sizani

26 May 2020: Against the backdrop of a struggling economy, the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has presented even greater challenges to businesses, both big and small, public and private sectors alike. We are still in a state of shock, but perhaps what will matter is how we emerge from this, even as we see the real negative impact of Covid-19 unfolding. At the moment, it is said we will have a risk of losing seven million jobs. The Impact of Covid-19 on SMEs, a report released by Sasfin and sme.Africa, states that the pandemic and lockdown have in fact exposed about 75% of South African enterprises to high risk, which means these enterprises will struggle to survive the lockdown if the status quo continues.

As clients continue to assess the need for certain services and the relevance of certain non-essential services, now businesses must show relevance and impact to retain contracts and minimise contract terminations as much as possible. They need to negotiate contracts and ensure that they can still generate an income, even if not at the full value.

Companies that have been rendering non-essential services, for example, have taken the biggest knock during this time.

Ultimately, businesses need to ensure that they generate some income rather than no income at all. It will be a tough journey, but times like these call for agile and resilient leadership. This is when leaders must come out and save businesses, not cower and quickly give up without a fight.

We are being forced to rethink and relook our strategies; we cannot keep doing the same old things and hoping our old ways will work post Covid-19. The non-essential service businesses that have seriously struggled during this time should implement agile strategies to reinforce the way in which they will work and remain relevant going forward.

We must not let panic set in among us; perhaps of importance to highlight is that we must look at ways to cut costs and expenditure.

This is a time for leaders to think beyond just the business, but to look at the impact of the business on the SA economy and to work towards ensuring that as many companies as possible can regroup and post Covid-19 can continue contributing towards growing the economy.

This will not be an easy task, especially given the economic challenges that lie ahead.

Servest has been significantly impacted by Covid-19. We have lost some clients along the way, in some instances our contracts were put on hold, and we have had clients requesting 24-hour notice to terminate. We have colleagues who are at home, not working, because the sites that they work on have been designated as non-essential. In such instances, because the sites are not being used or colleagues are not working, payments stop – but the bottom line is that this affects families.

These are some of the gruelling challenges that even big businesses are facing, and so it is up to us to look at where we can shoulder the burden of the challenges.

We have had to look at how we work and have restructured in certain areas to ensure that all our colleagues are able to generate an income. We have tapped into the UIF relief funding and other funding available and worked with colleagues to access these resources and ensure that they and their families can shoulder the financial burden of Covid-19 during this time.

It is critical to approach this challenge with a resilient spirit, a long-term and positive view, because if one gives up without a fight, you may miss the bigger picture. The reality is that some services may not be required post COVID-19, but some services will, and so we must focus on the positive. There are also opportunities for reinvention, re-engineering and expansion of services offered; and a need to review business strategies with a view to realigning them.

The grass is getting taller everywhere. With the gradual lifting of the lockdown, people will want to get out, the kids will want to play in the park, use the soccer grounds and play hockey, golfers will want to get back to the swing of things. A broader view of our current reality is necessary.

Bearing in mind a number of considerations, we have had to map out a strategy focused on a long-term view of where we want to take the business. In some areas we have had to move very swiftly to introduce new solutions and product ranges to our conventional offering. In times like these, leaders must be agile and deliver with speed, while managing risk.

The trick is to identify areas where one can offset some of the challenges across the business and establish areas where a company can contribute within the ambit of essential services and outside of its expertise to be able to sustain itself during this time and beyond. While there have been a number of functional considerations to make around how we proceed during this time, there must also be strategic thinking in the process and approach.

If there is a lesson to learn from China, it’s that China is going to be a global player in the production and manufacturing of the bulk of goods and services used across the world, not by chance, but because they have been planning and implementing this goal. Now they are at a phase where the strategy is hatching. These are strategies that were developed over 50 years ago.

While we’ve experienced a lot of the downside of Covid-19, we must look at the opportunities it presents for the country’s local economy, review our strategies and take a much longer-term view, where we implement, monitor and evaluate our progress. We must go back to what the National Development Plan (NDP) sought to achieve, review if we are on track or have diverted, so that we genuinely strengthen and grow our economy. Let us not let this crisis go to waste, something must come out of it. Let us resuscitate our manufacturing sectors and grow our agricultural economy, strengthen industries to enable job creation, so that if ever something like this should happen again in our world, we do not lament with the same cries as we have during this Covid-19 .

Xolile Sizani is the Group Chief Executive Officer of Servest, the first black owned facilities management company in Africa. Servest currently has a footprint across eight countries in Africa. The Group employs 24 000 people across 11 100 sites. The company provides integrated facilities solutions for the internal and external built and marine environments; including solutions such as internal and external design and space planning, cost optimisation analysis, carbon impact reduction, cleaning, parking, catering, hygiene, security, pest control, office plants, and landscaping.




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