The Deluge, Francis Danby, 1840

I was introduced to the concept of VUCA a short time ago and learned it is a concept currently used in the US military so it piqued my interest.  VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.  It first began as a description of the complex state of running operations worldwide after the Cold War.  I would certainly agree that VUCA has become even more important as the world continues to flatten and internet access and smartphones become ubiquitous.  VUCA is a leadership roadmap for thinking about and analyzing situations in a world where the butterfly effect has never been greater. 

“V = Volatility: the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.”

“U = Uncertainty: the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.”

“C = Complexity: the multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues, no cause-and-effect chain and confusion that surrounds organization.”

“A = Ambiguity: the haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.”

Source: Wikipedia

It’s interesting to note that the leadership concepts that held for the Industrial Age are no longer helpful in the Social Age.  In order for organizations to stay flexible enough to handle complex situations, they need to employ measures quite opposite of those from the Industrial Age.  Here are some great examples from a Dr. Sunnie Giles article on (I honestly can’t make them any clearer than she has here!).

Move from hierarchy to self-organization. Push decisions down to the edge of the organization, where information is the freshest and most salient: the cash register, the production line, the call center, and sales reps.”

Move from protecting information to democratization of information. To empower employees to make decisions, make communication frictionless. Conduct weekly all-hands meetings. Sure, some might have to stay up late or get up early for global companies, but the gain of getting the information straight from the horse’s mouth is well worth it.”

“…Accelerate the speed of interaction as much as possible. In the VUCA age, speed matters more than perfection. Set the expectation for everyone to answer emails within a couple of hours for quick ones and by the end of the day for long ones.”

Use simple rules to make quick decisions, rather than perfect analyses.”

These examples echo one of my prior posts, The Annual Evaluation: A Hindrance to Psychological Safety.  Unknowingly, I may have stumbled into VUCA concepts by observing the shift from the Industrial Age to the Social Age.

“I want a flat hierarchy where every single person is equally valued.  I want managers and front-line technicians to work together every day and have clear channels of communication.  I want people to concern themselves with the mission and not a lack of psychological safety.”

“A final thought here.  In this current economy, I feel the shift from employees as commodities to employees as our most valuable customers.  If we do not treat them right our best people will move on.  They are savvy and they will find a place where they are appreciated and valued…”

Your front-line employees are your greatest asset when it comes to making decision in today’s VUCA world; they are the people who know how to respond.  The organization’s culture will suffer if you do not make the key moves as the leader to establish, cultivate, and maintain psychological safety.

Let me know your thoughts! Please comment below!

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