Leading organizations beyond predictability

How to lead organizations beyond predictability? This is my current research topic, which I am working on as part of my PhD studies. I just finished the second round of interviews. But … let’s start at the beginning.

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To develop a model for leading organizations ‘beyond predictability’ is the research topic of my PhD studies. And I planned this already last year, so to say, before Corona. A lot has happened since then.

More than one year ago, colleagues of mine and myself conducted preparatory interviews for my PhD research. The focus was to find out: What is REALLY preoccupying the entrepreneurs and managers? What are they doing and which which issues, they are dealing with? Organizational change is heavily discussed in theory: Is that actually a topic that executives are also concerned with, or is this rather an academic discussion? Those were the initial questions.

Consistently all, really all executives have answered the question “Do organizations have to change?” with “Yes”. Sometimes, they said, that it might not be true across all industries and areas, but: definitely yes in their own industry. In many interviews, it was discussed that the old understanding of leadership no longer works. “Because the command-and-control and the strict hierarchy just don’t work anywhere anymore,” one manager summarized. In addition, the strong changes in the market environment have also been mentioned several times, the volatility, the unpredictable. Here, another manager got to the point with the statement: “Extrapolating is no longer possible. The many companies that are all based on plannability, assessability, and predictability have a hard time right now.”

And so I put exactly this topic in the focus of my PhD research: How to lead organizations beyond predictability is the question, my research revolves around. Or more precisely, the aim of my research is to develop a model in form of a pattern language for leading organizations beyond predictability. My synopsis was welcomed by the PhD committee and my research project was approved. When I talked about my research topic around the turn of the year 2019/2020, I received a lot of questions and sometimes just silence as answer. Above all, practitioners who do not work in industries in which it is common to speak about “VUCA”,  obviously didn’t see a senseful purpose of my research. (At least I got the impression). Yes, and three months later, due to Corona, time has changed and ‘beyond predictability’ became a reality in many organizations. However companies are affected in detail, they are all affected by the phenomenon that their plans and their prediction do not work longer.

I just finished the second round of interviews last week and I have learned, that ‘beyond predictability’ doesn’t necessarily mean that something has to change for the better. Fortunately, I was also heared many examples of positively unplanned things, caused by the Corona pandemic. Beyond my predictability and even imaginability was a (global!) situation that catapulted us, all personally, but of course also our organizations and the economic system as a whole, into a state beyond predictability. From my research perspective, I can now explore the phenomenon much better than I thought. And this is important, because being in stages of unpredictability will affect us in all of our working lives sooner or later, regardless of Corona. That’s for sure.

From a human point of view, it is of course wishable, that things become ‘normal’ again and at the same time we know: It is not that easy. It indeed would be much better, to orient our desires, but also our commitment, towards gaining the necessary skills (personally and in the organizations) in order to be able to deal with conditions ‘beyond predictability’. Here, too, I would like to conclude by quoting a manager I interviewed: “[You] have to learn to live with complexity, you can no longer know everything, plan everything.”

It sounds so simple and yet it’s so difficult.

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