During this year’s WorkHuman Conference, hosted by Globoforce, I learned a new acronym – VUCA. It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Wikipedia says it was introduced by the U.S. Army in the 1990s. In recent years, it’s been used in strategic leadership conversations. Basically, it means the world is a little wild and crazy. I’m sure we’ve all felt that way about our business lives at one time or another.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recently posted a framework for addressing VUCA situations. It’s worth checking out. There are several ways that VUCA finds its way into our professional lives:
V = volatility. The challenge is focused on making organizational change and the speed of change.
U = uncertainty. This is about lack of predictability and staying aware of what’s happening.
C = complexity. It’s understanding the cause and effect of issues facing the business.
A = ambiguity. It presents opportunities to misread a situation or confuse messaging.
The idea isn’t to use VUCA to replace strategy. It’s to consider it a part of strategy preparedness. Harvard Business Review published a series of articles on VUCA a few years ago, outlining some of the activities you can do when faced with a VUCA challenge or situation.
In a volatile situation, communication is essential. The organization will be looking for knowledge and information. The more people know, the better they can process the change.
With uncertain situations, demonstrate flexibility. While the strategy isn’t predicable, it shows that it can be handled. And, seek out different perspectives which might help reframe the company’s point-of-view in managing change.
For complex situations, take time to think and process the dynamics of the issue. It might offer new insights or options. Also, bring in new collaborators to add a fresh perspective.
Lastly, when ambiguous situations arise, listen actively to the details then consider taking a scientific approach of hypothesizing and testing experiments. It can logically narrow options and surface discoveries.
I could see VUCA being used to triage challenges that the organization faces regularly. As in, we have Challenge A. Is it volatile? Yes. Let’s make sure we have a good communication strategy in place. VUCA might also be a great tool for employees to use in the operation and relatively easy to teach them (versus some other more complicated models.)
The business world continues to move faster and change constantly. As business professionals, we have to find a way to process that change. VUCA might help us understand that communication, flexibility, collaboration, and experimentation are the way.
Image created by Sharlyn Lauby since nothing really goes with VUCA