Balancing on the Bubble

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“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”

The three witches from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth chant this delightful little jingle as they add ingredients to their cauldron to make a spell. Toe of frog (it is not specified if it is from the left or right foot), fillet of snake, eye of newt and other yummy ingredients all go into this brew.

Before their appearance in Act IV, the witches have already played an important role. When they first encounter Macbeth, they present him with possibilities of political advancement. As their predictions come true, Macbeth becomes too willing to accept their words as truth because he wants them to be true. Of course, we know the spells and predictions do not really have an effect. The witches simply present Macbeth with tempting, terrible choices which he is all too happy to make.

Fast forward 450 years and this could be a Hollywood blockbuster – a movie with a clever plot where the weird sisters create a false market, manoeuvre for massive salary increases and, in short, devise a strategy to create a bubble of trouble.

But we are not characters in a Shakespeare play, nor are we in Hollywood. We are a strategic proposal and pitch consultancy in South Africa – a highly resilient country with many investment opportunities which are increasing as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We know there is recovery; perhaps not full-blown growth yet, but recovery. We know this from the pledges made for new investments in sectors that drive innovation, like digital services and the production of vaccines. We know recovery is blooming because we work with the difference-makers every day. We sit in their boardrooms, hear their fantastic plans, and (just about) feel their positive energy and determination in the air.

However, upsides and downsides remain.

Upside: South African business confidence climbed in the first quarter of 2022. Our business is expanding quarter on quarter. We feel the upward shift because the volume of bids, tenders and sales proposals we are involved with keeps growing.

Downside: As we recover from the pandemic, employers are being forced to learn how to ride the resignation wave. According to McKinsey & Company, nearly half of the employees who voluntarily left the workforce won’t return to permanent employment. The knock-on effect of this and other world events (such as the war in Ukraine) is that business confidence is jeopardised, which may lead to fewer opportunities.

To return to Macbeth, is the upside a result of the proverbial witches’ spell? Is the downside a result of the choices we make? What if the upturn, the wave, the shift, really is a witch’s bubble brew? We can’t say, we are not clairvoyant. But we are practical. We are bid managers. We plan, plan, plan. Scenario planning broadens the mind. It is a wonderfully helpful tool for making decisions under uncertainty.

The fluctuation between upside and downside is like driving uphill in a car. You can’t stay in one gear the whole way. The important thing is that you keep moving. Our responsibility as leaders is to drive away fear and frustration in the workplace while maintaining confidence and keeping a long-term perspective. Your most potent tools to achieve this are your positive mind and spirit.

Looking forward

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the Prince of Morocco finds a poem with the line, “All that glisters is not gold.” Not everything that looks valuable (like the current upside of business growth) is valuable – but we remain cautiously optimistic.

We treat each new and repeat client engagement as an opportunity to inspire success. We turn downsides into upsides, like embracing a blended model of permanent and consultant staff as a result of the resignation wave. We believe that if we keep adding value and helping our clients grow, we will create and retain jobs and improve lives.

This includes actively pursuing balance. The acclaimed performance coach Annastiina Hintsa said: “If you’re worried about your work-life balance, you’re missing the point. There is just life and your work is part of your life. That’s it.”

And if having balance is what it means to ride the wave, then hang ten while we fetch our surfboards.

This article was written by Izane Cloete-Hamilton.

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