Dealing with Change and how to respond in a “VUCA” World.
VUCA is a leadership acronym that was first used in 1987 by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus that stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. The U.S. Army War College introduced this concept. But just how relevant is it today?
In this article Sabine Hoffmeister offers insights and ideas on how we can all adapt the acronym VUCA to be truly bespoke to our personal situations. She challenges the current relevance of the original meaning and provides some ideas and thinking on how to deal with a world like this with the aim to involve, motivate and inspire your people in creating their future.
The trouble with VUCA is, it is just an explanation for what is happening. It only tells you what we already know, we are in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. Probably times a factor of 10 now as we have COVID to contend with! Telling your employees, that these are uncertain times and there is lots of ambiguity does not give them the strength, encouragement and direction they need. VUCA, as we know, doesn’t give you any sense of aspiration or does not give us the direction we need to see our path through the current issues we face.
VUCA – VOLATILITY
In our business world it would be a great asset if we could define the future as exactly as possible. But this is not the case, it will never be. And changes happen even more rapidly and unpredictably. Psychologically, people long for stability – which is the antonym. If you have something or someone to count on and a future that is somehow predictable and compelling, that gives us psychological stability and can make us thrive.
VUCA – UNCERTAINTY
Uncertainty is one of the biggest stressors for mankind. Because it is the antidote to certainty that creates trust which is essential for our life. Uncertainty can be life threatening. And on the other hand, life is not risk free and this is part of our life. Living life “as usual” always works till the unforeseen happens and often this forces us into a major shift. Uncertainty can lead to a higher level of awareness and can give us a sense of urgency because the old does not work anymore.
VUCA – COMPLEXITY
Complexity is the enemy of execution. And Simplicity can lead to happiness. Or why else do we all seek for the simple, pure things in life? If things start to be too complicated, people tend to give up and not to follow up. In order to lead in a complex world, try to make it as clear as possible to make sure that people know what is expected. Being crystal clear in your expectations is a crucial factor to get people motivated and aligned in achieving your goals.
VUCA – AMBIGUITY
Ambiguity – if things are not explicitly defined in these days and have more than one interpretation- people get easily confused. If you lead a team, a bit of confusion in the beginning can be part of the journey. But over time, different interpretations can lead to a stuck state and can paralyse an organisation. Transparency and clarity are the tools to ensure different interpretations are overcome.
Let’s play the VUCA game!
I encourage you here to make a new VUCA that works for your team and your organisation’s circumstances. Have a mantra that guides employees, gives belief and direction to better meet the challenges of today. Design an acronym that helps align your joint efforts and behaviours.
Your role as the leader is to work with your team and choose and define those alternative solutions that will give your team direction, motivation and commitment. Adapt, change, create and evolve the way you work together to thrive in this crisis, stay strong and take ownership.
V – Vision, Values, Variety, Vulnerability, Versatility…
C – Consciousness, Compassion, Collaboration, Curiosity, Clarity, Chances …
U – Understanding, Uniqueness, Unity, Uplifting, Unfold…
A – Authenticity, Agility, Alignment, Anticipation, Ambition, Action, Appreciation,
Let’s just explore Two Alternatives to approach Volatility
You need a vision as a guiding principle. In difficult times aligning with your vision or finding a new compelling vision is great advice. A strong compelling vision is the only thing that makes you go forward. It is important to review your vision regularly.
When you are experiencing rough times, a compelling vision can help to motivate and reengage you towards your goals. The traditional vision process, looking forward 10-20 years, is no longer relevant in the current world. The pace of change driven by technology and new solutions means your vision needs to be a maximum of 3-5 years with regular annual reviews as a minimum.
Your values should be aligned with your vision and mission. Values add value by guiding actions and behaviours. There are so many services and products out there – what is it that makes you outstanding or the best in your field, what is it you need to focus upon? What are your core values that define your business?
Value is not only about money – in these times it is more about sustainability and giving people a purpose as to why they should follow you and your company, why your customers should wish to purchase your services/products. People want to be proud of their achievements. Your purpose and values help define your culture and help create the motivation required for success. The impact and your actions shown are a result of what drives you. Putting people first and treating them with respect should be definitively on your list. Create followers by inspiring people and add value by valuing them.
How to respond to UNCERTAINTY – Two Alternative U’s – here U go, find a U for you..
Listen to your people and really seek to understand before responding and judging. True Leadership is not only about advice. Sometimes people need a hand to hold, an ear to listen and a heart to connect. Active listening is critical. Or as written in a book – “please read this with the openness and with the will to understand and then make up your own mind”. Particularly in these times, people need to express their feelings and worries and they want to be – as always – understood and be taken care of. Better understanding involves listening and asking better questions. Have more powerful conversations rather than boring meetings.
The Human factor is being recognised as an important topic. Uniqueness should be valued in terms of diversity and strengths – each of us is unique, there is no “one size fits all” leadership style. The more you know about yourself, your people and the team, the better you can use and value their strengths. Jobs and their requirements will change and knowing the strengths of your people will give you the opportunity to find new solutions. Be flexible in acting, thinking and reacting as a leader. Find your strengths and use them to collaborate with others.
Two Alternative C’s (or even three – because we talk about COMPLEXITY….)
Clarity, especially in times of chaos is a necessary partner for a clear vision and a plan of action. A lack of clarity will not lead to joined forces or a precise outcome. You need clarity about what you want to achieve and how to get it. Clarity is your GPS for the process and gaining clarity is the way to start to counter complexity by taking action. To overcome the denial phase in the change curve, clarity is needed to realize what the next steps in the process are. As soon as you realize that things or situations are the way they are, you can start your process of finding ways to deal with them. Clarity of the mind is a necessity. Be clear on the goal before you define how.
Consciousness is the first step to create awareness and to make shifts happen. The way we live our lives is a state of our consciousness. Only consciously acting and thinking leaders are able to make the shifts needed. This means think first, think ahead, rethink and be aware of what is around you and act accordingly. COVID has forced us to deal with the unknown, unforeseen and to invent new models and to shift paradigms. COVID has heightened the awareness to respect all living species, nature and the environment and has increased the motivation for us to create a better world for the next generations.
Collaboration is key. There is no way to do this on your own, the future is about “we” instead of “I”. The impact is on all of us and in a digitalized and complex world it is critical to network and to work together. Genius is created through the efforts of more than one person. Success is mostly achieved by joint efforts. Creating a team spirit and the willingness to collaborate will lead to the achievements of great things.
How to deal with AMBIGUITY – Two Alternative A’s
As a company, or as a leader it is important to find your own way to deal with topics. Define what defines you. Who are you? Do your actions match your beliefs and role?
Might be a bit challenging in COVID times to transport this into the virtual space of Zoom or Skype. But, nevertheless, even the oracle of Delphi says: “Don’t merely know thyself – be thyself.”
To survive as individuals and to be engaged with others, we have to learn to trust wisely and well. Showing up, being authentic and being humble is what people are looking for in a leader. People want to deal with real people. Ask yourself the right questions to develop authenticity. My advice – it is never a waste to invest in self-development.
Last but not least – this is the most hyped term these days. The transformation processes needed in these times are about agility, the ability to renew, adapt and change rapidly. Agility requires flexibility, speed and the will to change, or a sense of urgency. In order to stay ahead of the game it is necessary to implement processes, procedures, products or new services fast, to concentrate on innovation and to always be willing to change or adapt. Nothing stays the same, organisations have to be fast to last. Maintaining flexibility in your organisational structure and the ability to incubate new ideas quickly will be key.
COVID has created a radical transition in our personal and professional lives. Leaders and teams need to find their own way and follow their own path to cope and thrive in this dynamic environment.
The key is to design your own way forward, based on the unique circumstances and challenges you and your team face. The process of involving your team in this process is vital to get their commitment and buy-in that can be cascaded throughout the team members.
I would be delighted to answer any questions you might have on a process for this or to work with you, using my background in psychology and experience of leadership and team development. There are some inspiring tools and products that can help you during this journey.
Play the future game! Let me know what you have created!
Make the future of work, work for YOU – because YOU matter!