Putting employees and customers at the centre of their businesses, these leaders are driving innovations in management practices, creating joyful and fulfilling workplaces that attract and retain talent – and they are delivering superior bottom-line results in the process.
That's the key message of the newly-released book Afro-Global Management Innovation Practices: Re-imagining Work and Workplaces, which provides practical lessons in management innovation from research at the Stellenbosch University Business School.
Lead author Prof Marius Ungerer, Professor of Strategic Management and Strategic Leadership at the Stellenbosch Business School said that while the technological innovations of the 4th Industrial Revolution are currently the focus in business, they need to be accompanied by innovations in management – the planning, procedures, processes and systems of "how things get done here" – in order to unlock the full competitive advantage of innovation.
"We are living in times of dramatic change, with a multitude of forces changing the very nature of work and workplaces, yet the way we practise management has not changed much in the last 50 to 60 years. The result is an ever-growing mismatch between what people expect to experience in the 21st century workplace and how organisations are managed," he said.
Management innovation is an emerging field of study, with limited research conducted to date on how companies in Africa are innovating in the traditional management practices of planning, organising, leading and controlling.
"Innovation in how we manage is crucial to competitive advantage, because only by changing how things are done can organisations continue to meet their objectives in a changing environment. Innovative organisations respond better to these environmental challenges and are able to boost performance and create sustainable competitive advantage
"Leaders play the key role in fostering innovation by creating the organisational culture, structure and processes that support innovation," Prof Ungerer said.
Afro-Global Management Innovation Practices changes the lack of research on management innovation in Africa by combining global management trends with insights and lessons from case studies of 13 innovative companies from South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria
Prof Ungerer and a team of nine Stellenbosch Business School MBA students interviewed 60 leaders of the 13 companies, which included small, medium and large businesses, four of them listed companies, in diverse sectors from construction, energy, telecommunications and manufacturing to media, financial services and technology.
The companies were selected on the basis of having sound financial performance, a reputation for innovation and a high proportion of knowledge workers.
"The case study companies have one thing in common – they have a desire to manage in positive ways, bringing out the best in people. Their leaders are passionate about creating businesses that are a force for good, highly human-centric and intensely customer-focused," Prof Ungerer said.
The book is the outcome of three years of collaborative research, which found that virtuous, authentic and ethical leadership positively impacts on a company's ability to innovate in its management practices, and both together lead to high-performing companies.
"The big theme emerging from our research is that it is now possible for organisations to do well financially and at the same time do good for society and the planet. These goals are now complementary, rather than mutually exclusive.
"In the African companies that we studied, doing good is the essence of the core business, not a side-line in corporate social responsibility. By successfully executing their core business, these companies are contributing both to their bottom-line and to making the world a better place.
"In the process, these companies are winning the race for talent because people want to work where they can align their personal purpose and aspirations with what they company is trying to achieve, beyond the self-serving purpose of achieving organisational goals," Prof Ungerer said.
These businesses have a distributed, shared approach to leadership, where leadership is not limited by job titles and the emphasis of control is not supervision by a boss but self- and peer-control within teams, based on mutual respect.
"I have to immediately caution – this is not some fanciful environment. We are talking about high-performing organisations where performance is non-negotiable. These are tough environments, but environments with heart and soul, where all subscribe to a higher ideal to do better and be better," Prof Ungerer said.
The book pulls together the common themes and patterns across the case studies to offer five guiding principles for creating future-fit organisations, "making them more fit for human beings while also serving the economic, social, environmental and governmental needs of multiple stakeholders".
The book also provides practical guidance and lessons from the case studies on what innovation means in practice in each of the traditional management functions of planning, organising, leading and controlling. These are "re-imagined" as inclusive planning, organising for people empowerment, distributed (decentralised) leadership, and liberating controls.
The book's co-authors are management thinker and author Johan Herholdt and Anton Schlechter, Professor of Organisational Psychology in the School of Management Studies at the University of Cape Town.