News from the wonder world of change

+++VUCA+++4 letters, which change the world+++are our leaders fit for VUCA+++leading in times of uncertainty and transformation+++

VUCA as a concept is not yet widely used in Germany. VUCA is a perfect description of what is happening in our business world. Transformation and change have shaped the economic and corporate sentry for many years. Global interdependencies, disruptive innovations and a massive pressure to innovate create a highly complex network of information and decisions that corporate executives and managers must face day by day. Often, they lack the view of the great whole – the systemic understanding beyond “cause and effect – thinking”.

Our world has become VUCAvolatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous ….

But has that not always been the case, and the assumption of firmness, certainty, simplicity, and unambiguity was a welcome but false insight? Has not Heraclitus prepared us with his clear sighted picture saying“you never step twice into the same river”?

What can we as leaders learn from ancient Greek philosophy, from Zen masters, or from master Eckhart to find a more wise approach to deal with constant change and admitting ambiguities?



How can expectation and anticipation influence the results of change processes?

Researchers at the University Clinic of Marburg have considered how to help patients after heart surgery which obviously means a significant change in physical health. The purpose was how to process the consequences of the surgery much better. They knew that negative expectations could worsen the prognosis of patients after a heart surgery, and simply turned the tables.

If the expectation level was improved before surgery the patients could really benefit from it. A positive but realistic expectation helped the patient to better overcome bypass surgery than the patients of a control group. The improvement of the expectation was particularly supported by conversations with psychologists who prepared the patients positively for the post-surgery period. Important was that the short interventions took place before the procedure and not only afterwards. The distribution of stress hormones and inflammation markers fell significantly with the supervised Patients.

 Mouse loves cheese more – or why “forward to…” is better than “away from…” and what that has to do with creativity

Basically, it is a central principle in the brain: Minimize risk and maximize reward (Gordon, 2001). This is an analogy to brain decisions that take place on a fundamental level: “wanting” (rewarding to move towards something) in contrast to “wanting to avoid” (threat, back). When a stimulus is combined with positive feelings or rewards, a “go to ..” activity usually occurs when a stimulus is associated with negative feelings and punishment, a “away from …” activity arises.

In a 2001 study by Friedman and Foster, two groups were working on an experiment in which they were asked to find the best way out of the middle of the labyrinth for a mouse and to get to an image outside the labyrinth.

In one group, the picture showed a cheese, while the other group had an owl, an enemy. Afterwards, both groups completed creativity tests. The group that had moved to the cheese triggered significantly more creative problems than the other one that moved to the owl.

The results of this study have been confirmed in many others and show that even subtle effects of this “go to – avoidance” behavior lead to large differences in cognitive performance.

In the social world, this means that the sense of threat (for example, by the supervisor) reduces the ability to solve complex problems and increase the probability of errors. All the energy that the brain would need to think through constructive approaches to solutions are no longer available to the prefontal cortex but are used in the amygdala to deal appropriately with the sense of threat.

From IQ (Intelligence Quotient) via EQ (Emotional Intelligence) to AQ (Adaptability Quotient)

Whenever it becomes more obvious that change, innovation and creative problem solving will be essential components of a successful company management in the future, quality becomes essential: sovereign, shaping handling with change. This applies especially to executives, but also to employees. For the development of companies, as well as for personal development in their own environment.

In the seventies of the last century, there was then the first major public for the measurement of intelligence and the use of IQ (Intelligence Quotient) for simplified classification. Around 1990 the focus was on the ability to perceive and understand one’s own and the feelings of others. This approach was made popular by D. Goleman and his concept of emotional intelligence (EQ).

Since few years the concept of adaptability (AQ) has become increasingly important for professional success as well as the ability of an organization to adapt to changing circumstances. Looking at companies we speak of a critical point where a decisive change is necessary in order to reach the next level of performance. If the organization does not see or miss this point, it goes downhill. The AQ therefore presupposes courage to change as a condition.

Interesting in this context, that William Stern defined intelligence at the beginning of the 20th century as: ability to adapt to unknown situations and solve new problems ….

Job interview or criticise or constructive criticism or correction in the end?

If Deloitte invests more than 2 million hours a year for employee interviews with its more than 65,000 employees around the globe, if Adobe believes that the time for annual performance reviews equal 40 full-time jobs, then it becomes clear that the employee discussion as a tool of employee leadership has to be questioned how and to what extent this procedure has a positive impact on the development of the quality of work results. It shows that the quality of the employee discussion is of crucial importance. Missing this quality may lead to qualified staff leaving the company. One of the reasons is that they consider conduct and results of the performance reviews as unfair, often because of the applied ratings.


Organizations tend more and more to minimize the use of ratings for the evaluation of performance in the employee discussion and to replace them by orientation to goals, growth and development. Thus such discriminatory assessments as: “low performers” would no longer be helpful.

Often, managers try to mitigate their critical feedback through terms such as: conversation, constructive feedback. Do employees really like that? When the invitation comes by mail, “I want to talk to you …”, the employees know exactly what to expect. And the technique of presenting the critical message as a sandwich between two positive feedbacks is experienced by the employee as if something was hidden. We know that every social threat in the brain produces something similar as laying the hand on the hot hearth. Studies show that employees estimate corrective feedback more than positive, and 72% say corrective feedback would improve their performance. How can feedback be given without producing pain?

It is important that the recipient of feedback retains some control over the process (status, security, autonomy) by determining the date. It is better if the purpose for the criticism is derived from the future goal (“to make sure that we can advance x accordingly, let us today …”). The orientation towards the goal opens options for action, the view on erroneous behavior in the past triggers justification. Using examples helps to work on solutions instead of sticking to personal discussions. In addition there is the possibility to activate the reward system of the brain by giving the employee chance for self- feedback which can also be described as a kind of “feedforward,” a kind of positive suggestion experienced by the brain as status reward rather than a status threat.

After all, the way the critical feedback is received is also a question of leadership culture: nothing can happen without trust. The rule of thumb is for every critical, negative feedback at least 2-3 positive feedbacks should be communicated.