The VUCA concept has been around since the 1990’s when it was coined by the US military to describe the challenging military conditions faced in Afghanistan and Iraq. The term has since been adopted by the corporate world to help describe and understand the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous contexts in which corporations operate today.

Key Success Factors in a VUCA World

Because the ultimate responsibility for organisations coping with the challenges of a VUCA world lie with its leaders, much of the available research has focused on identifying the key leadership competencies and attributes required for success in a VUCA world. These include:

  • Leaders have to see all the parts and pieces of an organisation and how they interrelate and connect with one another
  • They must be able to scan the external environment, and determine where the opportunities, threats and anomalies lie
  • They must be able to make key strategic decisions in the face of constantly shifting changes both in the internal and external environments
  • They must make the correct judgment calls whilst demonstrating the agility to respond to their environments
  • Leaders need to think big picture and capitalise on the complexity they face
  • They must view uncertainty as providing opportunities
  • Leaders should never lose focus on employee engagement.
  • They must provide strategic direction, whilst allowing people the freedom and discretionary space they need to innovate new processes, products and services.
Bioss SA and working in a VUCA World

Whilst the literature has placed a strong emphasis on leading effectively in a VUCA world it is also important to acknowledge that all employees operate in environments and job roles where they face varying degrees of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Organisational success in a VUCA world is therefore achieved through the entire organisational system being able to cope with these challenges.

At Bioss SA we have been helping organisations globally since the late 1990’s to do exactly this. We work with employees at all organisational levels to understand the unique VUCA challenges they face, and to ensure they are equipped to meet these challenges head on.

We achieve this in 2 different, yet related ways:

  • Scientifically understanding the extent of the complexity the organisation faces, as well as the complexity that each job role contains. This is essentially an organisational design methodology where we make use of the Bioss-developed (Elliott Jaques) theory called Stratified Systems Theory or Levels of Work. This methodology helps us to make sense of and define the complexity encountered at all organisational levels. The Levels of Work model looks at 7 different themes of complexity. Every job in an organisation after careful analysis can be aligned to one of the 7 themes shown in the diagram below. Each theme of work is different from the next, and the nature of the VUCA challenges faced at each is different i.e. there is a lot more volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity encountered by organisational leaders who typically operate at the themes of Strategic Development, Strategic Intent and Corporate Citizenship. Nevertheless, each theme of work will carry its only unique challenges that needs to be unpacked and understood.


  • Scientifically evaluate the nature and extent of complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity that each employee within an organisation can cope with. In other words, we try to understand at which theme of work an employee will be able to cope, make effective decisions, and experience flow and engagement, which occurs when the work challenge (VUCA challenge) faced is equal to the employee’s decision-making capability. In order to evaluate the theme of work that either internal employees or external candidates are comfortable with we make use of a number of different ‘capability’ assessment tools i.e. Career Path Appreciation (CPA), Modified Career Path Appreciation (MCPA), or the MCPA -SCAN. The choice of tool depends on the seniority of the candidate completing the assessment and / or the delivery method the client prefers i.e. online or face-to-face.

A VUCA world and the challenges it brings are here to stay and the volatility, complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity faced by organisations is likely to continue growing. Whilst our organisational design methodology and assessment tools have been helping our clients manage their complexity for many years we believe our unique approach of understanding VUCA, from both a structural and people perspective, will continue to add value and contribute to the success our clients enjoy in the context of an ever-changing environmental landscape.