We are living in a time where the conventional ways of doing business are constantly challenged by rapid innovation and often unexpected change. In strategic management, this state is commonly referred to as VUCA, an acronym of the words volatile, uncertainties, complexity, and ambiguity. In this article, I share tips how businesses can become effective at leadership in the era of VUCA.
Making strategic decisions against a shifting backdrop is one of the key challenges facing organizations today. Technology disruptions, Volatile market conditions, Uncertainties of every kind, unpredictable future, Complexity, chaos, confusions, Ambiguity, is impacting our world, and the people we work with.
But, this is the new normal. Anyone waiting for their surroundings to slow down or calm down is stuck in the past. The problem is that most of us aren’t used to this in our personal lives. As humans, we crave stability and predictability, for example. While the four dimensions of VUCA are distinct, they share something that makes most of us nervous, the element of the unknown.
So, should we be looking for answers about, “How can we make sense of this world, understand the dynamics, the people and their perspectives and solve complex problems”, or should we focus on the bigger question, which apparently leads to the solution for all these questions: “What’s the best management and leadership approach in a VUCA world?” The answer is both.
VUCA, is not, in my opinion, a danger sign but an opportunity and mindset for all of us. Let me explain how. VUCA gives us a compelling reason to make now the right time to improve our leadership.
The right time to:
- create vision and values.
- research deeper and plan better.
- invest in information.
- engage specialists.
- upskill, learn and create.
- be really agile.
How can we possibly prepare for the future when we have no idea what it holds? Corporate strategies change faster than we can write them down, vertical integrations are causing us to rethink how we define industries, and new digital technologies are making our value propositions obsolete. These are all things happening outside of us, in a metaphorical wilderness. So, how can we prepare to face this wild unknown?
How to prepare
Let’s embrace the truth that we can never be prepared enough, as COVID-19 has continued to show. But the adage “better late than never” certainly springs to mind, here. Indeed, when you’re ready to embrace the VUCA mindset, the first three steps to prepare ideally should be:
1. Assess and acknowledge how much is already out of control.
2. Write and list all the different ways an event might turn out.
3. Prepare yourself to face each scenario.
Acquire three key competencies
As I said before, VUCA is all about leadership. To ensure your leaders are well-positioned to deal with VUCA, there are certain competencies they must have, or acquire.
- Conceptual – Different ways of seeing the world, develop problem management, envision the future.
- Technical – Systems understanding, networking and relationships, political and social relationships.
- Interpersonal – Communication, negotiation, consensus building.
As you can see from the list of skills above, in this VUCA future meaning and purpose takes a central role in business activities.
Everyone looks up to leaders from a guidance and outcome perspective. So, they will be also looking for their VUCA leader to:
- Provide vision
- Shape future
- Build relationships
- Manage change
- Effective representation of the organization.
Above all, this means they must be engaging socially, culturally and politically.
While leadership is certainly an important element of managing VUCA, it is not just the team leader’s responsibility. VUCA conditions affect every employee of a company (to varying degrees) and also the ability of its individual teams to work together effectively. Ultimately, every team member plays a role in managing the impacts of VUCA, so it is everyone’s responsibility to play their part. This in reality means having the right goals and strategies, accountability, trust, constructive interaction and of course, the right leadership to be future ready.
Remember, together, we achieve more!
If you would like to find out how Capco can help your business be ‘future relevant’, please contact the author: Rajiv Dalmia, Partner & Country Head of Capco Malaysia.