The technology industry is no stranger to change. In fact, technology shifts are known to rewrite the rules of the game for businesses and society. Be it the personal computer and client and server in the 1980s and 1990s, the Internet thereafter, or the more recent emergence of digital forces—social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies, sensors, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning and so forth—technology is known to force enterprises to re-examine how they operate and redefine their value proposition. Today, we face a transformation that is arguably more profound than any in the past, rendering yesterday’s models increasingly irrelevant and turning the spotlight on innovation like never before. And technology, as always at the forefront of change, has become a key enabler of transformation and a means of unleashing new potential for the future.

This assumes crucial significance given the needs of our changing times. Many economies across the world are still in the process of returning to robust and sustainable growth. In an increasingly connected world, fluctuations in macroeconomic parameters such as falling crude oil prices and changing political regimes have global repercussions. Pushed by structural shifts because of digitization, regulation and compliance, globalization, ethical consumerism, consolidation, environmental sustainability and the like, businesses too are trying to not just navigate, but also capitalize on the opportunities presented by a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world.

Each of these parameters is creating a different effect. Volatility demands agile yet clear decision-making. Uncertainty requires that risk be turned into competitive advantage. The growing complexity between how different elements of the value chain connect with and affect each other calls for a global mindset, and ever-focused and diverse expertise. And ambiguity necessitates deeper reflection, insight, flexibility and most importantly, humility. Traditional leadership capabilities can take one only so far in handling these unprecedented problems. There is no substitute to upgrading leadership styles in order to chart a course through rapids.

Businesses deal with these factors more often than ever before. Organizations, both large and small, have to be nimble in order to be resilient. Older change management and a host of other practices must make way for a cultural overhaul to help develop organizations that are truly generative and not merely reactive. Leadership styles, organizational structures and business processes need to be amended in order to remain relevant.

Talent is the cornerstone in the services industry. The aspirations and expectations of the millennial generations joining the workforce are vastly different from those of their predecessors. They prefer flexible work hours, informal team structures, challenging projects and global exposure. Management styles and organizational structures need to be amended to accommodate these requirements. By not letting their size come in the way of such work environments, organizations can attract and retain the best talent from across the globe. Employees want to participate in a shared vision rather than having something forced top-down.

Leaders in organizations across industries are faced with the mandate to innovate. Almost all industries are witnessing disruptions from smaller entities and non-traditional sources. Innovation is a key driver for differentiation and businesses are increasingly willing to take risks to deliver greater value. As technology reshapes business landscapes, businesses that successfully embrace and leverage technology are gaining an edge. Leaders today should build innovation into the DNA of their organizations. This can be done by designing appropriate risk-and-reward structures and giving employees access to different resources and teams across the firm. Allowing people to explore alternative solutions to tackle complex business problems spurs innovation.

Businesses today can no longer afford to be indifferent to their external environment. Organizations are actively spearheading corporate social responsibility initiatives, not just to complement their business objectives, but also to create a social impact. Global businesses are realizing that less developed economies can be both a rich source of talent as well as a viable market for expansion. Inclusive growth is becoming a popular metric for business success. Leaders, especially in our country, are well positioned to create opportunities for sustainable development. They need to develop processes that can capture frugal innovations and turn them into potential wellsprings of business value.

There is nothing to suggest that the business environment will get any less complex and ambiguous with time. But that does not mean that organizations leave themselves at the mercy of turbulent tides. When leaders are adaptive, they will be able to let go of past biases and make room for newer ways of ensuring business success. To survive in a VUCA world, it is important to adopt an active—rather than a defensive—strategy, and invest in the business when the chips are down, perhaps even more aggressively, so that benefits accrue when normalcy returns. When leaders and organizations can work with these inherent contradictions and not against the VUCA elements, they will be able to build continued market leadership.

The author is chairman of Nasscom and executive vice-chairman of Cognizant India.

Close