How to harness VUCA for business success

the four horseman of VUCA have charged over the horizon. Click To Tweet

Preparing for battle: how to harness VUCA for business success in 2021

“Company heads were urged to build resilience, agility, and flexibility.  Yet, most continued to lead businesses as usual… until the four horsemen of VUCA charged over the horizon in the first quarter of 2020” (Andrew Hill, ‘What Business Learnt in the Time of Coronavirus, The Financial Times)

You may not have heard of VUCA before, but it’s likely your business is on speaking terms with its four horsemen: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

The acronym was originally coined by the US military, describing the seismic changes brought about by the Cold War.  VUCA then filtered into the corporate conscience, as executives were increasingly given advice about how to plan and lead during intense periods of uncertainty.

I hardly need to explain that 2020 was one of those periods, nor that 2021 is shaping up to be similar.  Many of my clients have fought long and hard to keep their businesses solvent, yet as the Covid pandemic lingers on, mental states are fragile.

VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. Click To Tweet

VUCA is an important acronym for these times because it causes fear, and fear causes inaction.  When people aren’t sure what’s coming next, they tend to dwell on the negatives… what keeps them up at night are ultimate worst-case scenarios.  

If this is the case for you, it’s worth remembering that our bodies aren’t always able to distinguish between real and imagined threat.  So, when we play out those worst-case scenarios in our minds, our bodies tend to respond as though they’re really happening.

Left unchecked, your mind’s instinctive form of defence could lead to panic-driven, potentially costly decision-making that damages your business.  

Alternatively, you’re paralysed; scared of making a move in case it leads your business in the wrong direction.

Business lessons from the battlefield

In military terms, VUCA represents the only operational certainty when personnel are working ‘on the ground’.  Clearly, inaction isn’t an option; through necessity you must learn how to harness VUCA and turn it to your advantage.

As a business owner, your first step is to accept that uncertainty is, in fact, a guaranteed certainty.  

If you are then able to arm yourself with the knowledge that business conditions are always going to be tentative, you can create space in your strategic plan to both acknowledge and accommodate change.

Factors that contribute to VUCA in today’s world

(insert diagram from the original blog post)

By arming yourself with knowledge and understanding of each individual factor that contributes to VUCA, and its potential effects, you begin to reduce the fear and anxiety that can arise when they occur.

Reflect on the way you instinctively tend to respond to stressful or dangerous situations (the ‘fight-or-flight’ response – here you could link to another article about fight or flight) so you are better able to understand how to combine your natural emotional state with strong business decision-making and leadership. 

However you structure your business planning for 2021, stepping up and taking charge is a far better, and more appropriate, response than sitting back and doing nothing.  

Like the coronavirus, the nature of VUCA is viral… if left unchecked, it will mutate and multiply, potentially sweeping your organisation clean away with it.  

Suggested call to action – contact Trevor to discuss your strategy.

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