Reflections on the IES HR Network event: HR leadership in complexity and change

HR Network news

2 Jun 2021

Participants began by drawing on their experience of real-world complexity. Sharon then drew on those experiences to bring some key ideas from complexity science to life. She explained that the world has always been complex and changeable, but we’ve taken much of it in our stride. Yet 2020 delivered a powerful reminder that the world is complex, changeable and uncertain. And now we’ve seen it, we cannot unsee it. So, the question is, what does that mean for HR leadership in complexity and continuous change?

We explored the VUCA world in practice and HR Network members discussed the leadership challenges that a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world has brought for them. Sharon explained that the challenge for HR leadership is perpetual uncertainty and ambiguity. But she also offered some good news. HR professionals are well-placed to engage with the complexity in organisational life. Even better, we have some valuable human skills that will help us to make our leadership count in a VUCA world.

Sharon explained how we can use ‘learning informed leadership’ to get on the front foot in change (Varney, 2021). It all starts with noticing weak signals about what’s changing. HR Network members had the opportunity to put that into practice as we noticed what is changing in our own organisations. We then discussed how to apply these tools in our working lives.

We ended with a few top tips for HR leadership in complexity and change. These included:

  • paying attention to the space in between
  • looking at the many shades of grey
  • exploring the leading edge of the here and now.

Varney, S. Forthcoming 2021. Leadership in complexity and change, De Gruyter.