Challenges of a VUCA world

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Digital transformation of businesses, particularly with regard to employees, is currently a much-discussed issue. Recently, business leaders from various companies met with each other at the Dr. Schär headquarters to discuss this topic.

Frank Kohl-Boas, former Google HR Manager gave a talk on the “challenges of a VUCA world”. Kohl-Boas has been Head of HR and legal matters at the Zeit publishing group since 1 August and previously worked for many years at Google Europe where he occupied a senior role in HR.

The acronym VUCA stands for “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity” and summarises the challenges faced by businesses in an increasingly digitalised world.

To stand a chance of success in a rapidly changing and unpredictable VUCA world, businesses must constantly evolve and question time and again whether what they are doing and how they are doing this is satisfactory. “This particularly applies for businesses that are doing well. Although it can be difficult to change things that are going well”, says Kohl-Boas. He also underlined that business leaders should not be deterred from approaching things in a different way just because they might be ridiculed for doing so. “In the end it might prove to have been the correct approach,” Kohl-Boas said. He added: “And maybe in the end the approach that had everyone's approval turns out to be the wrong one”.

To be successful in the VUCA world, businesses need intrinsically motivated staff. But how can they find this staff, especially when there is a lack of skilled workers? Kohl-Boas’ answer: to develop a new leadership style even if the current one would continue working well for another 10 or 15 years. According to him, as a business leader it is important to remove roadblocks  and at the same time be a mentor, trainer and coach. “Today’s leaders must be like conductors”, said Kohl-Boas. In recruitment, the will is becoming just as important as skill. “Employees are not defined by their status within the company. What is important is the influence they have on the development of the company”, Kohl-Boas explained.

And if the head of that company can delegate everything within it -  in terms of strategy and company culture, this is not possible, according to Kohl-Boas. “I have learned that business culture is not one part of a whole, it is the most important thing,” Kohl-Boas quoted Louis V. Gerstner who was CEO of IBM from 1993 to 2002.

Employees are not defined by their status within the company. What is important is the influence they have on the development of the company.

Frank Kohl-Boas