Paving the road to reward - 21st Century style

While the South African corporate sector is facing incredible challenges that include low economic growth, stagnant consumer demand, transformation issues aroundpay inequality and the fair distribution of wealth, there are also rich opportunities presenting themselves. Transformation in terms of wealth redistribution in the corporate sector is a goal shared by both government and greater society and a process that can result in highly rewarding prospects for business itself and all stakeholders if approached in the correct manner.

21st Century – a remuneration and reward and organisation development consultancy – is a good example of just how successful a well implemented transformation plan can be. In 2015, the company entered into a Broad-Based Share Ownership Transaction and an Employee Share Ownership Programme. The result was a newly-named, black-owned entity that incorporated the introduction of a B-BBEE trust for the 21st Century staff.

Over the last few years, the company has seen:

  • their employee engagement index rise to one of the highest in South Africa
  • their employees having taken ownership resulting in ‘jobs’ now being perceived as  careers
  • a culture of high performance and ownership
  • an employee retention rate at almost 100%
  • staff having done away with silo mentality between departments and service lines
  • expansion of services to include 12 new lines
  • a sales force inspiring a new sales process of holistic service with cross selling as a way of life
  • themselves becoming the preferred supplier in the public sector with a dominant market share in this area
  • their clients recognising the staff development and ownership culture resulting in the delivery of more effective solutions in the market


So how does a company successfully transform?

CEO Chris Blair says, “My advice is to follow a transformation strategy for the right reasons and not just to tick the box of meeting B-BBEE legislation. Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus before making this huge ownership change. A New Way of Work is becoming a trend that includes the following:

  • knowing the organisation PURPOSE and transformation strategy
  • improve individual, team and organisational TRUST
  • establishing ALTERNATIVE CONTROLS which enhance collaboration and autonomy
  • enhancing SELF-MANAGEMENT and ownership of performance
  • establishing EXTREME STAKEHOLDER ALIGNMENT in support of a common outcome
  • Enhancing CREATIVE INNOVATION in support of continuous improvement ”

From experience, Blair says that it’s also important to enthuse your staff and get them to understand and buy into the process so that the business gets the benefit of the transformation through higher ;levels of engagement, higher performance and increased efficiency.

21st Century has thrived since its successful B-BBEE implementation and four areas of the business in particular have grown dramatically. These areas include the company’s industry and customised survey business; its data mining, with increased data housing and the technical aspects of big data; organisational structuring to improve efficiency and business results for their clients; and change management to get their clients people to complete the change journey willingly and positively.

This growth has resulted in the election of three new Executive Directors. Blair says, “Diversity at Board level has certainly introduced fresh thinking into the business.” Growth has been nation-wide including the Western and Northern Cape Region, and increased local capacity in KwaZulu-Natal as well as the Eastern Cape.

“The company’s reach and growth has expanded regionally and in different sectors. We are also comfortable that 21st Century has mitigated leadership risk and is a sustainable entity. We are able to meet our client’s needs through increased diversity at Board level. We have also extended our capacity in Southern Africa in all touch border countries, and have grown our presence in Singapore by making inroads in the Asian region.”

While transformation is key, there are ongoing challenges affecting the South African landscape at present.

Blair believes that the main challenges facing businesses in South Africa in 2019 are:

  • that economic growth is fairly flat, so companies have to look for growth innovatively
  • the acquisition of scarce skills to meet business needs and capacity is difficult even in the face of huge unemployment
  • the fluid political landscape both locally and internationally - fuelled by populism in America and Europe - makes for uncertainty in business
  • corruption that needs to be carefully eradicated under the new elected government
  • increasing entrepreneurial companies in the SME space
  • creating jobs through high growth of SMEs instead of corporates and the public sector

Given these ongoing challenge, Blair believes that industry should be focusing on fluid business conditions due to the economic and political situation, global anti-establishment aimed at executive pay and the wage gap, innovative wealth redistribution, data mining and  analytics, increased governance for tenders, decision making blockages due to politics locally and available skills to meet the industry needs.

Blair says, “We have a robust country with great people that always find a solution and see the upside in challenging times. We embrace diversity and we can use this to our advantage in business. We understand developing markets and how to deal with them. We are innovative and determined to build a great South Africa.”

For more information on 21st Century visit