VUCA is a term that gets tossed around a lot these days, especially with post-pandemic concerns. The term arose during the 1990s when the US Military realised that the Soviets weren’t the only problem. VUCA relates closely to Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus’s business theories – referring to a world mired by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – alongside ways to cope in such a scenario.
While VUCA sounds like a fascinating concept that motivates individuals to prepare for the unexpected, one question often remains in the minds of many organisational leaders. How do you measure VUCA capabilities? As with any practical business concept or strategy, VUCA leadership needs to be measurable and actionable to serve value.
There’s where engagement themes come into play. Engagement themes test the response of individuals (leaders/decision-makers) and organisations in specific VUCA scenarios and establish rooms for improvement. The process might compare with a pen test in the IT world, where systems undergo a deliberate and systematic cyberattack that tests their readiness and security.
VUCA requires organisations and leaders to determine actions taken when a system fails. Essentially, leaders need to have contingency plans in place against disruptions. System failures are inevitable in the VUCA world. Protocols will fail to work seamlessly, and prior knowledge might not hold weight.
Is your organisation ready to embrace a solution-focused and people-oriented business solution when VUCA strikes? Systematic failure may occur in many forms – from supply chain disruptions to communication downtimes and the implementation of new rules and regulations.
The clearer and more often the communication among stakeholders, the easier it is to resume business as usual without taking a hit from systematic failure.
Empathy is a significant component in workplace communications, especially during times of stress and unpredictability. Regularly checking in on employees shows a genuine interest in their well-being, which might elevate morale and keep them focused in their roles.
However, empathy goes beyond finding out how an employee is coping with a situation. There are many initiatives like flexible work hours, R&R incentives, and self-development opportunities that will stave away burnout to maintain a healthy and motivated workforce.
Recovery Systems and Future Plans
VUCA-prepared organisations establish a series of measures to recover and proceed from an unexpected crisis. What happens when “A” fails? Is “B” the only alternative?
Additionally, organisations need to consider the causal link between immediate actions and long-term consequences. For example, organisations may cut spending on employee training to tide through operational challenges, but this compromises staff productivity in the long run. Leaders will need to find a middle ground.
Additionally, future plans should take advantage of novel opportunities and trends presented by a VUCA scenario. Leaders and organisations need to stay flexible and fine-tune business strategies as they go along. For example, according to the MIT tech review, the New Normal saw an acceleration in digital transformation and the corporate shift to long-term value.
Functional Responsiveness and Impact Models
An organisation’s functional responsiveness refers to its capabilities of completing a specific task within a given time. VUCA interferes with regular functional responses, which requires leaders to think pragmatically to minimize disruption.
Functional responsiveness considers an organisation’s technological infrastructure and employee performance. Organisations should steer clear from static diagnostic tests that remain unchanged (and hence, inaccurate) despite the flux in a VUCA world. These include standard employee personality tests and similar predictive reports.
Instead, organisations need to deploy dynamic and flexible solutions, such as business strategies that function through collective impact models. An impact model unites co-workers/decision-makers toward making a collective impact.
A collective impact involves five pillars: common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support (an external organisation/party that drives focus and coordination toward impact).
VUCA requires leaders to focus on human resources and a conducive culture above all else, rallying employees and keeping them engaged to fulfill their roles effectively. Gallup studies show that a healthy organisational culture attracts the top 20% of candidates.
Knowledge Measurement and Sensemaking
Organisations need to make full use of reliable data and information to drive critical decisions during a VUCA episode. The process involves evaluating existing knowledge and procedures and testing their workability in the face of VUCA.
There should be a systematic approach that categorises various knowledge types, such as employee feedback, market analytics, and machine learning. Additionally, organisations need to ensure the accuracy, consistency, and up-to-dateness of data.
Sensemaking also plays a crucial role in data management, where leaders need to establish the most effective ways of interpreting and applying data according to business practices and industry trends. Poorly implemented or immobilized data will fail to improve operations even if they carry game-changing insights.
Additionally, it is necessary to identify knowledge and skill gaps among employees and providing them with the tools and expertise to function optimally in VUCA crises. Before determining what’s lacking, you’ll need to assess the strengths and capabilities of employees. The process ideally involves an alignment of individual strengths with organisational objectives.
A specialized online assessment like the CliftonStrengths (Clifton StrengthsFinder) can help leaders identify each employee’s unique traits and work out the best method of empowering them and keeping them engaged throughout any unforeseen circumstance.
Organisational leaders can improve employee satisfaction and retention by recognising personal objectives and working to help achieve them. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, such as setting various deadlines (e.g., short-term, medium, and long-term goals) or providing skills training and upgrades according to scheduled timelines.
How VUCA-ready Are You?
While there are many strategies of becoming VUCA-prepared and engagement themes can help your organisation get there, there will always be surprises along the way. But that’s the advantage of VUCA leadership- providing an approach that replaces best practices with a versatile style that emphasises agility and collaboration.
VUCA puts a spin on traditional leadership competencies – transforming fears of uncertainty into novel opportunity, complexity clarified with teamwork, and a growth-mindset fuelled by adversity. The most well-prepared organisations must become agents of positive change in a vortex of chaos and always ready to face what the future brings.
StrengthsAsia has helped many individuals and corporate clients empower leaders throughout the region by enabling breakthrough experiences for both leaders and followers. If you wish to learn more about the Strengths Leadership Program, please reach out to us here.