Leading in Uncertainty-Managing in a VUCA World in Your SME

Hello, I’m Nicola from The People Mentor, and in today’s podcast, I want to talk about leading in uncertainty, and in particular, VUCA, which you may or may not have heard of.  

VUCA is an acronym that was first used by the US military to describe or strategise around ambiguous and ever-changing situations, and then it soon began to be used in the strategic leadership of organisations too.  

After all, the business world is also subject to turbulence and unpredictability which needs to be met with different skills and approaches if businesses are going to survive and thrive.  

Of course, we are all trying to operate and manage in a very uncertain situation right now, a global pandemic, and the situation certainly fits the description of VUCA.  

Let’s break it down:  

V stands for volatile. Change is happening fast and it’s unpredictable.  

U is for uncertain. The present and future are both uncertain.  

C is for complex. There are so many factors and variables to consider that can easily cause chaos and confusion.  

A is for ambiguous. Not many things are clear and easy to understand.  

So how do you manage in a VUCA situation and a VUCA world? 

How do you keep moving forward in an environment where turbulence and unpredictable change can: 

  • Make you and your team fearful, anxious, and overwhelmed 
  • Make it feel like you’re constantly firefighting 
  • Lead to bad decisions being made out of pressure or fear, or no decisions being made at all 
  • Create a toxic culture  

The answer is that you take VUCA situations and you deal with them, one at a time.  

Where a situation is volatile, tell your team, loud and clear, about your vision for the future. Even if things seem far away from that now, sharing objectives, values, and a clear vision with everyone will keep heads up and looking ahead, rather than down at their feet.  

In an uncertain situation, rework your strategy and get as much intelligence as you can about what is happening. Knowledge is power. Instead of making decisions in a blind panic, stay up to date with the latest information, including developments in your industry, and take the opportunity to look at what you’re doing well, what you’re not doing so well, and update your crisis/contingency plans if you need to. This will help you anticipate threats, make good decisions, and feel more prepared for change.  

When you’re dealing with complexity, be sure to communicate clearly, openly, and honestly with your team to make sure they understand what the organisation is doing to respond to and manage the situation.  

Another thing you should make sure you do is to encourage collaboration and keep everyone in the loop. The more you work together and share ideas, the more likely it is that you’ll find innovative solutions to problems and difficult situations.  

When you are dealing with ambiguity and you just don’t know how things are going to pan out, you need to be flexible, adaptable, and agile. You need flexible plans that can be adapted as situations play out, and you need to train your people to be comfortable with change and ambiguity-not an easy task, but it’s possible.  

To promote flexibility and agility in your team you can: 

Delegate extra responsibilities to employees or give them a taste of what it’s like to work in a different department or on a different project to increase their skills, confidence, and experience.   

Encourage collaboration, innovation, and the sharing of ideas, and avoid micromanaging.  

It might seem impossible to manage in a VUCA world, but rather than being a victim of turbulence or unpredictable circumstances, you can choose to accept that while there are obviously extreme circumstances like the one we find ourselves in right now, there is always going to be something that’s unclear, ever-changing, or ambiguous. You can’t control what happens, but you can take steps to put yourself and your team in a position of power so that you can better adapt and manage when difficult situations do come along.  

Change may be inevitable, but you are always going to come across people who resist it (it may even be you!). The temptation to try and maintain the status quo and try to mitigate fear is great, but today’s business world demands agility and the confidence to ditch what’s not working now, more than ever.  

I’ve led teams through lots of changes and uncertain times, and I know that the most important thing for you to do as a manager is to first understand your responses and feelings, then support your teams.  

Needing support and want to bounce off a mentor who has had the experience of leading many changes. Want to feel in a safe pair of hands, then book a call to explore how I can support you.

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