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“Rethinking HR in a VUCA World”@ PHDCCI-8 Feb 2014



As we have entered the 21st Century, there are serious questions arising concerning our capacity to deal with its challenges.  Based on a review and synthesis across a range of literatures covering management, organization, leadership, and learning & development, this paper identifies VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Adaptability.  This new age will be increasingly challenging.  This suggests that a new kind of leader and leadership are needed, and this paper outlines the most compelling of current thought on leadership qualities demanded of the 21st Century leader in form of new VUCA MODEL – Vision, Understanding, Clear & Adaptability.


The research paper would focus on the VUCA model as a framework to re-tool leadership development models may enable  HR and talent management professionals to identify and foster the leaders in the  organizations need now and in the future.

In the VUCA , volatility can be countered with vision because vision is even more vital in turbulent times. Leaders with a clear vision of where they want their organizations to be in coming years can be focused in volatile environmental changes such as economic downturns or new competition in their markets, for example, how by making business decisions to counter the turbulence while keeping the  organization’s vision in mind.

Uncertainty can be countered with understanding, the ability of a leader to stop, look, and listen. To be effective in a VUCA environment, leaders must learn to look and listen beyond their functional areas of expertise to make sense of the volatility and to lead with vision. This requires leaders to communicate with all levels of employees in their organization, and to develop and demonstrate teamwork and collaboration skills.

Complexity can be countered with Clear / clarity, the deliberative process to make sense of the chaos. In a VUCA world, chaos comes swift and hard. Leaders, who can quickly and clearly tune into all of the minutiae associated with the chaos, can make better, more informed business decisions.

Finally, ambiguity can be countered with adaptability, the ability to communicate across the organization and to move quickly to apply solutions.

This paper is based on some preliminary telephonic survey, but not on detailed research findings. The main purpose of this paper would be more on exploratory research in approach and would intertwine how above mentioned elements are leading to great success in the organization and how can manager become stronger VUCA leaders.

The paper is to motivate readers to explore interrelations, frame objectives, formulate hypothesis, carry out tests, interpret findings and can further pursue research in this area.


The Origin of VUCA – The notion of VUCA was introduced by the U.S. Army War College to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, multilateral world which resulted from the end of the Cold War (Kinsinger & Walch, 2012). VUCA was subsequently adopted by strategic business leaders to describe the chaotic, turbulent, and rapidly changing business environment that has become the “new normal.”

VUCA Definition:

“V” in the VUCA acronym stands for volatility. It means the nature, speed, volume, and magnitude of change that is not in a predictable pattern (Sullivan, 2012 January 16). Volatility is turbulence, a phenomenon that is occurring more frequently than in the past. The BCG study found that half of the most turbulent financial quarters during the past 30 years have occurred since 2002. The study also concluded that financial turbulence has increased in intensity and persists longer than in the past. (Sullivan, 2012 October 22). Other drivers of turbulence in business today include digitization, connectivity, trade liberalization, global competition, and business model innovation (Reeves & Love, 2012).

The “U” in the VUCA acronym stands for uncertainty, or the lack of predictability in issues and events (Kinsinger & Walch, 2012). These volatile times make it difficult for leaders to use past issues and events as predictors of future outcomes, making forecasting extremely difficult and decision-making challenging (Sullivan, 2012 January 16).

The “C” in VUCA stands for complexity. As HR thought leader John Sullivan notes (2012 January 16), there are often numerous and difficult-to-understand causes and mitigating factors (both inside and outside the organization) involved in a problem. This layer of complexity added to the turbulence of change and the absence of past predictors, adds to the difficulty of decision making. It also leads to confusion, which can cause ambiguity, the last letter in the acronym.

Ambiguity is the lack of clarity about the meaning of an event (Caron, 2009), or, as Sullivan writes, the “causes and the ‘who, what, where, how, and why’ behind the things that are happening (that) are unclear and hard to ascertain.” (2012 January 16). Col. Eric G. Kail defines ambiguity in the VUCA model as the “inability to accurately conceptualize threats and opportunities before they become lethal.” (Kail, 2010 December 3). A symptom of organizational ambiguity, according to Kail, is the frustration that results when compartmentalized accomplishments fail to add up to a comprehensive or enduring success.

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