Effective Solutions Through Partnership

4 Ways to Adapt to VUCA

ADKAR, Best Practices, Communications, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Prosci, VUCA

By Debbie Blagsvedt

I recently attended an Association of Talent Management Development (ATD) seminar on Change Management Strategies, as well as a Training Magazine Network webinar called “Leading with Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in the New Workplace.” In both of these seminars, VUCA was mentioned.

VUCA—an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity—seems to accurately define the world in which we currently live and work. Working in a VUCA environment, combined with the need to quickly and efficiently adapt to rapid-fire change, is forever a part of today’s organizational culture.

A friend of mine—who has recently taken up running half marathons as a hobby—shared with me how Usain Bolt, the world-renowned Jamaican sprinter, became the 21st athlete to break the world record for the 100m sprint over the last decade. While the 100m record was broken merely four times from 1900 to 1950, the same record was shattered 17 times in the following 50 years!

You may ask, what does shattering world records have to do with VUCA in the workplace? Research shows that the time span between the launch of a new product and its extinction from the market is decreasing every year. This results in shorter lifespans of companies, a constant overhauling of ways of working, and disruption and change brought about by technology and customer demands. The effects of these changes across the globe happen at lightning speed, and all with VUCA at their core!

In the workplace, the churning of change running constantly in the forefront can result in change fatigue, employees face down, with their noses to the grindstone. Add to that the tension, fear, and a grappling within ourselves as to whether we have the competence and the confidence to take on this new world. The result is oftentimes employees waiting for the latest trend to blow over so they can get back to what they were used to doing.

Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work well in today’s work environments. After contemplating VUCA and its relationship with change and the topic of “Leading with EQ,” here are some ideas that hopefully will help you ride the VUCA storm:

  1. Take on Volatility with Versatility
    • We all know what it’s iike to have a volatile stock market—unexpected drops and unstable economies are unsettling. Try attacking volatility with versatility—it is essential to hone your ability to be flexible and adapt to different situations. Remember Gumby, that clay figure youngsters loved to bend so the legs were on top of his head yet Gumpy could still stand on his feet? Next time you are faced with volatility, be Gumby-like!
  2. Move from Uncertainty to Understanding
    • A common reaction to uncertainty is fear, which typically leads to resistance. In today’s digital age, technology is a key defense for increasing understanding and awareness. This can be done in many ways including through shared dashboards, online collaboration tools, simple instant messages, and targeted SMS communications. Try creating online learning communities as a forum for employees to learn from each other. This can increase employees’ awareness of what is and what isn’t known which can help reduce fear and even stress.
  3. Tackle Complexity by Building Connections
    • Create direct connections among people across the organization to allow them to sidestep cumbersome hierarchal protocols. Remove barriers and create connections to foster more direct and instant connections, allowing employees to share valuable information, find answers, and get help and advice from people capable of providing the answers. Equally as important in tackling complexity is to build organizational competencies to succeed in tackling complex issues.
  4. Address Ambiguity with Leadership Agility
    • Develop a vison that accounts for VUCA. Stay focused and be a role model to employees in leading and navigating through the chaos. Build change stamina by being aware of the state of readiness of the organization at all times. Use surveys to assess change readiness and learn how it will impact employees. Put stretch goals into place, make them fun, and reward employees for tackling them.

These are just a few ways to adapt your leadership or personal development for the rollercoaster that is VUCA. How do you manage change in your workplace?

About the Author: Debbie Blagsvedt is an Organizational Change Consultant with over 25 years’ experience in change management, performance management, process improvement, training, and facilitation. She has a worked in both the private, public, and non-profit sectors in industries that include health, legal, financial, social services, high tech, and transportation. She currently works as an Organizational Change Consultant with KAI Partners on assignment with a child welfare services agency.  Debbie is passionate about collaboration among teams which she believes leads to high employee satisfaction and is equally fascinated with the rapid-fire speed of change and what it means for organizations today. Debbie grew up in the bay area but now considers Sacramento her home. She has many interests from home projects to wine tasting, volunteering, witnessing the changing face of Sacramento, and going on new adventures with her family and friends. Not to mention nightly walks and occasional mountain hikes with her dog, Emmett.

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