Agents of Positive Change in SA – Q&A With Paul Cruickshank @ BoardWalk KZN

Agents of Positive Change in SA at the Q&A With Paul Cruickshank
Agents of Positive Change in SA at the Q&A With Paul Cruickshank

Paul Cruickshank was the key speaker at the latest BoardWalk event held in KZN.We have selected a few pertinent questions and answers with Paul Cruickshank which we hope you find interesting, insightful and helpful:

After Paul Cruickshank became the CEO, the business defined its Purpose – WE GROW WHAT MATTERS.

What is a purpose?

I like to think a purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning. A purpose gives you direction, for me it’s the North Star and it guides the decisions we make and the things we do or don’t do. It’s the same with business. A business that has a strong purpose knows why it exists and where it is going.

What made you decide to become a purpose-led business?

Textbooks will tell you that companies who have a clear purpose grow three times faster than companies that don’t, and that’s because companies with a purpose tend to have more engaged employees, more innovation, and better productivity. What resonated the most for us was the focus Purpose brings so we are all moving in the same direction.

How did the company reach its goal of being purpose-led

We could have gone in one of two directions in getting to our Purpose. The easiest route would have been a couple of bottles of wine around a fire place with our senior leadership team and we could have come up with a cracker purpose line.
However, we have a complex, diverse business, we have mills, farms, factories, we are the main employer in several communities, we sell commodities and we sell high-end specialty goods. To find a purpose that resonates across our business we needed to dig deep. We needed to look at our landscape holistically, our environment, stakeholder needs, our values and our history. This became an eighteen month process and we finally landed on WE GROW WHAT MATTERS. Funnily during this time, I kept asking myself, do I have a purpose?

Yes I do, when I looked at what matters to me and what matters to our business, it was easy to see how I could play a part to make a significant difference in my work role. Our aspiration within our business is that everybody had that “aha” moment.

How do you as a business leader live up to your purpose in a tough and often negative environment, and how do you model that for others?

First and foremost, through our values. We have strongly aligned our values to our purpose. We were quite intentional about making sure we had ONE value set which is applicable to not only the business and every business decision made, but also applicable to every single individual working within the business. That’s why we call them Values in Action, and it ladders up to our purpose. When you are living your values, you are living your purpose.

I’m a practical guy and I keep things simple. If you are a part of RCL FOODS you would have heard me say this 1000 times:

Prioritise: We all have a long to do list, pick your top three, get them done and move on to the next

Focus: Don’t get distracted by the noise

Control the controllables.

Celebrate the small wins, they all add up at the end of the day.

Is South Africa headed for doom and gloom?

My feeling is there is a lot of gloom in the narrative that’s being used about the country. There is no question South Africa has had its ups and downs, you don’t have to look too far into our history to know what we have gone through. Being a born and bred South African that has been here through it all, I can say we are a resilient nation.

In 1994 when we managed to make the leap into a democratic era, and more recently we have seen it during Covid, and in Durban during the riots and floods we saw communities supporting each other and rebuild. The fact that we have continuously done this against massive odds gives us hope.

I have just finished a book by Angela Duckworth called GRIT which has hugely inspired me. In a nutshell, Angela explains that Grit is passion and perseverance, it is a combination of unshakable focus, long term perseverance and a never-give up attitude. It isn’t talent or luck.

There is no doubt South Africa has great potential but what we need to thrive as a nation is hope and action from everybody. We can all make a difference if we step into the gap to make a change.

What do you mean when you say step into the gap?

What I don’t mean here is all of us trying to be heroes and trying to save the world. It’s about being enablers to collectively help our country shine again. It’s about finding a place where we can make a difference and make it happen, however small. We feel powerless much of the time, forgetting there is a lot we can do to make things better. What’s happening at the moment is that businesses have come together with a CEO pledge to work with government to help address some of the most important challenges facing South Africa.

We are also seeing communities coming together across our country to step into the gap whether it’s to improve public spaces, waste collection or power generation. The first step is to believe that you can be an agent of positive change, and that’s the key to a positive mindset. Having a positive mindset is my mantra for this year in both in my personal life and within RCL FOODS.

How does positivity change things?

I am not suggesting we become ostriches and put our heads in the sand. I think we can all agree that when you are in a room with negative people and you focus on the doom and gloom, it leads to inaction. When you are in a room filled with positivity your mindset immediately changes to a ‘we can do this’ attitude and action. I want this country to thrive and I want to be apart of the solution. Because of that I choose to focus on what we can do to drive positive change.

How does positivity play out?

The number one core output for positivity playing out in South Africa is when our country is in a position to provide its people with basic needs, and that is a country with stable electricity supply, clean constant water supply, protection against crime, roads are usable etc.

The economy is stabilised so businesses attract investment which leads to job creation and brings down the unemployment rate. Affordable nutrition is a reality for people and not a crisis.

How can people make that positive difference?

Let’s start with understanding that we can all make a positive difference. When we all choose to do something positive to change conditions around us, you start to see a ripple effect, those ripples can become waves. When you take it upon yourself, as a business or an individual, to help fix something that makes a difference in other people’s lives you become an agent of positive change.

Agency is (by definition) the sense of control that you feel in your life, your capacity to influence your own thoughts and behavior, and have faith in your ability to handle a wide range of tasks and situations.

What actions you take to make that difference depends on you. What role will YOU play?