The VUCA World: How It Impacts Leadership
Posted on: 1 Mar 2019
“We have advanced from canoes to gallets to steamships to space shuttles – but nobody knows where we’re going.”
– Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
How can we plan and prepare for the future when facing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA)?
We team up with Oakridge, a leading business coaching consultancy, to explain exactly what VUCA means and how to lead successfully in such turbulent times.
No Prisoner Left Behind
The sociological and economic ramifications of these wild developments are unprecedented. Add climate change and political unrest into the mix and we get VUCA. Oakridge director, Brigit Egan, explains precisely what that means:
Volatility – “Things change fast but not in a predictable way.”
Uncertainty – “Major changes happen so quickly and so fast that we cannot read them. The past is no longer an accurate predictor of the future.”
Complexity – “There are so many different things happening all at the same
time with so many moving parts and so many people involved.”
Ambiguity – “The “who, what, where, when, why and how?” questions
we used to pose can no longer be answered.”
Aka: “We live in crazy times.”
VUCA was coined by the United States Army War College to articulate life after the cold war.
Things haven’t become less interesting. VUCA has become a buzzword for leaders to describe the ongoing challenges we all face and ask: is it even possible to plan for the future and survive?
How VUCA Affects Business
VUCA poses major challenges for businesses and Egan defines them as:
Technological disruptions – new advances in technology, from blockchain to artificial intelligence, are reshaping markets and customer preferences every day. Keeping up with such trends is necessary for long-term survival, but it’s tough to predict what’s actually worth investing in.
Destabilised markets – our world is becoming increasingly volatile impacting the behaviour of global and local markets. For example, terrorist attacks, unstable governments and global financial crises have already disrupted our economy and global relationships substantially.
Hyper-competition – Our world is ripe for budding entrepreneurs (approx 100 million new businesses open each year around the world) and fierce competitors are emerging faster than ever before. The business landscape has become a battlefield where only the strongest survive.
Fickle consumers – with unprecedented choice, consumer loyalty is far from guaranteed. They want better value and more personalised purchase experiences, making customers harder to win, connect with and keep.
Traditional approaches to leadership and businesses aren’t enough anymore. We must adapt and evolve to survive. As Brigit Egan puts it: “The VUCA world will get more intense in the future.”
Leaders of Tomorrow
“We must develop and master the skills and insights to thrive in the unpredictable opportunity filled years to come.”
– Brigit Egan
Oakridge’s managing director explains how business leaders can ensure not only survival but success.
Understand what VUCA means
With the help of this article, you’re pretty much there. You could take your understanding to the next level through professional training or additional research.
Doing so will give you the clarity and focus needed to plan appropriately for the future in the face of overwhelming uncertainty.
Learn New Skills to Counteract VUCA
With new challenges comes brilliant opportunities to stay ahead of the game. Adding new strings to your leadership bow will help you push your business from strength-to-strength. Skills like:
Visioning – Thinking ahead is key if you’re going to adapt and thrive. Harness your understanding of VUCA to predict what challenges may lay ahead. Then you can develop a solid plan to overcome them.
Context mapping – Understand your consumers on a deeper level for more powerful connections. What do they know, feel or dream? Use new techniques, such as interviews and generative sessions to extract this knowledge.
Problem Solving – Think creatively to solve problems. Ask yourself questions like: “What else do we need to consider?” and get cosy with uncertainty to think faster on your feet no matter what lies ahead.
Action planning – Vague intentions get you nowhere; you need detailed plans outlining actions to meet all your business goals, including steps to take and who’s accountable for what for a business strategy to bear fruit.
Take Advantage of Individual Strengths
Are you recognising and unlocking your full potential? Or your teams? We already live in a VUCA world, and the fact that you’re still standing proves you have the tenacity and strength to survive.
Think about your unique qualities as a leader (and the talented people around you) – from your ability to adapt to how you respond to stressful situations – and think: What can I do to take these skills to the next level? Doing so will give you and your teams the edge needed to stand strong.
Engage and Motivate Your Teams
Collaboration between you and your workforce is key to surviving VUCA. That means effectively engaging and motivating your teams. So they can grasp the gravity of VUCA’s implications and be inspired to come out on top.
Apply this advice to yourself, your teams and your business and you’ll not only withstand adversity but flourish like never before.
Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
“As leaders in this chaotic world, we need to increase our adaptability and our agility to ensure that the capabilities that we have are fit for purpose to enable us to continue not only to survive but also to thrive in the VUCA environment.”
– Brigit Egan
Think there’s more we can do to plan and prepare for VUCA? Please share your thoughts with us – we’d love to hear your ideas.