08 Nov Dealing with VUCA
We live in a VUCA-world.
Now, I know that many of you are familiar with the fact as well as the term. But my opinion is that you can’t repeat it often enough. The name VUCA is more than 20 years old and was originally coined by the U.S. Army to refer to a less stable (geo-)political environment after the end of the Cold War. VUCA is an acronym that represents four characteristics of an unpredictable and quickly evolving setting most commonly used today in leadership or strategic planning circles. more concrete, VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It therefore perfectly expresses typical aspects of the fast-paced and change-driven world our organizations operate in. This article helps you to identify key strengths and skills to deal with VUCA.
Although often confronted with this concept, we are mostly left alone with the consequences of it. Many clients of ours, rightly, ask us what they should do with this information. Of course they know the problems they are facing on a daily basis. But how to most effectively prepare for, tackle or even benefit from this situation is a completely different kettle of fish. In fact, I strongly believe that the ability to deal with change is one of the most critical features that separates between riding the waves of success and struggling to keep your head above the water.
Therefore, to be able to derive concrete plans for actions we first need to talk about the importance and meaning of dealing with the ever-changing world we operate in. What follows then is the outline of a factual but rough first strategy to actually do something against the risks of VUCA to care for comprehensibility and to show that, despite of all the unpredictability that goes with external change, there is a certain underlying structure and order of things your organization can use to advance. Finally, this article closes with an invitation to jointly take a look at your organization’s skills and abilities to deal with actual VUCA-situations. Is your organization able to manage dynamic external change? Let’s find out.
As just mentioned, to address and fight the perils of the VUCA-world in a serious and potentially rewarding manner as well as to actively use these factors for your own benefit, your organization needs to focus on a sometimes completely new set of skills and values. These skills must necessarily match the speed of change of the environment lest you are taken by surprise and overwhelmed in the process of adapting. More importantly though, values such as cooperation and trust build the backbone for every collaborative organizational environment in which knowledge and information get shared for your organization to thrive. Because, let’s be honest here, we have come to a point where the sheer amount of available information can no longer be effectively processed – not even sensed – by single departments let alone individuals.
You might admit that you and your organization have already first-hand experiences with dynamic external changes and if you look closer at other organizations around you, you might see that there is struggle everywhere. Consequently, it is your chance to set yourself apart and to gain the competitive edge over those companies that do not adapt quickly enough to new circumstances. Actively use external factors other organizations would describe as mere risks or dangers to their core competencies and advance through a thorough process of re-evaluation and re-interpretation of these aspects.
We help our clients accept VUCA as a new reality and to go with Darwin (flexibility wins over rigidity), we often use another acronym to send into battle. Enter COPA: connection, openness, participation and agility. COPA symbolizes four core strengths each organization should build, nurture and maintain in order to cope (a coincidental yet helpful phonetic similarity) with the outside forces we face each day. Connectedness refers to the level of interaction between departments and individuals both within one single organization and across many different organizations. The higher the degree of connection the better the opportunity to share heterogeneous information which is absolutely critical in effectively handling rapid change. We define openness as the ability not just to consider but actively embrace opinions and information that go against our own initial perceptions. The web of information and knowledge we create through being open-minded prepares us for quickly shifting environments because, then, in the best of all cases, we know already about the approaching change before it hits us out of nowhere. The third core strength we highlight is participation which is intimately linked with motivation. Thus, our definition of participation in this context does not refer to coerced or involuntary forms of engagement but to autonomy and ownership of ideas and concrete initiatives to proactively “drive the change”. Finally, agility stands for the ability to immediately react and adapt to changes in your environment. Agile teams and individuals are characterized by exceptionally high levels of flexibility. Their swift responsiveness as well as their capacity to discard old habits, behaviors and mindsets (i.e. their openness) makes it unlikely for them to be surprised or overwhelmed by change.
What follows is a quick analysis of how the COPA-concept can help you master each facet of the VUCA-world.
In environments that are constantly in motion communication is of the essence. Since situations (clients’ needs, suppliers’ negotiation power or management’s expectations – to name just a few) are today no longer what they appeared to be last week, organizations and individuals who excel at the exchange of knowledge and information hold the competitive advantage that sets them apart from others who are less well connected.
The ability to process change is intimately linked to our ability to accept and search for different opinions. Openness to new pieces of knowledge in concert with the capability to assess them reveal unmistakable strengths in volatile settings.
A participative workforce that actively takes ownership for ideas is more likely to rebound from and use sudden environmental changes to improve their product/service – especially if the personal “plan/do/check/act”-cycle runs smoothly and leads to incremental improvements and learnings of the minimum viable product (MVP).
While we as “regular” individuals in our organization might despise, fear and ultimately shy away from change, agile teams run on normal speed in dynamic surroundings. They instantly adapt to them and incorporate external developments into their every-day work.
Uncertain situations usually represent a potential source of danger for individuals, teams and organizations. Connected groups, however, equally spread this burden among their members by virtue of an early-established net of knowledge and information.
Consequently, open individuals who proactively hunt for contrasting perspectives, re-examine and reinforce the company’s ability to deal with this unpredictability since new pieces of information can provide a better picture of the situation.
Furthermore, the organization wants to ensure that especially in unpredictable times employees remain motivated as their motivation positively predicts how the company will deal with uncertainty and change.
The number one remedy for uncertainty is flexibility. The quicker you and your team are able to react to unpredictable environmental shifts, the easier your organization can recover or even benefit from change. what’s more, agile organizations on a regular basis actively “drive the change” instead of being driven.
Connections, collaboration and – ultimately – communication can help defusing the perils of complex situations. New insights and knowledge emerge when new partners and their set of information enter the stage. These fresh perspectives are the hotbed for a “decomplexification”-process in an organization.
That’s why open-minded employees are of critical essence to test and apply new-gained knowledge. As long as they stick to old habits and established ways of thinking, everything new that knocks on their doors will present itself as an intricate obscurity. If, however, these habits are evaluated frequently employees can ultimately change their behavior and perceive perplexing situations as a chance to improve themselves and their organizations.
An especially helpful mediator of behavioral change towards complexity is without any doubt a participative attitude on the part of the employee. Working autonomously on projects developing independent ideas, the employee takes her time to consider and deal with the dynamics at hand. The results are new insights and options to advance the organization.
Agile individuals and teams are shielded against complex situations. Their flexibility helps them effectively deal with change and complexity as they are capable of quickly reacting to shifting landscapes.
Ambiguous situations call for acts of clarification. If individuals cannot make sense of certain facts on their own, a strong sense of connectedness helps them to use previously unknown knowledge to decipher opaque circumstances.
Therefore, an openness towards new information and once unfamiliar ideas is critical to cope with ambiguity as it provides alternative ways of looking at the obscure and helps to understand it in more detail.
The ownership principle as can be observed in participative employees is key for individuals to hypothesize and experiment with ambiguous situations which the sense-making process unravels through consequent discoveries.
As in dealing with complexity, agility also facilitates the dealing with ambiguity. Agile and flexible teams engage in a variety of ways to tackle a certain issue. They wrap their heads around arising problems quickly and get to the bottom of it faster than regular teams.
As you can see, dealing with as well as within the VUCA-world might be inevitable. But there are certain strengths that can support you and your team in not only surviving but also thriving in it. If you are unsure whether your organization already possesses these kinds of strengths, let us help you analyze your current status. As each situation and each organization provides a completely new context, it is extremely critical to take a close and unbiased look at the details of your external and internal environment. Here we provide exceptional support with both our experience and the tools we bring with. Our holistic design of process enables us to examine your organization on individual, team and factual level as well as going along from your company’s past, beyond its present and into the future. We then translate the findings of this multi-dimensional examination into manageable process cycles in which we offer you distinctive support from individual coaching to leadership workshops and innovation trainings.
If you want to learn how to develop the COPA-strengths for yourself or in your team and organization or if you are eager to share with us your own experiences with the VUCA-world or if you are just interested in learning more about VUCA and COPA in general do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
Simply send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are excited to hear from you and looking forward to exchanging ideas with you.
In the meantime, you might find the following articles of particular interest to you:
The Key to Adaptable Companies Is Relentlessly Developing People
How Learning and Development Are Becoming More Agile
Organizations Can’t Change If Leaders Can’t Change with Them
The 3 Best Ways to Drive Change in Your Company
Leaders Who Get Change Right Know How to Listen