Surviving In The VUCA Business Environment

In the last article I talked about the basics of the VUCA business environment. Be sure to check out understanding the VUCA environment. So in this article will be talking about how to survive an environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. What is known as the VUCA environment.

Clear vision as a strategy

Having a clear vision can combat volatility. When things are changing rapidly, people need to know where they should be heading, even if the path may be modified en route, therefore a clear sense of vision helps to keep people focused on what is essential to do and what are the priorities amongst the myriad of activities, demands and opportunities that may emerge.

When people have a clear sense of vision, not only do they focus their energy in the right direction and make informed choices about what they do or do not do, they also feel more engaged as a result of knowing what is the goal that their efforts are contributing to.

Having a clear vision can curb firefighting since in a volatile environment, periods of stability can seem like a thing of the past. Instead we have more instability, wilder fluctuations and often very rapid and unexpected change. In this situation change is seen as the only constant. Things change continuously hence what is true today isn’t true tomorrow. Even the nature and dynamics of change changes.

Understanding the situation as a strategy

The antidote to Uncertainty is Understanding as this is a better strategy than continuing to firefight in an uncertain environment. It is believed that when the situation changes rapidly, communication is essential to make sure that everyone has the same level of understanding of issues and that leaders understand also how their people may be thinking or feeling.

Building trust during the calmer periods is of great importance, so that when the crisis hits, management can mobilise people because they have faith that the leader has everyone’s best interests at heart. With so much volatility, not only is the future unlikely to be much like the past, but the present is often very different too. Information is incomplete because it is changing and there is too much going on to know it all.

That increase in uncertainty makes it much harder to figure out what’s happening today, while trying to understand what organisational form and capabilities might be important in the future. Fixed values in the economy and stock exchange can collapse overnight. And because of globalization a relatively small cause can have huge worldwide consequences.

Clarity as a strategy

Clarity that comes from building disciplines around the core basics, constantly reinforcing the real priorities as well as avoiding the cul de sacs of non-value added activities counters complexity. Dedication to being truly customer-centric and staying connected to giving and getting internal as well as external customer feedback can eradicate unnecessary complexity.

The VUCA world brings tremendous complexity everyday – so organizations must be mindful of not creating mountains of internal complexity and keep a shared commitment to simplicity. Clarity can come from re-examining as well as rebooting an organization’s meeting regimens and ownership (why does it exist and who is responsible for its quality?). A major opportunity area to reduce complexity and increase clarity relates to organizations’ internal information and data integrity. Uncertainty is amplified still further by complexity.

The technological ease of connecting with people far and wide has created more interdependencies and feedback loops than ever before. Within those intricate and multi-layered networks, actions can have unintended consequences which cannot be predicted. The risk for those designing organisations is: change one thing and you might as well change everything. Simple cause-and-effect chains have been replaced by complex interconnected forces and events. Interconnectedness makes all things increasingly complex.

Agility as a strategy

Agility can be an antidote to Ambiguity. If the situation is not clear, then we need to have the flexibility to respond to whatever occurs. Individuals all have their own tolerance level for ambiguity. This is determined to a large extent by personality. Simply having an awareness of one’s problem-solving style and one’s relationship to ambiguity can be helpful. Managers can understand how they can use their talents in a VUCA environment to apply VUCA prime. A key competence for the VUCA leader is to be able to draw on and utilise all of the talents in the team. No one person has all the skills or all the insights necessary.

Unknown unknowns’ abound in complex, uncertain and volatile environments, and so ambiguity increases. Where no precedents exist, it becomes ever harder to reach clarity and agreement about the meaning and significance of events. In comes doubt and hesitancy, making it easy for inertia to take hold. Therefore, in a highly ambiguous environment, it can be difficult to reach decisions about organisational developmental strategies. It is easy to find convincing but totally contradictory information for any assertion.

Conclusion

The VUCA environment is not going to disappear. As technology develops faster and the world becomes more and more a global market place, there is no place to hide. Change is relentless and the landscape in which organizations work is constantly shifting. The leadership role becomes increasingly one of creating moments of clarity and focus, whilst at the same time keeping an eye on what is shifting and preparing to react to it. Rigidly adhering to a chosen strategy risks missing opportunities or failing to respond to market and environmental changes.

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