VUCA in HR – how to adapt to the VUCA world as a leader

by Theresa Sturm in — June 2019
VUCA: A term that has become increasingly important over the past ten years. Many know it is somehow connected to companies and the challenges of digitization. But what does the acronym mean in detail and how can HR managers and leaders adapt to these circumstances?
VUCA in HR

What does VUCA mean?

  • Volatility
  • Uncertainty
  • Complexity
  • Ambiguity

Leadership in a World Characterised by VUCA

VUCA describes the age in which we are today. Digitization, Industry 4.0, and big data are just a few key words that mean we live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. VUCA certainly plays into the personal world of individuals, but above all, it introduces new challenges for company executives. For example, businesses cannot rely on long-term forecasts because they are undergoing rapid change. Decisions often have to be taken quickly; there are no reports of experience, and there are no future forecasts. A challenge beyond compare.

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What Does VUCA Mean in Today's Workplace?

Originally, the term VUCA came from the military. Today, VUCA is mainly found in the context of change processes, and thus the term has become established in management training. One thing is clear: Anyone who would like to cope with the dynamics of the VUCA world should, as a manager, have one personality trait above all: flexibility! VUCA challenges us in the world of work to keep learning. All highly digitized and IT jobs require tremendous learning on the part of both specialists and executives.

VUCA in Human Resources Management

For HR managers, VUCA represents a fundamental change in the recruitment, development, and support of employees and leaders. The changing expectations of younger generations and the advancing use of technology mean that recruiting and staff retention are becoming ever more unpredictable, uncertain, complex and ambivalent: traditional HR processes with lengthy planning phases and elaborate project plans over several years no longer do justice to reality.

At the same time, there are already numerous solutions, in particular from innovative HR start-ups, that address the exact requirements of the VUCA world.


  1. Employee referral programs: firstbird - a digital employee referral platform - uses the playful approach of motivating employees over the long run, recommending suitable candidates, and sharing jobs on social networks.
  2. Employees share their jobs: Tandemploy from Berlin offers a solution for job sharing, from which both employees and companies can profit sustainably.
  3. Timed Video Interviews: viasto provides a fair and objective selection process for the staff (pre) selection process - each candidate receives the same questions. This way, nobody is favoured or disadvantaged.
  4. Applicants are mobile: mobileJob offers mobile applications that quickly and easily lead to job openings, especially for the commercial candidate market, with the help of Facebook and smartphones.
  5. Evaluation of continuing education: Evalea provides scientifically sound evaluations with transfer surveys for further training to enable long-term staff development.
  6. Implement feedback continuously: With a feedback toolbox of instant feedback and pulse surveys, HR instruments provides new forms of interaction between executives, employees and companies.


Executives in a VUCA World – Which Leadership Skills Really Matter

  1. Ability to formulate goals and readjust if necessary
    Success requires (shared) goals that are clear, understandable and transparent. But how do you formulate such goals when the framework conditions are changing constantly? Time and again discuss with your employees ways to achieve goals and check it goals should be redefined. Only demanding but realistic goals will be accepted by employees and preserve their credibility.
  2. Enable participation; inform and integrate
    People want to have a say. This is especially true for highly qualified employees - from whom you expect responsibility. In addition to comprehensive, up-to-the-minute information, this requires a participatory leadership style that builds upon and trusts the competence of employees. Employees develop when they make their own contributions and this also increases their identification with the their employer.
  3. Be a role model
    Employees orient their behaviour around that of their superiors. Therefore, as a leader, live up to what you expect from them. Communicate the values of the company as well as your personal values, and make sure that they can be experienced in your everyday (leadership) actions. Only then will you be credible. Your employees will gladly follow your lead.
  4. Allow new approaches and mistakes
    When trying to "produce" top quality now and tomorrow, mistakes must be allowed. Because only then do employees dare to deviate from the traditional approach and try out something new to develop sustainable solutions. Moreover, when you are open to mistakes, team members openly address errors, omissions and shortcomings that can be leveraged to increase quality.
  5. Give feedback and promote learning
    Employees at all levels of the hierarchy complain that they receive little feedback, rarely praise. This means that as a person you do not feel sufficiently seen and valued. This diminishes motivation and reduces their identification with their work (and you). It also reduces your chance to learn. Clarify with your employees how and when they want feedback on their performance, work behaviour, and more. Remember: positive feedback does not have to be reserved for extraordinary achievements. Seek out conversations regularly. Stay longer if there is a heavy workload.
  6. Reflect on yourself and your role
    Not only the employees, but also their managers should regularly reflect on their behaviour and ask themselves questions like: is my (leadership) style still appropriate to the situation? How can I make more impact? Where do I have a need for learning or development?Executives have a role model function as lifelong learners. Take time off from the hustle and bustle of work and day-to-day business to gain clarity regarding your own personal development. Reflect on your leadership and personal attitudes regarding other people with someone you know or a coach. Because only then do you manage to stay true to yourself and develop your (leadership) personality ever further.