The telecommunications industry, particularly mobile telecoms, has been under severe pressure in the last few years, leading to consolidation in the independent service provider niche. The catalyst came in 2013 when telecoms regulator ICASA decided to cut termination rates - the fees that operators charge to carry each other's calls. This sparked a price war and analysts predicted, unsurprisingly, that the situation was unsustainable. As operators squeezed margins and cut incentives to their service providers, the two independent players in the market, Altech Autopage and Nashua Mobile, felt the pinch from every angle. When the pressure forced Nashua out, Autopage bought a portion of its subscriber base. Continued industry and consumer deflationary pressures then led Altron to make the decision to dispose of Autopage's subscriber base a year later.
Added to this, the general slump in global market conditions led to telecommunications companies, among others, experiencing high levels of uncertainty and declining staff morale across the board. Around this time, Eleanor Potter joined Autopage as Consumer Executive and recommended the implementation of a programme designed by Colleen Jack, that Potter had run successfully with her team at MTN. Jack is an executive and management coach and has extensive corporate experience. She facilitates leadership development programmes aimed at identifying and creating business leaders. Potter is passionate about developing and unleashing human potential. This combination created a powerful team with the main goal of transforming the Autopage business through investment in its people, which resulted in the launch of the "Vital Leadership" programme.
Its goal was: "To establish Altech Autopage as the service provider of choice by unlocking the value of our consumer retail channel." The programme, started in August 2014, has a number of modules, each with the purpose of improving the lives of delegates on a tangible and practical level. Subject matter covers a range of topics, from healthcare to financial planning, personal development and increasing their EQ. Over an 18-month period, the delegates spend one day a month in the programme.
"At a deeper level, the intention was to create a common, healthy language, to build awareness at a personal, team and systemic level," says Jack. "We are facilitating awareness of the delegates' own personal challenges and opportunities to grow themselves and develop their interpersonal awareness."
"Part of the challenge," says Potter, "is that you have to get people to the point where their EQ allows them to collaborate. The process is so important because it takes a real, measurable EQ programme and presents it in a structured way by an independent person who isn't your manager."
For the first four months, there were three teams with 12 delegates each. Ranks and titles are discarded for the purpose of the engagement, creating an environment of peer support rather than a hierarchy. There was some attrition initially, and members are never forced to remain on the programme, it's a completely personal choice. "The delegates who choose to stay are deeply committed and generally there is noticeable accountability, personal awareness and ownership of one's feelings, processes and projections," says Jack.
Although a formal ROI has not been done, there has been a marked decrease in absenteeism, an increase in profitability, and growth in the business partners' bases, 30% of this can be attributed to the leadership programme.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) Global has created the Prism Award to recognise outstanding organisational coaching initiatives. In 2013, Potter submitted this leadership programme using MTN as her case study. It was a first for South Africa, so there was no precedent and, while it did not come in the top five, it made a positive impression. In June this year, Jack was contacted by the ICF, requesting that the programme be submitted again. Unfortunately Autopage could not be featured, as the required case study has yet to run to completion.
"Autopage has some incredible talent. It is always such a privilege to bear witness to delegates taking the material and working with the concepts, owning them and ultimately paying them forward into their teams and, most importantly, back into their families and specifically their kids," says Jack.
One of the unintended benefits to emerge from the Vital Leadership programme, is that it has provided staff at Autopage with the tools to deal with the personal challenges that come with a company closing down.