VUCA is an acronym that stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. This term surfaced in the late 1980s and was used to describe the situation the world was in after the Cold Water. Around the globe, there have been many harsh conditions that poses significant challenges to operating a business. Some of them include Brexit, the declining world economy, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. The latter has been the strongest influencer in the VUCA environment in the present world, accelerating underlying trends transformation and leapfrogging evolutionary steps typically observed in business environment.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown, businesses all around the world have suffered and struggled to keep standing on their own. Hence it is no surprise that most of our assumptions related to business and organizational environment have not remained the same as before. Worley, C. G., & Jules, C. (2020).
It is not however, all gloom and doom as you can start taking steps to future-proof your business.
The first step would be to embrace change or in other words, become Volatile. By this, what it essentially mean, is to successfully incorporate the following elements into your organization:
Clarity in intent: Clearly mark out boundaries in terms of where the business will and will not head. This allows your team to have clarity what the end goals are as they move through uncharted territories.
Empowerment: As the situation evolves and business cycles move through at a faster pace in these times, it should be recognized that decision-making need to be done so at a faster rate and empowering the team on the ground allows you to response swifter to customers’ needs and competitors’ actions.
Moving on, when it comes to dealing with Uncertainty the following two considerations should form part of your response.
Develop & embrace new perspectives: Dealing with uncertainty to a certain extent may very well mean that whatever works and in fact works well for you in the past may no longer be the case in today context. As such, keeping an open mind on how certain subjects were viewed or stances that were taken may need revisiting. Case in point – Is the assumption that one must have a physical outlet when operating a F&B business still the case today?
Risk management: Facing uncertainty means that business would be exposed to various risks and as such mapping out and having a good understanding of your risk landscape reduces the likelihood of being caught unware. Additionally, proactive risk management also serves as a meter gauge with established monitoring mechanism that give you early warning providing you crucial response time to act before it’s too late.
Addressing Complexities largely boils down to finding links between cause and effect as well as simplifying procedures so they become more efficient and convenient. Two themes that we identified as key would be to avoid being rigid in work practices as well as encouraging new ideas and innovation. At the end of the day, practical and effective process tend to edge out others who follow as-is processes and don’t challenge their current assumptions.
Last but not least, to effectively combat ambiguity, businesses should recognize the importance of improving clarity in communication. The communication here do not just refer to intra organization within your team, but with your external stakeholders such as vendors and more importantly, your customers. A good starting ground we usually advise our client would to have a communication plan detailing the objectives, audience, messaging highlights, communication channels and triggers (Jordaan, 2018).
It may not be business as usual in such times, however, if businesses can recognize exactly which component from the VUCA is affecting them then they can successfully work towards problem-solving and effectively future-proof their business so that they not only survive, but thrive.
Worley, C. G., & Jules, C. (2020). COVID-19’s uncomfortable revelations about agile and sustainable organizations in a VUCA world. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 56(3), 279-283.
Jordaan, B. (2019). Leading organisations in turbulent times: Towards a different mental model. Leading in a VUCA World, 38(4), 59.