Industry Insights

Navigating VUCA: How to Effectively Prepare Your Leaders

Posted by Yann Cartier on May 10, 2022 3:15:56 PM

Businesses are grappling with a brave new world. A world where change is constant and ambiguity is now an ally. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed because it is overwhelming. There’s no doubt our employees feel this way too; roles shifting, skills they don’t have are suddenly in demand. They’re inundated and businesses are struggling to sustain success against a magnitude of change.

So, how do we ensure our teams and businesses thrive amongst almost constant change, uncertainty and volatility? How do we confidently support our people in a VUCA world when certainty is nothing but certain? We lead.

Leading in a VUCA world

What does VUCA mean for business?

VUCA, if you’re not familiar with the acronym, stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Originally coined in 1987 this term has shifted in use over time. These days it seeks to identify the multi-faceted, complex and confusing world we now exist in. It’s a world where the key elements of VUCA play a critical role in how businesses move, react and adapt to shifting circumstances. An obvious example of this is the Covid-19 pandemic, but equal disruptions have been caused by recent recessions, markets collapsing, wars and more. In a nutshell: we’re all living in a VUCA world.

Naturally, VUCA’s terms are inherently linked. Alone, they identify the key components and emerging ideas that a business leader needs to contend with whilst strategizing. However, in conjunction, they attempt to describe a world that is inherently ineffable.

When it comes to VUCA, what needs to be considered? And how does this affect our people?

Volatility

Fluctuations. Turbulence. Instability. This is volatility. It seeks to identify the pace and rate at which an industry, market or even our world can change. When something is volatile it is often unstable and unpredictable and can change and deviate paths quickly.

How it affects our employees
Ultimately, the scale of volatility in our world has a direct affect on how quickly change occurs. So, the higher the volatility, the more quickly change will happen. And then a business will react, often with knee-jerk responses.

Our people are forced to ‘ride the wave’ within these rapid responses or indeed react to disruption as it happens, which can inevitably lead to wider business challenges through frustration, disrupted processes and productivity and even worse, increased turnover.


Uncertainty

Being able to predict the future is not in the power of anyone, however understanding market trends can sometimes be a good precursor for future changes. Except when there is uncertainty.

The more uncertain an event is, the more difficult it will be to predict an outcome. And whilst an uncertain event does not have to be volatile, it does mean we cannot easily make plans to achieve our goals.

How it affects our employees
Uncertainty has the potential to be hugely disruptive to our team’s working lives. If there is a lot of uncertainty, we may develop a directive to go in a specific direction, only to be blindsided and have no choice but to deviate from our initial path. Naturally, this unsteady ground can be distracting for employees, taking their focus away from critical BAU in lieu of navigating constantly changing approaches, processes and tactics.

Complexity

The world, our societies and economies are hugely complex and deeply interconnected. There are many, many moving parts; businesses have so many components to consider when making even seemingly simple decisions. The more facets, the more complexity. It’s that simple.

How it affects our employees
In complex environments, one thing has the potential to affect another so deeply and in unforeseen ways. This butterfly effect can have a major impact on business; for example, a simple change to a process could have a major effect on output, engagement and performance.

Ambiguity

How much clarity surrounds a situation? When ambiguity is high, circumstances are unclear, information is vague or lacking detail and it’s impossible to draw useful conclusions as a result. As ambiguity increases, so does our inability to successfully interpret our world.

How it affects our employees
A lack of clarity makes it difficult to make decisions in the workplace, which can leave our employees in a constant state of purgatory. This has the potential to become very unfulfilling as little progress is made.

Effective leadership to confidently create certainty

VUCA affects our teams at work in so many different ways, so we have to ensure our employees are confident to negotiate the shifting tides of constant change. We need them to be comfortable with all that VUCA throws at them. Which is why we need to support them through stable, strong leadership.

Our leaders are key to our success - if they feel ill-equipped to negotiate VUCA, it’s going to be evident in their leadership style. Our employees will see their insecurity and uncertainty and this will undoubtedly have a negative impact on our organisations. But the good news is that L&D can have a lasting and positive effect on our leaders to ensure they’re confident in creating certainty, in spite of a disruptive VUCA landscape.

How to support your leaders through VUCA

The role of a leader is one of influencer, comrade, supporter, mentor and more. This pivotal role must be equipped with a robust arsenal of skills to stay resilient, confident and effective in the face of constant change. Here are our three key ways to ensure their success.

1. Focus on empathy
People react to VUCA in different ways, and robust leaders need to be able to understand all the fears, worries and foibles that arise within their teams. Ensure your leadership team understands how to connect with your people through empathy and encourage trust and transparency within the organisation.

2. Empower and encourage
One of the biggest challenges with VUCA is that there is no rule book. Ensure your leaders feel comfortable making decisions and autonomously driving the business forward. When ambiguity is afoot, there is no certain way to define a clear outcome so encourage your people to trust their instincts and lead in a way that is natural for them.

3. Give them space to learn
We don’t know a leader out there who wouldn’t ask for more time if it was available. So ensure your teams have the time to learn, but then also ensure they have the space to apply what they’re learning too. To ensure they really hone their skills, they need to experience real-life scenarios to test their leadership skills, be that through experiential learning based simulations, workshops or on-the-job application.

If there is one thing that is certain about VUCA: it’s here to stay. Understanding it, and embracing it, is key to our future success; how comprehensively equipped our leadership team are will remain a critical component of thriving in a constantly changing world.


Transformational leadership drives business success

If you’re interested in how you can better support your leadership teams and provide them with the skills they need to successfully navigate VUCA, download our new report today. Our report explores how transformational leadership drives business success and most importantly, shows you how to help your team embrace new horizons.

Download the report

Topics: Leadership Development, VUCA, Transformative Leadership

More Insights

Learning & Development Trends for 2022 and Beyond

2022 will see a different world forming. The disruption of the...

Learn More

10 Leadership & Management Trends to Employ in 2022

In the 2022 business climate, organizations are facing a more...

Learn More

Leadership Training and Development: The Ultimate Guide

Who is This Guide For?

This guide is for anyone who wants to...

Learn More

11 Strategies to Improve the Well-Being of your Employees

Globally, work culture is in a state of flux and the...

Learn More

What is Organizational transformation and why is it important?

Covid-19, digitalization, fuel crises and more have forced...

Learn More

Sustainable Business Trends for 2022 & Beyond

In 2022, expect to see sustainability making huge strides....

Learn More