Permanent Unpredictability: Keep your antennas up!


In today’s world, we are living in a state of unpredictability. This calls for raising the “ALERT & AWARE” bar at the organization and personal level.

 The unpredictable scenario started getting prominence when the acronym “VUCA” was formed. Today it has been expanded to “D-VUCAD”. (Disruption, Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity, and Diversity). This very apt term has a deeper meaning when it comes to functioning on the ground.

 The dynamic nature of the situation is adding stress not only to organizations in terms of optimizing business strategies and operating systems but also to the “way of life” of individuals.

 This brief article aims to share a point of view of some new or enhanced existing ground reality characteristics that have been cropping up at a higher frequency recently. If we are alert and aware of different factors involved in the unpredictable scenario and some thought is given to these, it would help in managing or adapting to situations better.

 Some factors that impact situations on the ground are:

·        A company in Canada, Sales Tech (ST) was taken over by an American Financial Institution (ARM) to enhance e-customer service. To imbibe a new work culture and align with ARM, they dispensed with 15 of the senior managers who were between 12-20 years with ST. In six months, they were floundering and had to take back most of the managers. (Inadequate Management Capability due diligence for exit and entry strategy)

·        A leading American Bank, ABC, in order to cut costs gave pink slips to some of their senior managers and recruited new managers with less experience at a lower cost. These new senior managers could not win the confidence of the junior managers who had over 25 years of experience in ABC. As a result, work suffered, overall management objectives were not met, and the staff was unhappy. (Inadequate situation assessment of change impact and integration strategy executed by the management.)

·        A large multi-national corporate, ISTL, in India restructured its organization to sharpen its focus on business goals. This approach disrupted ISTL’s smooth operating vertical and horizontal working structures and led to an increased number of dotted line relationships. This was in addition to several role changes that led to much uncertainty and heartburn when choices did not meet expectations. In this situation, some high-profile talented senior persons resigned. To retain a few, select persons, new profiles were created which caused further turmoil in the organization creating a high level of ambiguity and uncertainty among many of the talented staff. (Inadequate thought was given to formulating a reorganization integration strategy to manage change.)

·        A large multinational organization PST, in India, acquired a small, specialized niche customer service start-up, LKS, in Europe. They did not conduct any “talent and capability” due diligence or plan an integration strategy. As a result, 50% of the best talent resigned and PST had no idea of what was happening. Being large they did not know or feel the impact till it was too late. (Inadequate ‘manpower talent’ due diligence and integration strategy was not considered.) PST thought that the current business-as-usual processes would take care of the integration.

·        A multinational company KRG, of international repute in the vertical transportation business had operations in India. They outsourced installation and commissioning to local contractor organizations owned by politicians. The contractors managed the licenses and took care of government inspections well. Initially, the contractors delivered the desired results. After some time, due to systems creep the quality of KRG monitoring and due diligence of contractor operations declined. After receiving several complaints, they conducted an investigation and found the contractor’s work to be below agreed standards. In the current volatile and competitive situation continuous due diligence of process and systems compliances is the only option. End-Result performance tracking is not enough. (Management Systems Creep)

 In this new world, we see many multinational and international as well as other companies operating in an unpredictable manner. In this situation some observable examples are:

1.      “Surgical Separations”, Vishal Garg lays off 900 people on a Zoom call (BT 09 Dec 2021); Twitter, Elon Musk, laid off thousands of employees across the company (CNN Bus 09 Nov 2022); Meta the parent of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp lays off 13% employees (NYT 09 Nov 2022)

2.      Unfair employment practices – like continuous short-term contracts or outsourcing to contractors without ethics. Apple in India ( as well as other national, multi-national, and international organizations worldwide.

3.      Moonlighting and breach of confidentiality by employees working from home. No one knows who is listening in or recording a conversation. Working on other sub-contracted tasks is also much easier.

4.      Drop in senior management performance due to online management constraints. Face-to-face meetings are key to management performance. It is different from instruction-based management which would suffice for specification-based lower-level work.

5.      ‘Water-Cooler Workarounds’ is a term coined by programmers who agree to informal delivery schedules. These agreement requests are made based on seen and felt temperaments at water cooler discussions. This also applies to senior management negotiations and discussions – though not at watercoolers

6.      Exploitation of Staff is another area where employees are expected to be available all the time. Working from home allows for calls and meetings at any time. The time spent on the job and mental stress has increased significantly. Saving travel time and increasing family time is becoming a myth.

7.      Personal Space: Work from home causes loss of personal space because of shared workspace. This causes stress which is seen after the initial honeymoon period.

8.      Work culture Integration: This has always been a problem but is becoming more difficult with the increase in mergers and acquisitions. Very often the best talent leaves, defeating the purpose of acquisition.

9.      Government Norms: These are changing to meet changing situations which are mainly to boost local employment. Work visas in developed countries are becoming more difficult to come by. In developing countries, the compromise on recruitment standards is increasing by way of reservations.

10.  Role Fitness: Due to attrition, internal restructuring, and recruitment, the need of the hour is sharper role fitness assessment. A clear distinction of capabilities between knowledge and actual ground reality experiences is not considered. Role placement risk assessment and mitigation could be taken more seriously.

In these situations, both organizations and individuals need to be more alert and self-programmed for change. A majority of companies are looking at mergers and acquisitions to enhance growth and unless this is done with care (Considering the human angle in change) there will be stress and strain for all. People and organizations need to equip themselves to manage this unpredictability. The first step to staying ahead of the game is to be alert and aware of the impact factors of change.

 The HUMAN ANGLE considerations, for both Individuals and Organizations, could be:

·        Individuals: Be alert and savvy of available options at any point in time. Keeping your ear to the ground is very important as also analyzing ‘Personal Fit’ (other than, technical, operational, and cultural fit) in new or expanded roles that may come your way.

·        Organizations: Consider the human element in due diligence more critically for M&As. Also, conducting internal due diligence by specialized integration (specifically trained) teams should be a regular practice to identify and address issues.

Thought trigger “Questions and Hints”

Questions: Personal

  • How much are you aware of the current executive search and selection factors in your sphere of the market today? Do you have a strategy to enhance your market attraction and brand value? (Example: An international bank was looking for a CIO who could reduce IT costs and improve cyber security)
  • How are organizational changes impacting your overall role fit? Are you diversifying your capabilities to enable better and larger role fits within and external to the organization? (Example: A company restructured its functions creating positions that required understanding and management of support services without direct authority – Higher mutual inter-dependencies)
  • How strong is your network for knowledge acquisition and information sourcing to enable you to be alert and aware of ground realities impacting your role directly and indirectly?

Questions: Organizational

  • Do you have continuous and ongoing due diligence at the organization, division, or department levels? (Example: An organization was unaware of its competency stagnation levels till it was too late. They were unable to identify the “Groupthink” factor)
  • How strong is your organization’s due diligence process for mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring? Does it cover all aspects of the human resource angle? (Example: A company hired a highly rated organization to do its due diligence for an acquisition. Their HR due diligence checklist had 42 factors, but little interest was taken in the high-potential performers’ adaptability to change. Most left after acquisition.)
  • How well-equipped is your HR to handle post-acquisition, mergers, or internal restructuring? Is talent management and integration given due attention to strategies for fresh infusion, passenger management, and building diversity in high potentials? (Example: A renowned company went in for a major restructuring and had to give a critical portfolio to a senior person who did not have the requisite skills – no skill diversity plan. This was because they did not have an alternative with seniority and suitable skills. Being resourceful they put up a second line to manage the show, but this was not as effective.)

Hints: The FARO approach to manage unpredictability. (Each point is a topic in itself, and may require further reading and R&D to develop individual checklists)

  • Focused Networking: Networking is a relationship-building activity for mutual benefit. It is not a “Meet and Greet” activity. A relationship is built on the currency of exchange. Building a network to ensure you are alert and aware of the current dynamic situations around you is important. Whether it is business or market intelligence or the search and selection market.
  • Agile Partnering: Agile partnership is based on trust, designed for mutual gain, and must be beneficial to both entities at the organizational or personal level. The partnering could be for the short or long term, it could be for business or even just for knowledge, information, access, or support sharing. (Example: A consultant from a software firm provided support and market intelligence to a Hardware organization while bidding for a large contract. On winning the contract the hardware organization gave the software work to the consulting firm).
  • Role Change Readiness: Everyone needs to develop his/her own diversity strategy whether it is a fresher who must show “Work-Readiness” or a CEO who has to explore business opportunities through new products and markets where the ‘Managerial Ballgame’ keeps changing in multiple dimensions like cultures, legislations, technologies, demographics, and business nuances besides others.
  • Objective Assessments & Political Decision Making: Objective assessments are essential to take decisions, however, the political angle of decision-making must be taken into consideration. This is essential for success. Hence it is important to have qualified sounding boards who do not have vested interests – they help in removing the emotion from the equation. (Example: Changing a traditional process might appear objective at face value but may not be acceptable to the implementers. Or taking a change in the role that separates a family may look lucrative but may have negative repercussions on family bonding.)

 Alan Doulton