Managing in a VUCA world

You may have heard the term VUCA before, or it may be a new phrase for you. A VUCA world is one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Sounds just like all of our working lives right now doesn’t it?

It is a difficult time to manage a team of people, business unit or process because the rule book and all previous precedent has been completely superseded by the pace of change (volatility) that we’re going through. Things that we used to take as a given may now be in question (uncertainty / ambiguity). And there are multiple solutions to problems or opportunities that come our way (complexity / uncertainty). I could write a list of things that have happened in my day job over the past two weeks that hit on the VUCA criteria, but it would be a lengthy and boring (and self indulgent) post.

Whilst it’s difficult for us as managers, it’s likely to be just as difficult for our team members who may be less experienced in going through changes and are privy to less information than we are, and therefore may make many of the decisions that are being made even more confusing. So how do we manage and lead a team through this challenging period? Here are a couple of tips that I recommend.

VUCA world
Have a clear strategy (with room for adjustment)

Whilst the specific road map or rule book that you have followed previously may not work in a new VUCA world, the general direction might do. Define a clear strategy and principles for your organisation or your team’s role within it. Previously I have worked within teams that have a “team charter” which defines the things that we want to be known for and how we want to work which guide our decisions and work ethic. Whilst you may not be able to define the strategy for the whole organisation, make sure your team are clear on what it is – which parts within it are non-negotiables and core pillars of the strategy. For example, a luxury hotel might have a principle of “never beaten on service”, which is the overarching principle of the strategy. That means that every other decision can be guided or prioritised into that principle.

Be understanding

In a VUCA world the pace of change will impact on your teams both from an emotional perspective and the impact of dealing with the pace of change and from a technical perspective because they will not have all of the knowledge / skills needed for every eventuality.

Deal with this challenge by creating an environment of emotional security through being understanding of their challenges and when they make mistakes. Be open and transparent about your own shortcomings. Things will not be perfect, but a culture of openness and ability to learn from each others mistakes will make people feel supported to do their work to the best of their ability

Empower your team

Your team members are likely to have greater access to the most up to date and reliable information. They will be seeing new trends, new problems, new opportunities before you do and before your boss does. They are likely to spot opportunities before you do. Providing that they are clear on the vision and strategy, empower them to make decisions for the benefit of the organisation without seeking approval. And empower them to bubble up more fundamental decisions and changes that need to be made for you or senior management.

Be agile in decision making

Quality decision making is a subject of another post but in a VUCA environment the ability to make fast and clear decisions is key. Be prepared to take into consideration all information available at a point in time and make a quick decision so that your team can move forward. Accept that not all decisions will be perfect, part of being able to make agile decisions is making the next right decision, not waiting until we know the answer until every little question to make the perfect decision. What is right today may not be right next week, but that’s ok.

In conclusion, managing in a VUCA environment presents it’s own set of challenges, but is something that as managers we will all be learning to adapt to. Following the above principles will hopefully set you in the right direction.

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