End-of-year reflection for 2019

Here is my end-of-year reflection for 2019. It provides insight into my work as a management consultant for non-profit organizations and social enterprises in South Africa.

I believe strongly in the value of deliberate reflection. Therefore, I write regularly in my journal and strive to do weekly reviews. 

This article reflects on some key trends I’ve observed and the work I’ve been doing. It also looks at some lessons I’ve learned and changes I intend to make in 2020. 

Interesting trends in South Africa

While interest in social enterprises has continued to grow, I believe that this sector is still in its infancy. I’ve encountered a few proper social enterprises; most are on their journey to social enterprise.

Some decent support programmes for social enterprises have emerged. While I’m most familiar with the Social Enterprise Academy, I’ve also heard good things about programmes run by corporates like Barloworld, SAP and FNB. However, too many inexperienced organizations have jumped on the bandwagon. I look forward to some more genuine investment in this space.

I no longer have to convince people of the value of improving their revenue and investment income. I’m frequently asked for advice on this issue, and how to pursue different income sources and types. This is in stark contrast to when I started consulting 20 years ago – when any ‘business advice’ was considered immoral. 

I’m encouraged by the Social Economy Strategy which is being developed by the Economic Development Department, International Labour Organization, and other stakeholders. Consultations have taken place throughout South Africa. I’ve provided input into this strategy on several occasions. Two of my articles were referenced in the Green Paper and I was quoted in some of the discussion documents. This strategy will hopefully shine the spotlight on the sector and make it easier for those organizations that are trying to improve the world.

I’ve noticed more organizations learning how to access the opportunities created by the B-BBEE codes, especially around the Skills Development Code and the Enterprise and Supplier Development Code. This will be more effective than simply seeing corporates as pots of CSI funding.  

I’m happy that the obsession with hybrid legal forms seems to have passed. It was largely based on several confusions about legal forms. Social entrepreneurs have hopefully begun to realize that their business model is more important to their success. 

My general focus in 2019

I spent most of 2019 working on large strategy projects – strategic assessments, facilitation of strategic processes and some strategy design. This is my core business andI enjoyed it. 

I also enjoyed helping an agricultural investment fund in Kenya to mitigate the effects of climate change. My work focused on the value chains of local businesses that either buy from farmers or sell to farmers. This project was a powerful reminder of the impact that a business can have. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in Kenya in October (though I was shocked to see how poorly South Africa is perceived by East Africans.)

I learned a lot from the community development strategy we developed for a mining trust in the Northern Cape. I discovered how closely the broad increase of household income in a community is associated with an allround reduction in social problems. I was also reminded  how it’s better to focus one’s interventions rather than spreading efforts too broadly. 

I did a fair amount of coaching in 2019 and have seen amazing progress by the  people I’ve helped. This has been emotionally fulfilling. I also learned to use Skype for coaching people in other cities, though I still prefer face-to-face conversations.

I managed several small projects to design complex business models and untangle messy legal arrangements and hybrid models. I also helped a few non-profits and social enterprises to think through their enterprise and supplier development interactions with corporates. 

What worked well

I managed to produce 17 articles, presentations and strategy briefs – more than ever before. I’ve made a concerted effort to write every morning as I drink my first coffee of the day. 

My favourite articles are my reflection on the Pumpkin Plan and how I’ve been using my iPad, and my advice on how to design a philosophy for your organization. I’m grateful to my friends for their help: Philip Anastasiadis has been my steadfast editor and Brendan Quinlivan helped with my design work. 

I took an entire year to produce a short ebook on enterprise development models for non-profit organizations and social enterprises. I will share this in early January 2020. The B-BBEE Codes were surprisingly difficult to understand and I revised this document many times. I’m very grateful to Nicole Copley from NGO Law and Philippa Hurley for their contributions to this project.

I continued to absorb useful information from books and podcasts. My favourite podcasts in 2019 were Letters from a Hopeful Creative and Lead to Win. My favourite three ‘business’ books were Atomic Habits, The Pumpkin Plan and Free to Focus

My support structures and regeneration habits worked well. These include strength training at the gym, playing with my cat and taking him for walks on a lead, being challenged by my mentor (Andy Simpson from Imani Development) and my coach/psychologist. My time with my friends and family, and weekly walks in Kirstenbosch Gardens, have also helped me to regenerate my energy levels.

What did not work

I’ve felt overwhelmed and tired too often. This has not been because of the complexity of a given project, but rather the breadth of activities that must be fitted into a workday. I’ve frequently messed up my scheduling, logistics and follow-ups. I’m behind on all my emails and admin.

I’ve used several productivity strategies to reduce how often I’ve felt overwhelmed. For example, I’ve been very selective about the type of work I do. I’ve said ‘no’ more often. I’ve become less accessible. I’ve delegated wherever I’ve been able to. While these tactics have alleviated this feeling, they haven’t fixed it.

I’ve tended to neglect any work that requires extended periods of introverted concentration in favour of my extroverted work (e.g. management, coaching, facilitation). The problem is a backlog has developed and I’ve been struggling to find time to catch up. 

I’ve also slipped into the bad habit of processing email on a Saturday morning (while at a coffee shop). This is a slippery slope. In the past it led to me working weekends and evenings, and subsequently getting very sick and burning out.

What I will improve or do differently next year

I’m busy ‘lifting’ my brand to become congruent with the type of work I do. I want to create a premium experience for a select set of customers. My writing and presentations will support my broader audience. 

I also look forward to doing more work across Africa. I’m already booked for some more work in Kenya and possibly in Zambia in 2020.

I’ll be launching a newsletter shortly so that I can reach my audience directly. Twitter and Linked-in have become fickle in how they distribute my content. Some of my best articles, which were peer-reviewed and took me 15+ hours to write, were side-lined by their algorithms.

I will continue to improve my workflow by eliminating (saying ‘no’), automating and delegating. I have recently hired a part-time virtual assistant to help manage my emails and calendar and provide administrative support. This will enable me to spend more time on my strategy work and writing.  

Conclusion

I’m very grateful to do work I’m passionate about. I feel that my career is heading in the right direction. I’m seeing the results of 20 years of hard work to build my profile and consulting business. I also feel privileged to be financially stable, have a home, be in good health, feel generally happy, and have friends and family. 

I suggest you also do a review of your work-life before this year ends. This will inform your goals for 2020.

In pursuit of strategic clarity

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