Leadership lessons: How one of South Africa’s largest retailers found the resilience to overcome a world of disruption.

24 Nov 2020

Leadership lessons: How one of South Africa’s largest retailers found the resilience to overcome a world of disruption.

Bradley Nitsckie, Head of Supply Chain and Logistics at Woolworths SA, on learning from a crisis, and why some leaders are better equipped to cope.

In part two of this interview, Chania Stempowski, Joint MD of Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa, finds out what the future holds for global and local supply chains, as well as the importance of deep relationships, and the kind of leaders that thrive in this much-disrupted world.

Chania: Given all the pressure on global supply chains, are we heading for a new era of procurement for resilience rather than cost?

Bradley: We have all lived through the major globalisation shifts and while we all know that the longer the supply chain, the higher the supply chain risk, global supply chains have proven quite reliable. With the use of technology, integrated processes and supply-chain orchestration, most global supply chains have proven quite reliable and resilient.

That said, there is no doubt that the value of local supply chains has been emphasized for its offer of resilience and agility, clearly highly valued in a pandemic.

I am certain that this will drive shifts in the sourcing and supply chain strategies, although I don’t think we will see a complete shift away from global supply chains.

I do think we will see a resurgence of local supply chains.

Chania: Is there an argument now for strengthening relationships and communications with local suppliers?

Bradley: Orchestration and collaboration with suppliers and partners in the supply chain drives out inefficiency, improves performance and enables improved learning between the partners.

This should always be valued, and not just at the transactional level of using collaborative tools like supplier portals, electronic data exchange and sharing data, but also through joint management forums, supplier collaborations, commercial partnering and at a strategic level.

We are firm believers in creating partnerships with our suppliers and that is true for local and international suppliers.

During the pandemic, the ability to coordinate effectively in operational response, the ability to share COVID-19 protocol learning and the ability to assist each other was possible because of our deep partnerships.

While this is always valued, I am certain more can be done and I am certain that we have more to learn in this area.

Chania: Are there aspects of your operating models that are now changed forever?

Bradley: I think COVID-19 has accelerated our learning and enabled us to build a framework for a severe health crisis and emphasized areas of strength and weakness.

It is quite important for us to embed some of the learning, new ways of operating and to continue to build on our strengths and to work on those areas of weakness which were showed up.

There is little doubt that this will have impacted our operating models and made us more resilient.
We have seen our people responding to the need to working differently, in designing spatially to support social distancing, enabling remote working due to travel restrictions and working from home in some cases.

There are many lessons for us in this and we are busy identifying which are useful for adopting for the future.

Chania: What do you think will be the lasting legacies for supply chain management?

Bradley: When in crisis, having good people who are guided by a clear set of values helps to navigate the difficulty in such a way as to achieve the best outcome. As supply chain management professionals, we will always develop the contingency-based models, frameworks and the learning to enable high levels of performance, it is the investment in our people that is most important.

In a crisis, there is a great deal of unchartered territory and the organisation is reliant on the ability of skilled individuals, guided by a set of values and behaviour, to make the right decisions and to take the right actions.

Supply Chains must hold both sides of the paradox of strategic agility/flexibility and enable both and we will likely see an embedded legacy of this value into the future.

Chania: Did you have any reflections on what kind of leaders you saw stepping up during this crisis?

Bradley: Of course, a crisis often reveals all of the strengths as well as weaknesses in individuals, teams and the organisation.

A critical leadership quality during this time is to lead through driving focus and cohesion in response to the immediate dangers and challenges. These leaders focus on what needs to be done and how we can best leverage each other’s skill to do so. This is not about emphasising our differences and weaknesses, but rather focusing on messages of how we can best achieve the necessary if we work together.

Leading with empathy, a strong set of values as a framework and with an ability to construct a cohesive response is critical in ensuring that the right decisions are made in the most effective manner.

The situation called for a strong bias to operational knowledge to ensure operational stability, but also to combine that with innovative contributions from other leaders in adapting processes and developing new solutions to ensure business continuity.

Critically, the pandemic has hastened the need for new solutions while current operations require protection and this paradox has required leaders who can hold both sides of that tension to ensure the most effective responses.

Chania: Has lockdown changed your view on future talent plans?

Bradley: We have known for some time that the nature of work is shifting. The high rate of change comes from the deployment of technology, business models shifts, and customer and employee expectation changes in response to the many global challenges faced by organisations and society.

This hyper change cycle has been shifting the way organisations do business in the market-place and changed how organisations view their role in society and how organisations function internally.

This has new implications for leadership and talent models with values-based leadership, a focus on leadership skills such as empathy and leadership behaviours receiving significant focus. The pandemic has hastened this shift.

Leaders whose behaviours enable them to motivate and empower teams, who have the skills to show empathy with people inside and outside the organisation, and leaders who are guided by a strong set of values, are highly effective during a time of high levels of anxiety, uncertainty and change.

These leaders have the social skills to enable innovation from the bottom up through supporting autonomous actions.

These leaders are able to show an ambidextrous ability, accommodating both continuously improving current operations while exploring new innovations.

They promote a more social model of work and a more free-flowing learning orientation, while being guided by a strong sense of doing the right thing.

We continue on the journey towards building these leadership models, taking many of the real-life lessons brought by the pandemic to bolster the existing knowledge in this area.

Chania: Thank you, Bradley, for your thoughtful answers and an insight into the importance of the right leadership, especially in these difficult times.

Read part one of this interview here.