Virtuous Radicals: How Some Companies Achieve Positive, Large-Scale Impact on Society while Others Fail

By Jennifer Reimer



How can you and your company achieve greater impact on society?

Serious social and environmental challenges threaten the sustainability of human populations. Millions of Rands are spent each year on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes in South Africa and many large corporations have made commitments to socially responsible actions. Yet there is little evidence of a positive impact of these socially responsible actions. This threatens the positive future state of our society and environment.

At the same time, the future workforce, which will largely consist of millennials, is looking for greater influence on society and our planet through their workplaces. Engaging, motivating and empowering them is on the minds of leaders in South Africa today.

These are key challenges for the future leadership of our workplaces. To cultivate a positive interaction with our society and environment and to ensure a positive future state of our businesses and planet, it is critical that we understand the leadership qualities and processes that will guide these positive interactions. We need to know how these leadership qualities permeate through an organisation, empowering and inspiring the future workforce.

In the face of these challenges, we need to ask; Why are many companies failing to make a significant impact? Are there companies that have shown significant positive impact? What makes these companies different?

Jennifer Reimer, an associate of Business Results Group, and strategy and sustainability consultant is currently conducting her PhD research to discover why some companies have a large-scale positive impact on society and others do not.  As a leadership capability company, we aim to provide you with more information about the leadership and management qualities that can be cultivated to ensure a positive future state of your businesses and our planet. The findings of Jennifer’s research will be made available to enable BRG and our clients to better understand what drives some companies to have a significant positive impact on society while others do not.

In the first phase of her research, Jennifer interviewed employees and stakeholders of South African companies, all of whom reported to engage in socially responsible actions. She found that some companies fail to have a significant positive impact on society, and calls these ‘Moral Traditionalists’. They are trying to do the ‘right thing’ but have little impact.  Those that do tend to have a large-scale positive impact have very specific qualities that differentiate them from their peers. She has termed these companies ‘Virtuous Radicals’ and the world needs more of them, especially as corporations grow increasingly powerful, and humanity’s grand challenges remain unresolved.

The difference comes down to the beliefs of leadership teams and how they permeate through the company to influence the company’s role in society and company processes and actions.

The results include:

  • The three key factors that characterise the companies that have a large-scale positive impact – Virtuous Radicals;
  • The qualities of the leaders who are behind the Virtuous Radical companies;
  • The four actions that leaders can practice to cultivate the Virtuous Radical belief system amongst their employees.

Why is this important?

  • Companies want to ensure that their precious investments are, in fact, positively impacting the intended beneficiaries.
  • The ‘millennial’ population, soon to comprise 75% of the workforce, wants to know how they can make a difference at work and the results suggest some ways to do this.
  • To transform companies, leaders and employees for the future world of work, we need to understand what qualities are needed and what drives them.

Become part of the change

In order to learn about how the company’s leadership beliefs permeate through the company to impact employees, stakeholders, greater society and the environment, we invite you to participate in our 15-minute survey. Kindly click on the appropriate link below.

Survey for C-level executives

Survey for managers and employees

Participants will receive a summary of the first phase of the research immediately upon completion, and a summary of the survey results in a few months. Participation is voluntary and confidential. Your name, organisation and responses will be kept completely anonymous. Thank you in advance!

How Do You Create Business Value?

By Adam Rampton

In the past three months, I’ve been to China twice, each time working with different Fortune Global 500 companies that are all wrestling with the same challenges: changing market conditions, accelerating competition, and the tensions inherent in trying to maintain local connectedness while ensuring global reach.

In a world of increasing volatility and change, more organisational agility is needed. This puts tremendous pressure on HR leaders and professionals who want to create business value – they are increasingly asked to maximise ideas and outcomes that are inherently in opposition to each other.

Some examples that HR leaders and professionals must effectively tackle include the following:

  • Achieving short-term results and long-term growth
  • Improving customer service with reduced budgets
  • Building collaborative teams and having individual accountability
  • Increasing speed to market and quality
  • Enhancing local relevance/connectedness and driving global brand unity
  • Doing more with less

The CHROs and HR leaders at the multinational corporations operating in China that I work with recognise that their HR professionals and business partners need help navigating these paradoxes and managing these tensions effectively. A new mindset and skillset is needed. The changing business environment requires it and demand is high. These CHROs are working to build the supply side so that HR is better positioned to create real business impact now.

In the seventh round of our global HR Competency Study (HRCS), two new interesting themes emerged:

  1. HR professionals who ‘navigate paradox’ have the highest impact on business results.
  2. Navigating paradox is not done well by HR.

Effective paradox navigators tackle conflict head-on and help their business leaders do the same. They shift from the traditional mindset of ‘either/or’ logic to one of ‘and/also’. These professionals focus on managing tensions that will unleash creativity and new insights.

Seem impossible? You’re not alone. To help you get started, here are four simple steps to strengthen your ability to navigate paradox and position your business for success:


Most business strategies fail in implementation because of unresolved paradoxes. Effective HR business partners will recognise these paradoxes and help their business leaders clarify the poles. What do we mean by “do more with less?” What short-term results are most important? How will we measure them? What does long-term growth look like? Where do we need to innovate?  How do we create space for and encourage experimentation?

Average leaders ignore one pole. Poor leaders swing back and forth or demand both. Great leaders see the inherent tension in both poles and bring the right people together to collaboratively clarify and address them.


Once the poles are clarified and we know what we’re trying to achieve, we work through a series of divergent and convergent processes to define the best alternative outcome. A useful tool is illustrated in the matrix below. This matrix helps to further clarify the poles where needed and, more importantly, provides the basis for divergent and convergent discussions to determine how best to move from current state to desired future state.

In this example, the strategy is to ‘achieve 20% EBIT while investing in long-term growth’. For each pole (light blue), the leader and team further clarify the poles by defining degrees of success (dark blue). Next, they identify where they are today and where they want to get in the desired future state (grey blocks). Spending enough time on this step helps the team align to define the best alternative outcome collectively.


The tool outlined in Step 2 helps teams see points of tension and begin unravelling paradox in a productive way. They are able to identify potential trade-offs. Effective leaders help the group converge (focus) using simple questions and then diverge (expand) to consider different options and viewpoints. They strive for integration, avoiding ‘either/or’ answers opting for ‘and/also’ solutions instead.

They ask questions like “where do we agree?” and “where do we disagree?” They listen.

In essence, good leaders and HR business partners lead through a series of divergent and convergent cycles to see other’s point of view and find common ground. This allows the group to align with the best alternative outcome and prepare to take first steps.


Built on the strong foundation created in the first three points above, these first steps should be easy to initiate. Outline specific first steps – things the leaders and teams will do in the next 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months – to demonstrate progress and maintain clarity. Sometimes these first steps will include two steps forward and one step backwards. Be consistent and help your leaders do the same by adjusting operating mechanisms, measures, and incentives to reinforce the desired future state. Take a whole-systems view to enable and sustain the desired change.

Paradox matters. It’s inherent in day-to-day and organisational life. Effective leaders embrace this fact and assemble the right stakeholder team to clarify and address paradox head-on. In HR, paradox navigation skills are the largest predictor of business impact. As HR builds this skillset, it will be better positioned to drive business results by helping leaders clarify the poles of paradox, define the best alternative outcomes, see other’s point of view to find common ground, and take the first steps towards the desired future state.

This article was originally posted on

If you’d like to learn more about preparing HR professionals to navigate paradox, contact us at Business Results Group is the exclusive Africa partner to Dave Ulrich’s RBL consultancy group.


Critical Lessons from Start-Ups for Human Resources

By Darryl Wee

The news is constantly discussing how digital start-up companies are disrupting their industries. Interestingly, when I examine these companies further, I find that many practices which are common among start-ups to drive more value in their businesses that HR should also consider adopting.

Are there lessons that HR can learn from start-up companies?

1. Start by Resolving Pain Points

When I listen to CEOs from successful start-ups describe the ideas behind launching their companies, 95% of the time the business was designed to resolve a real-life problem they faced: a specific pain point.

In HR, we should adopt a similar perspective, by looking at organisational pain points. Notice I refer to organisational pain points, not only HR pain points. HR can create the most value by looking outside of our core function and to the entire organisation.

In order to do this successfully, we must approach the pain point from the perspective of the customer and the business as a whole. We must examine how, as an organisation, we can resolve an issue for the business or customer. The solution may bring us back to some HR policies or practices; however, our analysis should not begin inside the HR function. It is important that we look at the issue strategically and from the outside-in, and not from the inside-out.

I am not suggesting that as HR we should not represent our function, or use our functional expertise to address said issue, but I have found that when HR operates as a business leader rather than just as a functional expert, more value is created. The business as a whole benefit from another pair of eyes, analysing an issue with an external lens. Once we have clarity on the pain point and how we may want to respond, we can then add our HR lens to explore additional solutions.

If we are looking at resolving HR pain points, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of our employees and honestly look at what is and is not working. In order to make a real impact, we must minimise our emotional defensiveness from the perceived effectiveness of an HR solution, and really listen to what our customers are telling us.

2. Think Big, Test Small, Learn Fast

After launching their products, start-ups develop, improve, and adapt when necessary. Frequently, after these numerous improvements and tweaks, the original value proposition of their product is significantly different from the end result.

In many larger organisations, there is an expectation that the product be 100% perfect prior to launch.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter how much we plan, unexpected things can happen that we are not prepared for. While I do believe that we must be very thorough in our work, I also feel that a more agile approach allows us to react more quickly, focus on solutions, and accomplish more optimal results.

The ‘think big, test small’ methodology is being implemented throughout many organisations. I have noticed that even government ministers are using this terminology. I would believe in this concept but take it one step further: ‘learn fast’.

For years, Dave Ulrich has inspired HR and business leaders to ‘think big’. From my perspective, we should always plan our actions in order to have the most significant impact on the entire business. By thinking big, however, we should not be deterred by the size or complexity of the issue or solution at hand. ‘Testing small’ is an excellent means of quickly piloting a solution to ensure its feasibility and scalability. Start-ups constantly send prototypes that are 70-80% finalised for beta testing with the intent of receiving meaningful feedback before the full product launch. The company expects imperfections but is committed to obtaining insights into potential shortfalls and oversights as quickly as possible. This agile approach allows organisations to act swiftly in refining the product before the final launch.

The third element is to ‘learn fast’. Testing small is not effective or useful if we are not learning from customer feedback to adjust our products and solutions accordingly. In some cases, we see companies rapidly realising a more compelling and practical application of a solution or product, so they ‘pivot’ their focus entirely. As HR, we should also learn how to be agile, and pivot to boost our organisation’s value and total impact.

I am sure that there are many additional lessons we can apply; however, in following the theme of this article, I believe that HR can actively help reduce organisational and individual pain points by ‘thinking big, testing small and learning fast. Utilising this methodology, we will increase our impact on the people within our organisation.

This article was originally posted on

Contact us at to equip HR to drive more value in your organisation. Business Results Group is the exclusive African partner to Prof Dave Ulrich’s RBL consultancy group.


10 Skills For Navigating Paradox

by Dave Ulrich

Leaders in HR who navigate paradox had the biggest impact on business results. Paradoxes exist when seemingly contradictory activities operate together. We experience paradoxes in daily life as captured by the popular phrases: tough love, do more with less, oil and vinegar, sweet and sour, work/life balance, Catch 22, go slow to go fast, good and evil, and so forth. When these inherent contradictions work together, success follows. Instead of focusing on either/or; paradoxes emphasise and/also thinking.

Organisations and leaders who respond to the disruptions above do so by navigating paradox. Navigating paradox accepts and heightens disagreements that enable organisations to change and evolve.  Without the tensions that come from paradoxical thinking and debates, organisations perpetuate the status quo and do not respond to change. Leaders of these organisations need to become paradox navigators to help their organisations respond to the pace of change.

HR professionals who are paradox navigators encourage, surface, and raise difficult issues so that they can be resolved. For example, we have found that there are times when a business team should diverge and other times when they should converge. Divergence means that alternatives are explored. When an HR professional is in a meeting where there are few options discussed, that individual should encourage divergence where new alternatives are discussed. On the other extreme, when a group remains divergent, the HR professional needs to create convergence and unity to focus attention. We found in our work that as Paradox Navigators, HR professionals may not be the most popular members of a business team because they raise difficult, but necessary issues. But, their ability to navigate paradox is the most important skill for business results.

How to improve skills to be a paradox navigator

Paradox navigation is not an innate trait, but a learned set of behaviours that translate into skills. Based on our research and experience, leaders who are Paradox Navigators possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities proposed in the table below. When HR professionals recognise, assess themselves, and master these skills, they are more able to drive business success.

Paradox Navigator Skills Table

HR professionals and business leaders can acquire and improve these paradox navigation skills through extensive training, development, and coaching. But, perhaps the most important prerequisite is to recognize the importance of navigating paradox in delivering business results. HR professionals who want to deliver real business value must become paradox navigators.

Read the full article at

Contact us at to your HR team into a core business partner that will drive and achieve strategic organisational results.


Talent VS Organisation

By Professor Dave Ulrich

In today’s rapidly changing business world, the challenge of building the right organisation complements and supersedes the talent challenge.  For the past 15 to 20 years, leaders have been encouraged by remarkable work captured in the “war for talent.” Many have built systems for bringing people into the organisation (sourcing, having a value proposition), moving them through the organisation (development, performance management, engagement), and removing them from the organisation (outsourcing). The war for talent was a great battle, but we now need to turn to victory through organisation.

Talent is not enough. Individuals may be champions, but teams win championships.

Click HERE to read the full article.

Professor Dave Ulrich is an internationally acclaimed best selling author, speaker, researcher and consultant to business leaders and the HR Professeion. He is also ranked as the #1 management guru by Business Week, profiled by Fast Company as one of the world’s top 10 creative people in business, recognised as a top 5 coach in Forbes and recognised again (for 8 years) in the top 30 business Thinkers50 annual rankings.

A new framework for managing risk

By Professor Robert Kaplan

Despite all the rhetoric and money invested in it, risk management is too often treated as a compliance issue that can be solved by drawing up lots of rules and making sure that all employees follow them.  Many such rules, of course, are sensible and do reduce some risks that could severely damage a company. But rules-based risk management will not diminish either the likelihood, or the impact, of a disaster, just as it did not prevent the failure of many financial institutions during the 2007-2008 credit crisis.

So which risks can be managed through a rules-based model and which require alternative approaches?

The first step in creating an effective risk-management system is to understand the qualitative distinctions among the types of risks that organisations face. According to our research, risks fall into one of three categories: preventable risks, strategy risks and external risks.

Preventable risks

Preventable risks are internal risks which are controllable and ought to be eliminated or avoided. Examples include employees’ or managers’ unauthorised, illegal, unethical, incorrect or inappropriate actions and the risks from breakdowns in routine operational process. While companies should have a zone of tolerance for defects or errors that would not cause severe damage and for which achieving complete avoidance would be too costly, in general, companies should seek to eliminate these risks as they get no strategic benefit from taking them on.

This risk category is best managed through active prevention: monitoring operational processes, guiding people’s behaviours and decisions toward desired norms, clear statements of codes of conduct, internal control systems, and a strong, independent internal audit department.

Strategy risks

A company voluntarily accepts some risk in order to generate superior returns from its strategy. A strategy with high expected returns generally requires the company to take on significant risks, and managing those risks is a key driver in capturing the potential gains.

Strategy risks cannot be managed through a rules-based control model. Instead, a risk-management system must be designed to reduce the probability that the assumed risks actually materialise and to improve the company’s ability to manage or contain the risks events should they occur. There are three distinct approaches to managing strategy risks: independent experts, facilitators, and embedded experts.

These risk-management approaches enable companies to take on higher-risk, higher-reward ventures than their competitors with less effective risk management.

External risks

Some risks arise from events outside the company and are beyond its influence or control. Sources of these risks include natural and political disasters and major macroeconomic shifts.

As external risks cannot be prevented, their management must focus on identification and mitigation. There are various tools which can be used by companies to identify their external risks, including stress tests, scenario planning and war-gaming.

Stress-testing helps companies to assess major changes in one or two specific variables whose effects would be major and immediate, although the exact timing is not forecastable.

Scenario planning is suited for long-range analysis – typically five to ten years out. Scenario analysis is a systematic process for defining the plausible boundaries of future states of the world. Participants examine political, economic, technological, social, regulatory and environmental forces, and select a number of drivers – typically four – that would have the biggest impact on the company.

War-gaming assesses a firm’s vulnerability to disruptive technologies or changes in competitors’ strategies. In a war-game, the company assigns three or four teams the task of devising plausible near-term strategies or actions that existing or potential competitors might adopt during the next one or two years – a shorter time horizon than that of scenario analysis.

While companies have no influence over the likelihood of risk events identified through these methods, managers can take specific actions to mitigate their impact. Since moral hazard does not arise for non-preventable events, companies can use insurance or hedging to mitigate some risks, or make investments now to avoid higher costs later.

Organisational biases

Identifying and managing strategy and external risks requires an approach based on open and explicit risk discussions. That, however, is easier said than done. Extensive behavioural and organisational research has shown that individuals have strong cognitive biases that discourage them from thinking about and discussing risk until it is too late.

Individually, people overestimate their ability to influence events and tend to be over-confident about the accuracy of their forecasts and risk assessments. As organisational biases also inhibit our ability to discuss risk and failure, these collective inclinations explain why so many companies overlook or misread ambiguous threats.

Risk management is non-intuitive; it runs counter to many individual and organisational biases. Active and cost-effective risk management requires managers to think systematically about the multiple categories of risks they face so that they can institute appropriate processes for each. These processes will neutralise their managerial bias of seeing the world as they would like it to be, rather than as it actually is or could possibly become.

Professor Robert Kaplan: Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development Emeritus at the Harvard Business School.