On the second day of the inaugural Executive Leadership Convention hosted earlier this year by the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in partnership with the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika, CPO at Absa Group Limited and d-school Afrika Alum Jeanett Modise took to the podium to discuss ‘How and why should diverse multidisciplinary perspectives be included in the business practice and what could they unlock?’
Having engaged throughout the morning with pertinent topics such as the rise, influence, and implementation of AI in the workplace, the necessity of new types of leadership in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, and the uses of systems thinking and design-led thinking approaches when tackling complexity, Modise opened the presentation with a discussion regarding what leadership should look like in an era in which disruption is the norm, and asked what an organisation should look like during unstable times.
“Not every organisation or individual will thrive in uncertain times,” she said.
She noted that in today’s society, having a primary focus on shareholder interest is ill-suited and that it is important that we are not in business just to make money – but to generate value for all stakeholders.
“Bottom-line value increases when diverse perspectives are implemented,” she added.
Organisations taking this approach and integrating diversity seek to be fluid, agile and flexible so they can navigate complexity and uncertainty, reimagining strategies and delivering worthwhile, positive value across their value chains. Their business cultures are open, and they understand the values of collaboration between individuals, teams, and organisations. At the same time, they do not wholly abandon classic management capabilities; instead, they enhance them in such a way that they propel resilience throughout the organisation.
“They seek to thrive,” she said.
This drive to truly flourish is crucial in the present day: while some leaders may have strong technical ability, it takes even more to tackle a complex environment.
“You need to continuously learn and keep up with the change,” she said.
One way to do this is to learn to work together in diverse, multidisciplinary teams. It is only when we work together that we can achieve the goals that adhere to the business strategy and also benefit stakeholders, said Modise. Reconceptualising and re-examining business models and drawing conclusions such as this are one silver-lining of the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasised Modise.
“[Lockdown] was a good training ground [for reworking our models].”
Additional conclusions she drew from the years of the pandemic were that leaders need to evolve and shift beyond profit – they need to impact, and they to be brave and bold. So too, should they move from competition into co-creation, and to “eat, breathe and live the purpose of improving people’s lives.”
An example she provided of this maxim in practice was from her own experience as the former HR Director of SAP Africa. There, the organisation had the ability to look ahead in such a way that it did not merely aim to make money, but to drive continuous innovation and help customers run their businesses more effectively, efficiently and sustainably. This vested interest in their clients was essential – otherwise, they found, their promise would ring false.
“It’s an aspirational message, but we believe in it,” she said.
At the centre of Modise’s talk was the same principle that runs through the process of design thinking: the overarching importance of people.
“You can overachieve on financial goals, but if you trample on people, you get a zero. Be human-centred,” she said.
She described how treating every employee as a leader is a good strategy to motivate them to fulfil their potential and achieve what it is they are required to do. It is a guarantee that while at work, an employee may just be performing a certain task, but at home and in their communities, they are fathers and mothers – they are leaders.
“We have to treat our people well,” she said, “because they are what make us.”