Phrases like “uncertain times”, “unprecedented situation”, “unknown to everyone” have been making rounds all over the world due to the ongoing pandemic crisis. One can say that we are living in a VUCA situation.
Let us go straight into the details of what the acronym stands for. VUCA is:
Volatile: When a situation is volatile, it is susceptible to rapid change(s) and unpredictable events. Take for example the present situation where we were forced to start working with a different methodology, all within a matter of few days.
Uncertain: When a situation is uncertain, there is not only an uncertainty about the future but more often than not, we also don’t have as clear an idea about what is happening even at present. We go on as things happen. Long term planning seems next to impossible. Need we say more?
Complex: A complex situation brings in a whole lot of interconnected factors which lead to various results and implications.
Again, taking from the present situation, we will realise how financial, economic, administrative factors, coupled with the decisions taken by government bodies, health systems paint a very complex picture of what is going on.
Ambiguous: An ambiguous situation is not clear. It is replete with ‘maybe’, ‘whether’, ‘just in case’, ‘until further instructions’.
The very first usage can be traced back to the United States Army War College to describe the situation during the Cold War. According to MindTools, VUCA, and its usage in business and corporate culture can be traced back to when Bob Johansen used it in his book ‘Leaders Make Future‘, in 2009, while talking about the unpredictable and turbulent forces which can affect businesses and organisations.
Who knew that decades after its first known usage, this acronym would perfectly describe a situation we are in?
But hang on.
It is very encouraging to note that although a VUCA situation is something we are facing right now, it is also something which we have managed to combat quite well.
Although, the very quality of being a VUCA situation means that it will come when we least expect it, so “preparing” for it might sound paradoxical. But aren’t we in such a situation already? So, how does one deal with a VUCA situation according to the book and what is so encouraging about our response to it?
Countering By the Book:
An article by MindTools provides a short and comprehensive guide about countering it:
How To Counter Volatility?
Vision. Long term plans might go for a toss, but there is always space for short term planning. “Vision” doesn’t always mean thinking five, ten, years ahead. It also means charting out a plan that might work well in the next two, three days, a plan which lays out a ‘vision’ about how teams and team members should interact to meet those short term goals, and what they should do if plan A doesn’t work out due to volatility. One can counter volatility with a flexible, short term vision. It involves having a vision of plan B, C, D and so on, no matter how short term.
How to Counter Uncertainty?
Understanding. Sometimes, dwelling on the very fact that the situation is uncertain stops us from trying to get a deeper understanding of the situation itself. By trying to understand the situation in depth, one can get some idea about the possible pros and cons, the possible results, the possible methods one would need to adopt. In short, understanding gives a sense of a wider perspective. Just because it is impossible to get a certain answer doesn’t mean we can’t gain clarity about the possibilities.
How to Counter Complexity?
Clarity. Similar to how understanding about uncertainty helps in trying to think of possibilities, being clear about the complexity of the situation can help to work calmly. Defining the complexity, and its implications to the team members can help see the situation as something which one has to figure out rather than a situation one has been thrust into. Communicating the complexity clearly helps us see the situation as a mathematics riddle to be solved with collaboration and adaptability, making it much less daunting. It involves communicating clearly (and hence bringing it within the grasp of everyone) how factor A might lead to factor B, which might lead to factor D through some strange workings of factor C.
How to Counter Ambiguity?
Agility. So what the situation is ambiguous? We can counter it with our own adaptability and flexibility. An attitude which is open to change, willing to learn new skills and willing to step beyond one’s role goes a long way in changing the way we perceive ambiguity.
When we think of it, many organisations have already in their own ways countered this VUCA situation, especially when some restrictions are being lifted.
It is Vision which has led many an organisation to think of ideas to work in shifts, it is Understanding that things are uncertain that has led people to adapt to the new habits, it is Clarity which has made us prepared about the fact that this is the “new normal” and most importantly, it is Agility and flexibility which has kept us all working in spite of everything.
Isn’t this a much needed dose of encouragement we all needed? That we are actually doing our best to combat these times?