Variability, uncertainty and the beauty of diversity – management in the modern world. An interview with Monika Kiełtyka-Michna, Head of Global Procurement Services, AstraZeneca 

Variability, uncertainty and the beauty of diversity – management in the modern world. An interview with Monika Kiełtyka-Michna, Head of Global Procurement Services, AstraZeneca 

What is classifying or describing the world through VUCA or BANI for?

I think that these types of classifications should be approached with some distance and should not be taken as the only possible way to describe the world around us. VUCA and BANI came from the fact that people, living in an ever-changing world, personally experiencing these changes due to advances in science, technology, etc., needed a framework that would give them a greater sense of security, more stability. They needed a new understanding of the reality around them – because understanding is what increases a sense of security.

A good example of a massive need to tame the new reality was the arrival of the next millennium – in the late 90’s everyone was wondering if it would mean the end of the world, would our computers and software “withstand” such a big change in the calendar. No one was quite sure what to expect, so a great many theories arose, from which the then fledgling Internet rumbled. It’s the same construct as today – we operate in the same reality: as we observe the changing world, we try to simplify it, so we make generalizations, post-factum analyses – all in order to at least minimally be able to predict the future.

Since uncertainty, change, non-linearity have always been with us, we thus try to reduce the unpleasant sense of doubt, fear, so we create definitions and narratives that help us navigate the uncertain, complex modern world.

The VUCA narrative was created quite a long time ago, in the 1980s, and served its purpose until the end of the 2nd decade of the 21st century. However, there was a turning point in 2019 – the pandemic outbreak that changed the way we think about the world, about civilization, about us as a species. It turned out that the way of describing the world as VUCA was not enough, that other, more precise words were needed. BANI’s vision of the world is much more in line with our experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made our reality completely unpredictable just overnight.

How should we operate in such an uncertain and changing business environment? What works best?

Compared to previous decades, what now intensifies our sense of uncertainty and constant change the most is the almost cosmic acceleration of technological development. The fact is that change has always accompanied us, however, now the changes in reality are occurring at a geometric rate – the world is basically changing year by year, so it’s no wonder that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to understand and assimilate the reality around us.

I have this reflection that, on the one hand, this is a huge opportunity – the use of artificial intelligence or the ability to access huge amounts of data – this is something we have not experienced before, and it is definitely groundbreaking, exciting for us on many levels. We feel that this kind of change gives us new perspectives, that we can draw on these innovative tools and that this will benefit us. On the other hand, we are afraid of this new, untamed world, because it further heightens our uncertainty.

Looking globally at organizations, but also at the functioning of entire societies, I believe that the key that will allow us to adapt to this new reality will be communication. By communicating in the right way, we will be able to reap the benefits of this information thicket: properly selecting, verifying and sharing information, and then processing and using it effectively. At the same time, we will have to adapt very flexibly to the changing conditions of both life and work.

How does BANI apply to team management? Please share your experience.

What used to be crucial in terms of employee evaluation: hard skills and specialization, will be largely replaced by technology in the future. Reality is already showing that what we as employees will increasingly need is flexibility and openness to change. These kinds of qualities will most fully enable us to manage and control technologies in the right way.

So, in my opinion, the whole design of global organizations has to keep up with the fact that we increasingly need different competencies, different attitudes to work.

Our way of thinking is gradually changing in this direction, and the new generations entering the labour market are accelerating this evolution by presenting an openness to technology, a readiness to use it in daily life and work. The instruments and attributes that younger workers are equipped with, coupled with the diversity of technological solutions, make this an increasingly visible breakthrough in the labour market.

The younger generations are very adept at navigating through the plethora of information and data, but this is not their only asset. Also worth noting is their very approach to work and the balance between work and the personal sphere. It was clear to older generations that work had to be done at a specific time, even at the expense of the self. Employees who are now entering the labour market show us that it is possible to deliver quality work while maintaining a proper work-life balance. In addition, they are teaching us, the older generation, that not everything needs to be controlled, because an ill-conceived sense of control is detrimental to the employee. This is a valuable skill, and it is worthwhile for older generations to want to adopt it.

Another thing that can help us adapt in today’s changing world is to reverse the way we think about the changes themselves. So, such an internal acceptance that the world today is just that: changeable, uncertain, non-obvious, non-linear. Let’s try to change our attitude towards this fact: let’s no longer assume that this is just a temporary state, that calmer times will come one day. Let’s internally accept that reality is challenging, but at the same time let’s give ourselves permission that we don’t have to fully control and understand it at all costs. This kind of thinking can lower our internal level of anxiety and uncertainty about tomorrow.

Has business risk planning, strategic management in companies changed since the pandemic and war in Ukraine?

Companies have paid and continue to pay special attention to risk management. However, as a result of the events of recent years, the approach to risk has changed somewhat. Before the pandemic, we were not able to predict that suddenly the entire population would have to stay at home and work and study remotely. We were in a dead zone in an instant, and at first no one knew how we could handle the situation. This showed us that we should be prepared for any eventuality.

That’s why experts are now talking about the need of being “agile,” that is, to take a more flexible approach to planning activities. There is a shift in thinking about risk: we are moving away from building comprehensive, long-term strategies that describe every possible scenario. We are more focused on remaining flexible and ready to act so that, when unfavourable circumstances arise, we can mobilize and find a solution to the problem as quickly as possible. The important thing is for a crisis situation not to make us freeze, so that we expect it – in one form or another – and are ready to act.

Can you take a chance on the thesis that every country is a separate management style?

If we approach it from the side of management systems in corporations, they are the same everywhere, the decision-making paths are similar. On the other hand, what is the biggest difference, and at the same time the most interesting element from the point of view of a person managing teams in different countries and on different continents, is the people, that is, how employees – formed in their cultures, in their communities and traditions, behave within these imposed corporate frameworks – how they adapt them for themselves.

That is, we have a specific corporate framework, at the centre of which should always be a person. And this is the beauty of working with diverse teams – finding the key to effective communication with each of them. Only in this way are we able to achieve the globally set goals.

Speaking of diversity management, what should we pay attention to now? How is the issue of equalizing opportunities between men and women? Has the labour market dealt with this problem for good?

From my point of view, competences have no gender – personally, I have never had the feeling that I have less opportunities because of being a woman. But, of course, not everyone was so lucky – until a few years ago, the need to talk about gender equality was extremely great. Nowadays, I feel, these differences have been largely bridged and women can develop their competencies and build careers.

What is of particular importance at the moment, when we talk about managing diverse teams, is what I mentioned earlier: noticing the different ways of thinking, the different attributes of their employees that allow them to adapt to an increasingly complex world – the world of BANI. Employers should value and strengthen such competencies in their employees that will allow them to build teams and strategies that are increasingly resistant to change, flexible, self-motivated. A good manager should understand that these can be very different qualities of individuals, and yet, properly reinforced and targeted, they will have the desired effect and find application in a variety of crisis situations.

Monika Kiełtyka-Michna, Head of Global Procurement Services, AstraZeneca 

Monika is a procurement leader with over 20 years of experience, managing substantial budgets for diverse companies. Known for her negotiation prowess and results-driven approach, she excels in guiding organizations through complex transformations. Monika holds an MBA from the University of Minnesota and the Warsaw School of Economics, and she has also served as a Visiting Lecturer at the Warsaw School of Economics. She graduated from the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Cracow, adding to her impressive academic background and professional achievements.

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Last Updated on February 22, 2024 by Anastazja Lach