Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Signs pointing in different directions

Is Your Organization VUCA-Ready? How to Thrive amidst Volatility and Uncertainty

by James Porter April 19, 2021

This article is written by Lynn Thomas. A former tax attorney at Arthur Andersen, 
Lynn Thomas brings the same rigor to her work now as an employee and client retention consultant. With more than 30 years’ experience, she uncovers why clients / employees come, stay, leave, refer, and cross-buy. Her unique, fully customized approach includes measurable and actionable steps toward cultivating a powerful, profitable, and relationship-centric company. Learn more about Lynn and Thomas Consulting, here.
Is Your Organization VUCA-Ready? 
Back in the 1990s, at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Army War College came up with an acronym to describe the totally new and different state of world politics and dynamics after the end of the Cold War. The term was “VUCA,” which stood for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.
Well, if there’s a more appropriate acronym to describe the challenges businesses are facing today due to COVID, I don’t know what it is!
All four characteristics of VUCA are with us:
  • Volatility: Changes due to COVID-19 are taking place every day — unpredictable, dramatic, and fast.
  • Uncertainty: No one can predict with confidence when vaccines will achieve herd immunity, when the pandemic will end, or when/if we will find a cure.
  • Complexity: The pandemic is affecting all aspects of life in complex and interconnected ways, including health care, business, the economy, and social life.
  • Ambiguity: As of yet, there is no “best practice” that organizations can follow to manage the challenges the pandemic has created.
A New Kind of Leader
In today’s VUCA environment, we need leaders who are willing to adopt new mindsets, address unprecedented challenges, and find new and creative solutions. They need to create game-changing innovation at a ludicrous speed, and they need to do it in a way that is inclusive across a diverse range of employees and situations.
Above all, they must be courageous, integrating a VUCA mindset into the culture of the organization and leading through the remainder of the pandemic in a way that their employees and organizations finish in a position of strength.
Here are five areas on which to focus:
#1. AttitudeTo be a successful leader during VUCA times, you must have self-awareness, authenticity, and a bit of humility. You must build an emotional connection with your employees, part of which is to genuinely care about them and their families.
A VUCA environment demands mutual trust, as well as shared vision and purpose. Your employees are your eyes and ears; you need them to provide accurate data on what is occurring in all areas of your company.
#2. LearningUnder current conditions, learning is central to functioning effectively. Everyone must adapt since the past and present are no longer good predictors of the future (in fact, they could mislead you).
For employees, that means having an open mind and becoming agile learners, so that they can assess what’s relevant, ignore what isn’t, quickly learn and apply new concepts, evaluate results, act, learn, experiment, and pivot to seize new opportunities.
For employees, that means having an open mind and becoming agile learners, so that they can assess what’s relevant, ignore what isn’t, quickly learn and apply new concepts, evaluate results, act, learn, experiment, and pivot to seize new opportunities.
As a leader, you need to invest in hyper-empowering the personal and professional growth of those you lead. Whomever can learn the quickest in a disrupted and changing work environment will win/succeed.
#3. CollaborationNo one knows the future; everyone must actively collaborate to work through conflicts and provide an information-rich environment. That’s when innovation occurs. Pixar works under the assumption that everyone possesses aslice of genius.” The leader’s role is to unleash and utilize that genius for the organization.
#4. SpeedDecision-making and problem-solving need to be done rapidly. In agile organizations, that also means that no one dominates — not experts, not leaders. The risk to the organization of adopting anything new is high; everyone involved must voice his/her opinion. Under VUCA conditions, moving ahead with ideas or insights left unspoken could be disastrous.
#5. CommunicationLeaders need to regularly communicate in ways that inspire and motivate their employees, through bounded optimism tempered with realityThe realities will change, but regardless of the difficulties, your employees need to know they will succeed and emerge stronger, more talented, and resilient.
They may begin the process as coal or a rough-cut gem, but they will emerge as brilliant, shining diamonds because of the friction, pressure, and abrasion. This allows both the company and every employee to be transformed!
Thoughts on Moving Forward
But maybe you are thinking, “I cannot work like this. The pace is too fast, I am not that creative, it won’t work.”
Well think back to March of last year. With zero planning and no warning, we all learned to switch over to working remotely in just a couple of weeks! As one of my clients said, “If we had been told that at some point in the future that we would have to work remotely, we would still be running our pilot a year later.”
We did in two weeks what people have been trying to do for years.
In a VUCA environment, organizations unleash people's talents, creativity, and passions in a way that simply isn’t possible under “normal” conditions. All of us were faced with an “impossible” demand and together we did it.
VUCA may be here to stay, but never bet against truly inspired, motivated, and passionate people!
Personal Growth Insight
The most important aspect to accelerate our growth is to increase our personal awareness. There are two parts to self-awareness: the internal and external.
Internal self-awareness means knowing your values, feelings, and personality strengths and weaknesses. External self-awareness means knowing how other people see you and the impact you have on others. The two parts are independent of each other.
Fortunately, self-awareness is a skill that can be developed — all it takes is a willingness to improve.
Essential elements include questioning your assumptions about yourself and asking for feedback. Finding people who are skilled in giving honest feedback in a kind and caring manner is paramount, since it opens a view of yourself that you cannot unlock on your own.
Man with arrow going up         Retention Stat of the Month
90% of workers said they are more likely to stay at a company that takes and acts on feedback.
The theme of feedback weaves throughout this newsletter. In a VUCA world, leaders need to listen deeply to their employees’ ideas, ask probing questions, and keep them involved in the process.
They also need to listen to how employees perceive their leadership. If the leadership style is not open, curious, and adaptable, the employees will probably not tell you all the information — they fear you could retaliate or are not really interested.
Giving and receiving feedback is so vital to all organizations that almost everyone can immensely benefit from annual training on how to be maximally effective.

James Porter
James Porter