By Eng Geoffrey Chishimba Chiyumbe
President Edgar Lungu in opening parliament on 11th September 2020, spoke about the need for innovation and resilience to drive our nation toward sustainable economic development.
As daily power-cuts also called load shedding, become the new normal in Zambia, effects are being felt by households, farms and small businesses as well as vital growth sectors such as mining. We have a power deficit crisis as a nation and we are using load shedding as a means to keep our generators running and avoid a complete shutdown of our electricity sub sector, which is the oxygen of our economy.
To quote the President, “load shedding continues to haunt us and affect our livelihoods. I am happy to report that load shedding shall be a thing of the past once I commission the Kafue Gorge lower power station which will produce 750 megawatts“. The President said this expected 750 MW will come on board by the end of the year.
That speech places a huge responsibility on Zesco as a power entity to embrace innovation to end load shedding and deliver a reliable and affordable power to Zambia. Zambia’s dependence on hydro-power is a well-known risk factor of power generation. Future efforts should focus on growing and diversifying generation capacity to keep pace with Zambia’s economic growth
Modern businesses grow and succeed in today’s corporate climate for a myriad of different reasons such as their products, others for their services.
If you were to look at the organizations that truly stand out from the pack today within their industries, globally, it would be clear that their leaders all have one common factor: they all embrace innovation. Man is therefore at the center of innovation.
These innovative leaders well understand the value that change brings about and this drives them to disrupt the status quo— the business as usual syndrome.
Innovation, as a concept, refers to the process that an individual or organization undertakes to conceptualize brand new products, processes, and ideas, or to approach existing products, processes, and ideas in new ways.
In the world of business, there are many different types of innovation that a company might pursue.
One American survey showed that companies that embrace innovation have had sizable advantage in ultimately meeting the demands of their customers. Simply put, companies cannot afford to stay afloat if they do not embrace innovation and change.
Some power companies have embraced new business models in an effort to spearhead growth while adapting to the ever-changing market. Unfortunately for Zesco, today it still operates under a single buyer model and this has had many challenges for both Zesco and the independent power producers.
Other power companies have gone the route of innovation in technology. Power generation in Zambia is hugely dependent on water. But with the changing climate, there is need to change the way we generate electricity and through innovation tap into what is trending globally in the renewables for instance, and have a generation mix.
Global trends in power technology Innovations include energy storage, smart grid, and electricity generation technologies.
The energy storage will facilitate the viabilities of wind and solar power – the two energy sources that are too expensive due to the costs related to the batteries that would store the generated energy.
The presence of smart grids will regulate the flow of energy throughout the cities.
Developments in electricity generation will improve efficiency while using fossil fuels and other renewable energy sources optimally.
Even as we innovate, we recognize one key quality to successfully adapt to change, and that is resilience.
Resilience is defined as the ability to withstand or adjust to challenges. The adjusting to new challenges is the anchor of innovative leadership and is what they thrive on. No wonder the President talked about those two key words in his address to the national assembly – innovation and resilience.
Change, not only at breakneck speed has become the norm in business today and it overwhelms the workforce. We are all under enormous pressure to continuously adapt to new technologies, shifting priorities, and ways of working.
And so to compete in an often turbulent business environment, organizations seek the stability that comes from a resilient workforce. Resilient employees are able to adapt when confronted with change and to devise solutions to even the most challenging problems. Resilience mediates the relationship between job satisfaction and both adaptive performance and contextual performance.
Coping with change can be difficult for most of us. As humans, we are biologically wired to prefer routine, so we often focus on the negative during uncertain times – when it is time for innovation. But change can actually offer opportunity for employees to learn and develop—if they have the resilience to help them through.
Consider palm trees. They are able to weather storms because they have a stable foundation that enables it to flex with strong winds. They are able to bend—but will not break—despite the conditions. Like the palm tree, employees can also develop an ability to be resilient. They can learn how to bounce back from change and even grow from difficulties and adversity.
Research shows that resilience can be a powerful buffer that enables organizations to remain profitable and competitive, even during turbulent times. Organizational agility is highly correlated with organizational resilience and together, both factors determine the adaptive capacity of an organization. This adaptive capacity enables organizations to quickly perceive and respond to changes, whether it’s grabbing hold of a new business opportunity or addressing a potential threat.
But this calls for resilient leaders to act as the firm and solid palm tree foundation. The resiliency of leaders impacts how they lead and the performance and engagement of their teams. Research shows that resilient leaders are more likely to engage in inspirational leadership behaviors, such as providing creative perspectives to help problem solve or encouraging others to meaningfully contribute and participate.
We are saying Zesco must embrace innovation to improve on its performance viz a vis, ending load shedding and becoming a viable power entity. But we know that Zesco has been underperforming for so many years now. Sad to say that research has connected under performance with the ability to innovate. Findings show that the length of time a firm has been underperforming contributes to shaping that firm’s innovative search patterns and its expenditure in research and development. Over time, the relationship between the two variables is nonlinear.
Maria Minniti, Bantle Chair in Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at Syracuse University‘s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, partnered with Wei Yu ’18 Ph.D. (National University of Singapore) and Robert Nason ’14 Ph.D. (Concordia University) to conduct the study. The group sought to understand how strategic choices are made in times of budget decline during periods of underperformance.
“Previous research suggests that the gap between current performance and desired performance is an important trigger for firms’ innovative action,” according to the research report’s managerial summary. “Our study shows that how long the firm has been underperforming also plays an important role in firm innovation.”
Indeed, the research’s findings show that firms that are underperforming are conflicted between short-term profit goals and long-term strategic goals. Over time, those pressures build up and start influencing the nature and extent of innovative activities.
“We found that the length of time a firm has been underperforming matters a great deal for strategic decisions, and can mislead managers into making the wrong choices,” Minniti said.
Among other things, when experiencing sustained and prolonged underperformance, firms tend to be reluctant to decrease innovation activities significantly, even against pressure from shareholders who may want to reduce risky activities with uncertain payoffs such as R&D expenditure. If firms ought to remain competitive and innovative, policy makers need to maintain open market structures that favor competition.
This finding must be of serious concern to our President in ensuring that underperforming leaders in top positions are moved and replaced with the right individuals. They are a liability to both the nation and the President who appointed them in the first place. Zambians are tired of incompetent and underperforming leaders and are calling upon the head of state to act now for the good of mother Zambia.
The world around us is constantly changing, and in order for your business to remain relevant and profitable, it will eventually need to adapt in order to meet these new realities.
Staying long in the same place, often times kills the spirit of innovation. With the passing of time, one easily drifts into the business as usual modus operandi. Unfortunately, it is only a few rare breed of leaders who come to that realization and, activate their thinking outside the box mindset mode. As a business leader, think outside the box. Choose to evolve by rethinking your business model, as well as the technology for your product – electricity generation in this case.
This though doesn’t mean that a willingness to innovate is the only ingredient for success. Leaders must also have a solid understanding of how to go about bringing that innovation to life. Try something new, because sticking to the status quo simply isn’t working.
It is worth mentioning here therefore, that to end load shedding in Zambia, it is not the commissioning of Kafue lower hydro power station, but the nation needs new thinking in the sector leadership, driven by the political will, that will bring about the implementation of the energy sector reforms. Yes, a complete package made up of the following ingredients: new investment in the energy sector; new innovative leadership and new business model. Energy projects requiring large inflows of foreign capital and technology will have to be financed.
Already, hardly two weeks after that Presidential address with assurance to end load shedding end of this year, the energy sector line minister contradicts him and puts the new end date to May 2021, shifting the goal post for the end date.
Yes, no matter its industry or current standing, an organization cannot expect to maintain a competitive edge and meet the demands of its customers if innovation is not part of the overall business strategy.
As the President alluded to, innovation is what we need to end load shedding in our nation and move our country forward toward economic sustainability, with tangible benefits for all who live in it.
The writer is a qualified professional electrical engineer, energy expert, project management specialist, teacher and researcher with over 24 years of post-qualifying experience in the mining, rail transport and energy sectors attained from Zambia and South Africa. These include ZCCM Konkola Division, Zesco Limited, Anglo American Plc, Transnet Capital Projects, Murray & Roberts, Hatch Africa, Gautrain rapid rail Transport, Zambia Railways Assets Valuation, CEC Re – engineering etc.
Was Chairman, Team Leader and Project Manager of the Presidential Task Force on the Energy Sector Reforms in Zambia 2017 – 2026. He is currently serving as the Country Director for Trans Africa Projects (TAP) Pty, a SUBSIDIARY OF ESKOM, THE POWER HOUSE OF THE ELECTRICITY industry in Africa. He can be contacted on +260976840325 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org