A Word from the Associate Dean: VUCA and the managers of tomorrow

Change is occurring faster than ever before, the world is more and more unpredictable. More players, more issues, and more voices means chaos and complexity and the “realities” of doing business are not so hard and fast as we may have once assumed it to be. Organizations operating under these forces face unique challenges and opportunities in decision-making, problem-solving, and planning. VUCA, an acronym standing for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity is a term derived from military vocabulary that is increasingly relevant for describing how managers should take into account the external environment. Being aware, being prepared, and anticipating the complications arising from VUCA are essential characteristics of a global manager today.

As companies understand (or more likely, fail to understand) this operational chaos, they seek a new kind of leader, a talent that is prepared, aware, and capable of foreseeable strategy and informed action. These are the kinds of leaders the Global MBA seeks to train, to help provide companies with the talent they need to stay ahead of the trends. The companies that fail to perform today are the ones that are still operating under the talent acquisition, talent management, and workforce planning processes of yesterday. But this chaos is here to stay, so businesses and business leaders not only need to get up to speed but to start finding the relevant talent that can perform and remain agile in this environment.

Agility is a term we stress in our program. In the age of innovation, disruption, and globalization, sticking with the tried and true won’t necessarily cut it. Unique challenges require unique solutions, and the demands placed on business leaders in this setting are diverse, varied, and in constant flux. As new markets emerge, new opportunities and obstacles arise.  At a faster pace, the future is upon us before we can anticipate it. And with disruptive innovation the rule rather than the exception, competition is breakneck. Traditional leadership styles don’t work in this sort of dynamism. The leadership must mirror the environment and focus on VUCA preparedness, anticipation and evolution. And that doesn’t mean that there’s a one size fits all model for management; complex problems require complex solutions and equally complex strategies. Tomorrow’s leaders must be able to thrive in multiple, multi-faceted environments, keeping a finger on the pulse of emerging markets, mature markets, entrepreneurship and innovation, and efficiency and optimization.

Embracing chaos, taking risks, being capable of rapid strategy changes in response to changing markets: all of these characteristics must also be balanced by pragmatism and commitment and underscored by a passion to bring employees along on the adventure. The skills gained through interacting with a diverse cohort, traveling and working internationally, exposure to emerging markets, studying in a mature market, learning from the best professors from around the world are all hardwired into the design of the Global MBA to respond to these needs. Studying a variety of cases of multiple situations and from diverse industries helps students examine strategy and learn from failure. Extensive teamwork helps them learn to collaborate, share strengths and compensate weaknesses, and adapt collectively in response to the VUCA microcosm of a rigorous, 12-month MBA.

How should companies respond to these complex external environment? In kind. Agile leadership means harvesting the best of skills, styles, and experience to meet specific, unique needs. In July, the Global MBA students will take off around the world for their International Immersion Projects. Each team consists of students of different nationalities, with different linguistic capabilities, with different professional expertise and different academic strengths. They would be working in for a Lifestyle brand in China, agri-business in Bolivia, energy and bottom-of-the-pyramid issues in India, eco-tourism in Morocco, small and medium size sector development in Djibouti and wine industry in S. Africa. To tackle these diverse projects in challenging external environment requires diversified skill set. The teams will work in environments ranging from -20 degree C to +50 degree C! It also means that the teams are uniquely equipped to respond to the shifts and demands of their different projects in different locations through practiced collaboration and constructive conflict. The successful companies of the future will harness resources like these and use them to become leaders in a VUCA-fueled world.


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