3. Literature analysis
In this section, we analysed the data obtained in the search and selection process described
above from two viewpoints. On the one hand, we examined the information obtained from the first selection of
articles on VUCA environments, which we used to adjust the current state of the art and other trends that may be
detected in the future, in order to answer the first research question (Q1). On the other hand, we will
determine the degree of maturity of each of the empirical studies carried out by the scientific community to
date, applying the aforementioned Edmondson and McManus methodology to answer the second research question (Q2),
and thus determine which research disciplines could be most useful to the scientific community.
Regarding the number of articles published (Figure 1), although the
first article is from 1992, the first that was released in a scientific journal is from 2009. The number of
published articles remained practically constant until 2012, then grew from 2013 onwards. However, from 2020
onwards, there was a significant increase in the use of this term, coinciding with the beginning of the
Figure 1: Diachronic analysis of peer-reviewed publications.
The geographical origin of the first authors of the research is very diverse (Figure 2). The most prominent country is India, with 34 articles (24.8%); followed by the
USA, with 28 articles (20.4%). The UK 16 articles (11.7 %), Australia 7 articles (5.1 %) and Germany 6
articles (4.4 %) are also prominent (the remaining countries have less than three publications).
Figure 2: Papers published by country.
3.2 Knowledge areas
We follow the methodology proposed by Tranfield et al. (2003) which
has been followed by multiple studies (Nolan & Garavan, 2016; Wang et
al., 2014) to determine the knowledge areas.
Each researcher carried out an independent reading of the 137 articles. In this reading, 5
major areas of knowledge were established. During the process, discrepancies were resolved through consensus,
with the aim of reaching a single common list. Regarding the areas of knowledge covered in the articles
collected in our research, strategic management and leadership are among those where most of the works are
concentrated, in first place, with 41 articles from strategic management (29.9 %). There are different
approaches, such as scenario evaluation (Maier et al., 2016; Sharif &
Irani, 2017), excellence management (Saleh and Watson, 2017), disruptive innovation
(Pandit et al., 2018) or strategy (Bereznoy, 2017; Giones
et al., 2019; Kim et al., 2018; Thorén & Vendel, 2019). The
citation numbers of the articles belonging to these knowledge areas are directly related to the difficulty of
managing in turbulent environments such as VUCA. In the case of leadership, with 33 articles (24.1 %), many
are related to innovation (Hall & Rowland, 2016; Schoemaker et al.,
2018), within this field, the work of Bennett & Lemoine (2014) on the
identification of VUCA variables and the establishment of recommendations with the aim of counteracting the
effects of these variables on management stands out for its number of citations. Other topics present to a
lesser extent are human resources (HR), organisational development, education and learning, innovation,
sociology, raw materials and religion, though with a significantly lower number of publications.
A summary of the implications derived from the areas of knowledge discussed in the
academic literature appears in Table 2. In this table we include a column with the
references of the key articles in these areas (VUCA articles included in the revision are contributing to
Table 2: Areas of knowledge
The subjects related to business management, have been taken into account in order to
propose, as a conclusion to the study, some recommendations for this field. In our case, the areas we took
into account due to their obvious significance to the business environment were: leadership, strategic
management, organisational development, HR and Education and Learning.
Leadership. A VUCA environment requires management control, supported by creativity and
innovation. To achieve this, one of the most effective organisational structures is ambidexterity (Nadler & Tushman, 1990; Tushman & O’Reilly, 1996). Thus,
management supervision exists (exploitation) yet the creative phase of exploration, which represents a
significant improvement in the adaptive capacities of the company, is not neglected. Likewise the dynamic
capabilities theory (Carnahan et al., 2010; Teece et al., 1997)
constitutes an effective tool for leadership in a VUCA environment, as explained in the work by Schoemaker et al. (2018) , where it is proposed that only through entrepreneurial leadership
by Top Management Teams (TMT) can it be managed with guarantees in this turbulent environment. These authors
indicate that only through strongly rooted dynamic capabilities will organisations be able to stay at the
forefront through rapid innovation, given the specific skills that must be developed to undertake this
function. Only with serious involvement on the part of the TMT can it be carried out.
Strategic Management. It is necessary to open up the traditional management-exploitation
model to include leadership-exploration considerations (March, 1991). This will require
simul-taneous development. Forecasting and early warning models that can serve as management tools in the VUCA
environment will have to be incorporated into management (Bartscht, 2015; Börjeson et al., 2006; Rowe, 2010), as well as the use of new procedures
for managing future scenarios (Alexander et al., 2018; Sarkar &
Osiyevskyy, 2018; Thorén & Vendel, 2019).
Human Resources. The development of new attributes in the field of leadership requires new
management of human resources, which enhance the ability to adapt by enabling new skills (Johansen, 2007) and by the empowerment of what has come to be called human capital (Shaffer & Zalewski, 2011), emphasising areas such as innovation, which has now acquired
special relevance (Sing & Sorum, 2018).
Organisational Development. New models have recently emerged, based on the development of
organisational ambidexterity as a response to a VUCA environment (Du & Chen, 2018),
based on knowledge workers (Rao & Thakur, 2019), promoting maximum transparency in
knowledge transfer (Pangaribuan et al., 2020).
Education and Learning. Last but not least, training must be included in this summary. New
strategies are needed that can effectively address learning in a VUCA reality, through innovative models (Sathya, 2020; Seow et al., 2019), or based on continuous learning (Tsui & Dragicevic, 2018) and dynamic capabilities (Teece, 2011).
3.3 Future VUCA research with regards to knowledge areas
In this section we include new opportunities of research with regards to the different
knowledge areas introduced previously.
Leadership. It is necessary to develop skills related to the management of scenarios,
where uncertainty and turbulence are elements of special relevance. A redefinition of the qualities of a
leader is required. Skills such as vision, which have been very important up until now, are less relevant in a
VUCA environment, given the difficulty of drawing up a future perspective based on current information. The
ability to adapt (Schoemaker et al., 2018) appears as an essential element of study. The
appearance of adaptive leadership is a highly consistent element of study.
Strategic management. Within the literature on ambidexterity, it is necessary a good
balance among exploration and exploitation strategies. The elements of adaptation and forecasting, in the face
of an uncertain reality, acquire much greater importance (O’Reilly & Tushman, 2008).
The agility of responses should be considered as a core element, with a clear influence on both human
resources (HR) and the organisational development of the company. Higher doses of intuition are required (Robinson et al., 2017), since the value of the information obtained from the environment is
more relative. Proper risk management, at organisational, group and individual levels, must be considered (Cheese, 2016; Getele et al., 2019), as well as adaptability and
flexibility (Sushil, 2017). Identifying the precursors of a VUCA element in a company is a
particularly relevant aspect in order to be able to tackle them as quickly as possible and minimise their
effects (Codreanu, 2016; Heinonen et al., 2017). In this VUCA reality,
one of the elements to which the company’s management must pay the greatest attention is organisational
development, as the correct evolution of the company will depend on this.
Human Resources. Due to the characteristics of the current environment, issues such as the
selection of personnel are particularly relevant at present. Their criteria must be considered through a VUCA
lens, as the ability to adapt to changes in the environment is essential. Although elements such as commitment
and the ability to work as a team must always be taken into account, given the special characteristics of the
environment, they now become fundamental. Adequate and transparent management of the transmission of knowledge
between departments is a crucial factor to be able to provide company managers with good decision-making
tools. In this nascent reality, new skills are needed that must be implemented by the HR department, based on
efficiency and flexibility. Within this field, there is a close relationship between the characteristics of
the environment and its development and efficiency, making the appropriate dynamic modelling of a work team
highly relevant to anticipate needs (Mathieu et al., 2014). In the same way, new jobs
require new profiles, which is a challenge for human resource departments (Reichel &
Mayrhofer, 2009). They also involve the development of individual competencies, as an element of change
in the company, given that these are key resources to create dynamic capabilities (Kamprath
& Mietzner, 2015). Accordingly, the development of appropriate tools to facilitate the work of
management teams in addressing VUCA challenges is of special interest.
Organisational development. The speed of response to a turbulent and changing environment,
based on precision and agility, is essential. Correct management of the company’s own expertise, and
transferring it to all the departments involved, must be carefully considered the role that the HR department
must play to enhance these skills in the organisation is crucial. The transmission of what the organisation
needs to achieve its objectives and being able to make an adequate response to the environment are of vital
importance. All this must be actively supported by those responsible for the company’s management.
Education and learning. A new environment requires new knowledge, and executive training
is a field which is constantly evolving. There is an urgent need to acquire specific skills to manage such an
environment, in which uncertainty and turbulence take on a particularly salient role. Given this reality, new
teaching concepts are emerging with the aim of filling these gaps: the curricular development of the new
generation of TMT components and the adaptation of VUCA teaching, in order to provide tailored tools to
educational entities, so they can work effectively on the new problems arising today. Among the new leadership
skills, creativity and innovation, focused on both leadership and management, appear as fundamental elements.
From this point of view, there are many relevant fields that could be the object of study
in the short term. These include innovation and entrepreneurship, which have long been conditioned by this
changing environment, as they have a direct relationship with innovation and the improvement of performance in
companies experiencing a turbulent environment (Hult et al., 2004; Kraus et
al., 2012; Yasir et al., 2017). Last but not least, training in all its areas is a
very interesting field for management and leadership (Chambers et al., 2010; Orphanos & Orr, 2014; Rowland & Hall, 2014).
We can also comment on other areas of knowledge which, although they are relevant, have
been subject to a significant lack of research, such as the changes in B2B and market relations that are
taking place with the emergence of new technologies, as well as the implications for e-commerce (Iyer et al., 2009; Iyer et al., 2004). The development of control and
management systems for customer relationships are core factors in the proper management of companies (Bonnemaizon et al., 2007; Wilson et al., 2007)
A special field is that of public administrations and their performance in the VUCA
environment, together with the evolution of citizen participation in a more dynamic environment and its
implications (Stivers et al., 2018) and the area of complexity management (Klijn, 2008).
3.4. Maturity level of VUCA research
Of the total 137 documents studied, there were 85 conceptual documents (62.0%), 21 pure
qualitative documents (15.3%), 22 pure quantitative documents (16.1%) and 9 mixed qualitative/quantitative
documents (6.6%). The high number of conceptual documents (85) compared to the rest (52 in total) highlights
the nascent character of the VUCA research environment, which is currently taking off in the scientific
community (Edmondson & McManus, 2007).
Aiming to answer the second research question, we organised the published articles
according to the criteria of Edmondson and McManus (2007) . This methodology will only be
carried out on empirical articles, which in our case are 52 and a summary table
was drawn. According to these criteria, from a total of 52 articles, 21 articles (40.4%) were nascent, 9
articles (17.3%) were intermediate, and 22 articles (42.3%) were mature.
Nascent articles. These contain empirical research of a qualitative nature,
collected through observations, working documents and/or in-depth interviews with a content-oriented
theme. The development of new constructs is intended, with the aim of offering an original response to
the how and why of the research questions proposed on a subject of interest. Some examples of these
articles include Hall and Rowland (2016) , in leadership (Giones et
al., 2019), or in decision making in VUCA environments.
Intermediate articles. These works incorporate a qualitative and quantitative
analysis, in order to identify the relationships between new and existing constructs. Examples include
Oliva & Kotabe (2018) in which the main problems that start-ups can encounter in
high turbulence environments (VUCA) are raised through a combination of interviews with experts and
quantitative analysis; and that of Seow et al. (2019) , which investigated the
results of the implementation of an experimental pedagogy at the University of Singapore adapted to VUCA
environments, through a study based on quasi-experiments and a quantitative analysis of the findings
Mature articles. These articles study a specific concept from a quantitative
perspective, with models already existing in the literature. In this case, they were empirically
validated through statistical methods. Examples include Geysi et al. (2019),
comparing corporate values in VUCA environments, and that of Niblock & Harrison
(2013) , who study the behaviour of the carbon market.
The research gaps observed in the reviewed literature, which are summarised in Table 3 confirm the initial research phase in this field: there are few articles that rely on
consolidated management theories. This is a relevant aspect, since one of the critical characteristics of
performance in a VUCA environment is management and leadership. It is especially significant that the dynamic
capabilities theory is only used as a reference in five articles (Jari & Lauraéus,
2019; Pandit et al., 2018; Schoemaker et al., 2018). Accordingly,
this implies that there is a lack of articles that focus on implementing management systems in VUCA
environments. There are no quantitative studies in quality publications (first and second quartiles) that
provide us with field information on how the VUCA reality is perceived, and how solutions are being
implemented through management and leadership, which makes it difficult to identify the most suitable
solutions to address this environment. In addition, there are no comparative studies between theory and the
actual practice of business management. According to Ashby’s law (Ashby, 1957, p. 206 ),
“Only variety can absorb variety.” From this, we can derive that the management of a complex environment
requires complexity. It would therefore be very relevant to systematically investigate management aspects that
could serve as an empirical reference of good practices. New skills which take this situation into account (Johansen, 2010) will be necessary for these new times, which will especially affect team
management and the training of executives, especially when the environment is subjected to those circumstances
of dynamism and uncertainty that are so relevant.
Table 3: Perceived gaps
||References to the dynamic
capabilities’ view are missing.
||This theory is only used in five
articles, despite being considered as the most suitable theory for turbulent environments (Schoemaker et al., 2018).
||Articles are missing on the
implementation of management systems in the VUCA environment.
||The complexity of the VUCA reality
requires theoretical developments that facilitate management and leadership tasks.
||Lack of articles describing the
reality of management/leadership in the VUCA environment.
||There are no field visions
(qualitative analyses) of the VUCA reality and how management and leadership are being implemented in
companies that do it successfully.
||Few articles with references to
confronting the gap between management/real leadership, from ideal to theoretical in VUCA. Application
of the Resource- and Capability- theories.
||As with the previous point, it would
be interesting to have comparative studies between theoretical and real leadership practices in
companies, which would serve as a reference.
||Very few empirical articles
||This is a derivative of the novelty of
this problem. In any case it would be an interesting gap to cover from the perspective of management
and leadership by developing empirical studies that centre on these two elements.
||Shortage of articles on team
||Proper management of work teams is
||Few articles on education and training
||This is a support element for both
management and leadership.