Knowledge Work in VUCA Times

The business world has become VUCA: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. In a VUCA World, the conditions to succeed and thrive are changing. While efficiency was a dominant KPI in an industrial world, the ability to disrupt the own business, to adapt and learn and to change fast enough become the main success factors.

Change is no more a one-time event, it is a constant evolution, a sequence of incremental and disruptive adjustments to new contexts. Organizations need a new set of capabilities to thrive in this environment.

Resilient is the new Efficient

In the changing world, it is no more enough to run a business efficiently – the sole focus on efficiency makes a business fragile.

It is necessary to be resilient: to develop the ability to change strategies and focus on short notice, to adapt to a new situation. This enables the business to absorb surprises, shocks and stress, be resilient – and ideally grow on these challenges, become anti-fragile.

Lean-Agile Principles

Delivering value reliably, fast and in high quality still remains the basis of a thriving enterprise. Lean and agile principles focus on 1. creating value, 2. ensuring a steady flow and 3. removing waste and build a solid basis for succeeding in a complex and constantly changing environment. They rely on a proven basis of leadership, collaboration and cultural values which put humans in the first place.

Working is Learning

Knowledge work is becoming the dominant work form in the 21th century. The complexity and interconnectedness requires a systemic view on the workplace, the enterprise and the market. An active contribution of the employees and leaders is a necessary precondition for their effectiveness. Motivation, alignment, skill development and empowerment contribute to the magic sauce for sustained success.

Key Business Capabilities

The key business capabilities of an organization have become

  • Discover to deliver – innovate in short cycles for breathtaking products
  • Shape the Flow for delivery – execution excellence and end-to-end productivity
  • Augmented Learning – continuously develop capabilities and competencies

The capabilities of an organization to contribute to the company goals include far more flexibility, initiative, motivation and new skills than traditional environments.

Many of these are included in the Lean and Agile principles, methods and toolkits, others have been around like Post-Heroic Leadership. Today, their combined use has become an urgent necessity.

Business Agility is a Paradigm Shift

Agility, the ability to learn and adapt in short cycles requires a paradigm change in many aspects

  • Company culture – a culture of transparency and trust unlocks motivations and creativity
  • Governance – different types of governance coexist for design, development and other parts of the organization
  • Leadership model – developing people becomes more important than execution
  • Autonomy and Delegation – leading knowledges workers relies on their skill and intrinsic motivation

In general, it requires a mindset shift towards many new metaphors.

Change has changed

Changes come in rapid cycles, they overlap and influence each other.

Organizations must be comfortable with the high frequency of new challenges, people must find a way to live prductively and comfortably in such an environment.

At the same time, the steering of changes in the right direction is critical. The traditional metaphor of „unfreeze – change – freeze“ is not sufficient any more. It is more like an Agile Evolution: incremental and disruptive changes occur, experiments proves successful or fail, empirical development gains more importance compared to long term planning.