6 management books as references for Management reinvented for a VUCA world

Management is in need of a major rethink.

We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (“VUCA”) world – where we have very little ability to control or predict what will happen in our near future. This reality is also true in organisations that rely on knowledge, information and ideas, as opposed to activities that rely on a production line system. Unless you work on the factory floor, or some form of production line – chances are you will be dealing with quite an amount of VUCA. 

For some time management has been aiming at trying to control, predict and eliminate the VUCA, but it is a losing battle. VUCA is the reality, and no amount of management can eliminate it. After all, you can never really predict nor forecast the future now can you?

Management as we know it was invented at the time of the Industrial Revolution whereby, human capital was just seen as tools in a production line created in order to make widgets at scale, faster and more efficiently. Industrial Age management emphasised control, conformity, predictability and efficiency.

In many situations today, such production lines are increasingly automated or outsourced to cheaper locations. What many organisations have left to do is to respond to the changing customer demands and technology disruptions, amongst many other changes. Unfortunately, management still employs processes and practices that were created for the production line in a futile aim of controlling and predicting outcomes. 

Let me correct the last statement a little. Management can still to some extent control and predict outcomes – only if it aims to stay within a very narrow range with near to zero risk of variance. But this results in stagnation and in worst cases, doom. 

Management has been slow to adapt to the fast pace of development as well as the increasing VUCA we face in our businesses and economies on a daily basis.

Organisations must evolve to the changing environment. This is true. But management will need to stop trying to control and predict outcomes. Instead, management will need to quickly sense and adapt to the changing environment in order to deliver the best outcomes.

This is why management will need to move away from “command and control” towards a model that empowers and inspires the best out of people. This is because, people are organic and are very adaptable to changing environments. People respond to environment changes quickly. So management will need to harness this ability effectively.

It is in this context, that I sought out management ideas to help guide our way. Through a colleague, I first stumbled on the Beyond Budgeting Roundtable. Subsequently, I discovered other materials and I would recommend a few books that can shed some light into how management should rethink itself in this context of VUCA.

The Future of Management – Gary Hamel

The Future of Management – Gary Hamel

Beyond Budgeting – Jeremy Hope

Beyond Budgeting: How Managers Can Break Free from the Annual Performance Trap – Jeremy Hope & Robin Fraser

Reinventing the CFO – Jeremy Hope

Reinventing the CFO: How Financial Managers Can Transform Their Roles and Add Greater Value – Jeremy Hope

Implementing Beyond Budgeting – Bjarte Bogsnes

Implementing Beyond Budgeting: Unlocking the Performance Potential – Bjarte Bogsnes

Radical Management – Stephen Denning

The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century – Stephen Denning

Employee First Customer Second – Vineet Nayar

Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down – Vineet Nayar


Goals – keep you moving forward. Purpose – helps you get up when you’re down.

I was asked the question today on how do I keep myself motivated, even when things are so stacked against you.

We often have goals, aspirations – whatever you want to call it. Often life finds a way to deal you cards that knock you off the path to your goals. And you wonder how you are going to ever achieve these aspirations. Over time, you start to scale your goals down. And finally you just settle. 

Nothing wrong with just settling. In fact, it is good to be happy with what you have.

However sometimes, for some people – this may not be enough. And that is ok too. It is good that a few people in this world choose to have big aspirations. This is important so that we can look up to them and they can lead the way. And often big aspirations have a bad habit of not coming true or getting derailed. 

I believe that if you have a clear purpose – you will find the energy to pick yourself up and move forward. A purpose is slightly different to a goal or aspiration. A purpose is something larger than oneself – whereas to me, a goal tends to be about oneself. A purpose is about how you can make an impact (positive, preferably) to other people. This is meaningful and brings reason and purpose to one’s existence.

Identifying your own purpose is not very obvious. And no one can tell you what your purpose is. Only you know it. Or will know it, if you keep searching. Some have described purpose is the overlap between finding your gift – and – sharing your gift with others. To some people, this purpose may come from a particular event in one’s life. To others it may be readily apparent. 

Once you’ve found your purpose, you’ve found something bigger than a few mere setbacks. That is what will help you.

The environment shapes culture. Change the environment, culture will follow.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

You can have a great strategy, but if the culture is not right then the strategy will fail. What is culture? In simple terms, my view of culture relates to how people act and behave, their habits and norms, their priorities and focuses. 

But changing or reshaping culture is not an easy thing. You cannot change how people conduct themselves. You can’t effectively force people who love to spend to suddenly save. You can tell them to do so, remind and cajole them even. But they will not willingly or naturally do so.

However, if you create a hypothetical situation where prices increases sharply, then people will start to save. This can be clearly seen with regards to natural resources such as water. If water is cheap, people will use it with very little thought and often waste it. When water is precious and expensive then people will start to save it. 

The same applies in management. If you want a culture of obedience, you create detailed rules and processes (bureaucracy!), you emphasise punishment and fear. If you want a culture of innovation, you allow more freedom especially for people to think different and try new things. You create the space and encourage minds to open.

Don’t spend time trying to get people to behave differently. Work on the systems and processes, not the people. 

Don’t bother trying to change people behaviours. Just change your management processes. Identify what kind of culture you want. What behaviours you would like to see. Be very clear on this. Then identify what are the current systems and processes that inhibit these behaviours and those the encourage these behaviours. Start changing those systems and processes. 

Work on the systems. The culture will follow.

The long journey to success is a journey of personal growth and change

Many things we do that is meaningful, is never easy.

Often we will face significant challenges, make mistakes and create enemies. But at the same time we become better, we learn new things and we make new friends – as long as we have a clear purpose and aim to do what is right with humility, sincerity and integrity. It is so important to find your purpose and values.

Inspire people towards their purpose, build up and not take down. Help them see the future. Spend time with them creating the future. Allow them to be creative, don’t kill dreams, don’t kill diversity. Accept them as people with big dreams.

Hold firm to your values. Your values will guide you in your actions and decisions, especially when you are faced with difficult choices.

Keep your beliefs strong – yet, open to other beliefs. Because beliefs are just that: beliefs. These are not truths. Always ensure that we keep our minds open; open to learning new things. Be a good listener, and seek first to understand others in order to be understood. Resist the temptation to jump and react in the first instance, stay calm and contemplate your situation properly.

Empower others. Empower them with knowledge, information and the ability to make decisions. 

Forgive. People who are sincere, should be forgiven. 

If you’re on a journey that is meaningful – you will need all these and more because the journey is tough, but the journey is the reward, even if you do not reach the end.

If you want innovation, you have to encourage independent thought

We live in an age where technology, customer expectations, and markets shift rapidly. Sticking with dogma and age old ideas, methods, products and services will no longer cut it.

Assuming that we believe in the above – and I would not be too far off the mark, I’d guess – then we need to be able to adapt, respond, anticipate these shifts before and as they happen. We need to be agile, and most of all we need to be innovative. We need to find even more effective solutions to old and new problems. What worked in the past will not guarantee to work in the future.

Innovation is the key to winning in the fast changing world.

But innovation is not just an activity. It is more than that. It is a mindset, a culture, a function that everyone plays – and not just some people in labs and research centres.

Like creativity, you cannot force innovation. Like creativity, innovation must be allowed to flow, naturally. The biggest enabler for innovation is allowing individuals the freedom to have independent thought.

The seed of a new idea would only come from a ground that is fertile with many different thinking. In groups of people, society and organisations – allowing people to think different allows them to explore new ideas, test new perspectives, find new solutions in ways never been thought of before. A social group that emphasises conformity over individuality will psychologically limit the collective minds. This is often the subtle tyranny of the majority.

A society or organisation that is conscious of these subtle effects will need to take steps to allow individuality and take these steps even further by bringing in people who would be expected to see things differently – given they come from different backgrounds and thus would naturally see things differently. Artists will see different solutions to problems than would engineers or accountants. People from different industries will see different ways to solve problems. This is vital in order to encourage innovation. Societies and organisations will need to infuse their own culture and groups of people with people from other backgrounds in order to create a much richer diversity of thought.