Past, present and future: navigating the new world of work


Past, present and future: navigating the new world of work
Botha, T. & Vrba, MJ. (eds). 2021. Contemporary Management Principles 2nd ed. Cape Town: Juta and Company (Pty) Ltd.

South Africans recognise and celebrate the rich heritage of our diverse cultures during Heritage Month in September. Heritage refers to the aspects of culture that are inherited from generation to generation and that shape both the present and the future.

It is somewhat unusual to consider the second edition of Contemporary Management Principles as related to heritage, but management scholarship also has a long and rich heritage that has shaped how we think of organisational life. Indeed, in the first chapter of the book (p 6) this point is articulated as follows:

Today is not like yesterday, nor will tomorrow be like today, yet today is a synergism of all our yesterdays, and tomorrow will be the same. There are many lessons in history for management scholars, and the most important one is the study of the past as prologue.’

Whilst the first chapter of the book focuses on the past, subsequent chapters foreground the present, with frequent references to the future. Contemporary Management Principles is structured around the elements of the management process – planning, organising, leading and control – and the components of the internal and external business environment. Current management principles evolved from past research and experience and continue to develop and link to the challenges and opportunities organisations and their managers face in the new world of work. Our present organisational realities, as with our lived cultural realities, are thus co-created by what has passed and what is yet to come. Throughout the second edition, new or revised case studies and examples illustrate the realities of managing organisations at this point in history.

Change is the distinguishing characteristic of the current business environment. Organisations have to consider emerging issues such as climate change, infectious diseases, non-substitutable resources, and cybersecurity failure when they plan for the short, medium, and long-term. The book addresses these and other environmental factors concerning strategic management, the composition of the management environment and the features of contemporary organisations. Organisations respond to change by becoming flatter and leaner, networked, global and more flexible and diverse – these features are covered in various sections of the new edition.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses the greatest threat to humanity in recent history. It has not only altered our present realities but will likely also shape the future’s inheritance. As with all spheres of life, the pandemic has a profound effect on organisations, their managers, and the workforce. Some of these consequences are addressed in the new edition of Contemporary Management Principles with a specific focus on the following:

  • Different skills are required of workers and managers in the ‘new normal’ workplace, including the accelerated need for, and competence in, information technology; virtual communication and e-business; agile work approaches; as well as virtual organisational structures.
  • The impact of the pandemic on employees includes heightened levels of stress, work-life balance, remote work, and changes to job outcomes.
  • The market environment is influenced by unemployment and changes to value and supply chains.

These challenges notwithstanding, the South African government has called on all citizens to use Heritage Month as a catalyst to foster greater social cohesion, nation-building and a shared national identity. In South African organisations people from diverse backgrounds and cultures come together, work together and achieve together. Mindful of this context, the chapter on workforce diversity has been updated and renamed to highlight both diversity and inclusion in the workplace – a relevant topic if organisations are to act on Government’s call.

An aspect that erodes social cohesion and trust is ethical leadership failures in both the public and private sectors. In response to the myriad leadership crises of the last two decades, management and governance scholars have foregrounded business ethics, the role of business in society, and good governance as essential components of ethical, effective leadership, and these components are discussed in a revised chapter on ethical business. Additionally, a section on values-based leadership is included in the chapter on the principles of leading.

The second edition of Contemporary Management Principles is published during a period of extreme turbulence in the world. The new edition reflects this reality while taking cognisance of the rich legacy of management scholarship, as well as the contemporary opportunities and challenges that will inform the field moving forward.

-Mari Vrba- 

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