Managing Talent in VUCA World

February 25, 2019

Managing Talent in VUCA World

Talent Management Trends in the VUCA World

In today’s VUCA world, where there are many aspects that affect the way we conduct businesses and the way we see the future of businesses. Every quarter or so, we see some or other major changes affecting businesses.

Jobs in offices, business houses & administrative functions are reducing day by day. Jobs in Core Business operations, business analytics, and financial operations are increasing. Jobs strongly clinging to technology are increasing. No matter whether you are in a technical job profile or a non-technical profile, technology and technology-driven processes are becoming more essential than needed. Jobs are changing, skillsets requirements are changing and the whole talent management outlook is also evolving to become refined and mature.

Talent Management Trends in the VUCA World: World Economic Forum Concludes in Its Study on Employment Trends

  • The global workforce is expected to experience significant churn between job families and functions, with administrative and routine white-collar office functions at risk of being decimated and strong growth in Computer and Mathematical and Architecture and Engineering related fields (Purposefully so many and are used since it’s all combined together).
    • For example, Jobs in Compensation and Benefits need strong skills in data compilation and analysis and technology usages – such as statistical tools, and the architectural framework for total reward system and conceptual models for ever-changing market demands
  • Employment growth disproportionately favors high-skilled job families, requiring significant reskilling for absorbing job losses.

Navigating the VUCA World: Key Job Types and Talent Management Strategies

Two standout job types mentioned across industries and geographies

The first is data analysts, as already mentioned above – companies, which will need the talent to help them make sense and derive insights from the torrent of data generated by the technological disruptions and ever-changing environment.

The second is a specialized sales representative. Every industry needs to excel at commercializing and explaining their offerings to diverse clients and customers.

Emerging specialties include HR and organizational development specialists, engineering experts in materials, biochemicals, nanotech, and robotics, regulatory and government relations specialists, geospatial information systems experts, and commercial and industrial designers.

Navigating Talent Management in the VUCA World 

I bring out important aspects of talent management in this article series where business scenarios, skill sets, and mobility are important factors for talent management. Attract, retain, develop are key aspects of talent management, however, it is critical to understand whom and when to attract, retain and develop.
In the VUCA world business scenario are running under the environment of Can Predict

Executives definitely have been preparing their business model for the VUCA WORLD environment, many times this preparation is extended or restricted to supply management or risk management. GE, Unilever, and McDonald’s have even begun changing their leadership development model to fit the VUCA environment.

However, the talent management in vuca world pieces like- recruiting, retention, skill development, compensation, performance management, onboarding, etc. have been paid lesser attention. Now HR can’t be strategic in talent management, HR, or recruiting unless one understands, manages, and thrives in a VUCA World.

More popular and available talent management model, one of the assumptions is business environment is predictable and business results are constant. With these assumptions, organizations have been hiring, training employees, and developing leaders in order to prepare for the “predictable” upcoming business environment.

On one hand, talent readiness is to perform in a predictable environment, however business processes are getting designed as per VUCA challenges.

The basic objective of talent management in the VUCA environment is to answer

  • What should be done to ensure employees can produce optimal results in a VUCA environment?
    • What should be ensured by talent management processes in VUCA WORLD in order to enable the employee to produce optimal results?

A response of TM for VUCA WORLD is a vast subject however we will only look into three aspects
1) Business Results/ Environment
2) Skill availability
3) Mobility of Talent

How the changing environment and readiness of talent skill set will result in guidance for the talent management

Step 1) Map your Unit’s performance and check the nature of the business of the unit as Volatile or stable
Step 2) Understand the skills available within the organization

Movement of the world is from ‘world of problems’ to ‘world of a dilemma’, one which demanded speed while changed to the world which demands patience, sense-making and actions, from the world of uncertainty to get resolved to one which should engage with uncertainty.

Speed is a competency that is no more required. We assume that everyone has the ability to tackle and handle speed. The speed of not just your own work but also to bring out more options within no time against the speed shown by the inceptions and changes or upgrades by society, environment, economy, or political system.

In other words Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA World) are the characteristics of modern strategic dilemmas, which require a different orientation, and a set of skills.

Adapting Leadership Development for a Shifting Landscape

Boundaries of the marketplaces and industries are becoming permeable and porous. They are shifting continuously, sometimes with a lower pace, occasionally faster, but always feeling slightly beyond one’s grasp.
In this environment, leaders realize that a sustainable future is only possible if organizations can sense, adapt, and respond to change; if they can help their organizations evolve with an evolving world.

After post recent recession, many industries have entered a period of rapid change. The last decade has witnessed this change, some of it was predictable and most of it was unplanned and non-predictable. In this whole changing environment it seemed that the nature of the challenges that managers were facing was rapidly changing; however, the method that we were using to develop them were staying the same.

VUCA world and Shift of Leadership Thinking

To thrive in this VUCA world, the skills and competencies needed by leaders is also changing, this means they should imbibe and convert their current skills and competencies which will help organizations for

  • Creating a culture and environment of openness which values discovery, diverse perspectives, and experimentation
    • Detecting and identifying the weak signals that predict and foretell changes in customer loyalty, or opportunities enabled by new technology
    • Conducting interactive dialogues that put new ideas into the context of the company’s work, and translate new information into differentiating capabilities
    • Unpacking business challenges to reveal the learning gaps for individuals, teams, and the organization’s practices, processes, and systems
    • Strengthening thoughtful decision-making in the organization.

Broadly, organization employees classify these skills and competencies.

1) Foresight and Agility
2) Customer Centricity
3) Think Local Act Global
4) Attracting talent

Navigating the VUCA Workforce: Trends and Expectations

Ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers. That means they would have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives!

In the current talent market, 5 generations are working side by side, in various capacities and employment status
Traditionalist Born 1900- 1945
Boomers Born 1946- 1964
Gen X Born 1965- 1976
Millennial Born 1977- 1997
Gen 2020/ Next Gen Born After 1997

In talent management, there is always a push and pull for various aspects of talent management. Before we understand these pushes and pulls let’s study some antidotes of established systems against VUCA.

Antidotes against VUCA world


Volatility is a phase of nature – speed, volume, magnitude, and dynamics of continuous change. In fact, this situation is not unprecedented, such situations can be predicted by looking at the changes in the environment of the business.

In volatile situations the knowledge of facts and opinions is important, separating facts and opinions, precise and objective communication is the key in this situation. Volatility can only be combated with clear vision. When changes are rapid, employees need to know what’s happening, where they are heading to. A clear-cut vision and fact-based knowledge of the situation helped create a pathway.

Let’s take an example of such volatility.

How does the monsoon affect the business and Indian Economy?

The Indian economy is highly sensitive to agronomics and so even a slight change in the pattern of the monsoon affects the food prices. An unfortunate delay in the “Great Indian Monsoon” affects cultivation causing food prices to soar leading to inflation in the country.

Investors have a phobia of inflation. This moody monsoon creates volatile situations in the market and affects agriculture, automobiles, telecom, FMCG, banks, tobacco companies, and cement sectors.

The impact of poor or good monsoon is far-reaching. It impacts growth, agriculture, diesel demand, rural demand, urban demand, food inflation, fiscal account balance, power sector, automobile sector, textile sector, FMCG, PSU, government policies of food security, etc.

Ultimately this impacts the business situations of an organization.

Is monsoon impact predictable? Did the business face such situations in the past? What were the major actions taken then? Are few of the indicators about such a state is a situation of V in VUCA World.


In the situations of “Uncertainty”, lack of predictability is an issue. There is a lack of information, however, such situations bring substantial change.

Vital competencies for Uncertainty are understanding, listening, and comprehension. Keeping open mind, listening, and receiving appropriate messages from the environment which directly affect the economy and business are important aspects. Dealing with contradictions is of utmost importance as there is a lack of predictability.

Antidote for “Uncertainty” is- “Understanding”, rapid changes in the environment require faster communication, ensuring everyone has the same level of understanding. The pretext of performance in such a period is the ability of leaders to build trust; this has to be done during a calmer period. When uncertainty hits the organization, all have faith in the leadership that they will do best in the interest of their people.

The operational team’s spirit definitely helps the organization’s spirit in this period, as mutual understanding is built and direct leadership works in such crisis situations.

Let’s take an example of uncertainty –

What odds would anyone have given in 2006 on Lehman’s going bust or Merrill Lynch being taken over? Who would have contemplated that a software company focused on video streaming, only founded in 2005 would be bought for $1.6billion in 2006? This demonstrates how easily a course of events can overtake us. There are so many uncertain things in the business environment. Technology speed, interest rates by banks, or even political stability are uncertain.

Environmental uncertainty is when conditions are constantly changing within a business environment. As a result, management has little influence over factors that are outside of the company’s control.

Environmental uncertainty is the degree to which an organization lacks factual or competent information concerning the internal and external operating environment for the organization. Simply, it is the unknown in the organization and in the field of business relevant to company operation.


A survey conducted by The Economist brings a behavior of HR and their responses to uncertainty. In this opinion survey, HR and Non-HR responded to various situations.

Responding to the behavior of HR for changing activities and objectives as a result of the financial crisis and market turmoil, astonishing results have been observed

The behavior of HR when business conditions become unfavorable, the perception of HR and Non-HR

The same survey indicates 27% capability for scenario planning by HR while largely involved in resource allocation and manpower planning.

Insufficient understanding of the relationship between workforce reduction and business goals is considered as the biggest hindrance while reducing headcount if such a situation is faced by the business.

Combatting “Complexity” with clarity
Coping with the complexity of today’s business environment is not about predicting the future or reducing risk. It’s about building the capability of people, and the organization, to adapt continuously and learn speedily, in order to maximize the chances of seizing fleeting opportunities.

Professor Martha Maznevski, an Ivey Ph.D., and her colleagues at IMD have identified four main drivers that interact to produce complexity in organizations.

  1. Diversity-

Diversity in business models, management systems, and employees to diversity in customers, suppliers, and socio-political system

2. Flux-

The unrelenting pace of change that envelops companies, industries, and nations

BMW for example, at the end of 2012, announced a whopping up of 12% in sales volume and revenues – the best-operating profit in the company’s history. Yet, despite these positive results, shares in the company were lower than they were at the beginning of the year.

The answer lies in the fact that revenues grew significantly more than profits. In fact, profits were flat on the year, and post-tax return on sales actually dropped. BMW attributed the flat profits to an increase in personnel, higher innovation costs, and intense competition. While technically true, there is a more subtle culprit, one that underlies all these factors: higher complexity. More people, more R&D, and more products equal more complexity, which leads to higher costs, which, in turn, bring down profitability.


Agility is an antidote to Ambiguity. If the situation is not clear, then we need to have the flexibility to respond to whatever occurs. Personality largely determines individuals’ tolerance level for ambiguity. An antidote to ambiguity is also vision.

In one of the speeches by Jack Welch, mentions, leaders need to communicate it clearly to employees about…

Why are you here? What is expected out of you? But most important is to answer employees about what is in it for them. This can be an improvement in personal gains, performance, or maybe nothing for employees. But it’s important to communicate.

Clear vision helps focus and prioritize activities, understand demands, and opportunities. This will also help them understand the demands and opportunities emerging.

An example of ambiguity in business is very common and usual. In modern business, managers may not know if the finished product meets customer expectations. Misunderstood, ambiguous, and assumption-laden statements cause more project and product failures than any other factor. Without a common understanding among project participants, failure risk and ambiguity increase.

In the subsequent articles, we will see how to deal with VUCA WORLD and the approach of HR.

About Author

Dr. Sandeep Sadanand Chaugule

Dr. Sandeep Sadanand Chaugule

HR Leader

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