Becoming a Change Agent

Planning for Change: How to Get Comfortable Living in a VUCA World

Posted Mar. 23 2015, 10:50:50 pm

Standing Partnership

We recently held an executive briefing in partnership with the Oliver Group to explore the challenges organizations face in dealing with an environment of constant change and living in a VUCA world. For those of you new to the term, VUCA means:

  • Volatile
  • Uncertain
  • Complex
  • Ambiguous

We can thank the military for this latest business catch phrase. And, there’s probably good reason that it came from those who are trained for war – because, in today’s constantly evolving business environment, we’re all feeling like we’re in combat mode.

And, the pace of change and challenges won’t slow down anytime soon. Thank you to Scott Kiefer, military veteran and executive advisor and coach at the Oliver Group, for sharing a few tips to help us all get more comfortable living in a VUCA world.ChangeManagement Icon

  • Fight Volatility with a Vision: You will always be planning for change or dealing with significant crisis or hurdles on the horizon. Keep these individual issues from sidetracking you by creating and communicating a strong vision for your organization. Reassure your organization that there is an end goal in mind, even if the path to it doesn’t seem like a straight line. Then, communicate that vision clearly and often. Many business leaders tell their employees they have an “open door policy” where anyone can stop by at any time to discuss what’s on their mind. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Most employees still hesitate coming to you for fear that you’re busy or that their questions and comments may be looked down upon. So, be proactive and talk to people throughout the organization. Ask them what they think the vision of the company is to see if what you’ve been saying is resonating as you had hoped. Ask about their greatest fears for achieving that vision and where they think there has already been some success.
  • Build Understanding to Address Uncertainty: In today’s uncertain environment, you will be forced to take some risks in order to move your organization forward. Be thoughtful about those risks by understanding what challenges lurk under the surface. In the old days, leaders were expected to have all the right answers. To survive in today’s environment, you must instead be skilled in asking the right questions and listening. Get a fresh perspective by talking to a variety colleagues from different departments and don’t be afraid to ask questions about information that’s not clear to you. It’s hard for leaders to say this, but you can say “I don’t know the answer,” as long as you are making progress at understanding it and are open to listening to fresh perspectives from across your organization.
  • Bring Clarity to Complex Situations: Develop collaboration amongst leaders and build relationships with people from throughout your organization, so you can leverage their diverse thinking. Get more minds involved, and this includes folks on the front line. Empower them during times of planning for change and bring their thinking to the table. Often, they can complete the information you need and give you the full picture, so you can make smart decisions.
  • Be Agile to Deal with Ambiguity: Stop seeking a permanent solution for how to get from Point A to Point B. Gone are the days of having one solution to address changes in yourmarket or organization. You must simultaneously test different solutions, so you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This requires more time and resources, but you can empower more people to participate in finding those solutions. This makes it possible to tackle multiple solutions, while also creating more engagement across the company. And, don’t forget to celebrate small advances. This will help people feel that progress is happening even in ambiguous situations.

Operating in a VUCA environment can feel frustrating and messy at times. But, by following the above steps, you can transform it into a motivational opportunity where big change helps your organization reap big rewards.

To learn more about how communications can help with your planning for change, read our free animated e-book Communicating Through Organizational Change.


Written by Beth Minnigerode, former Standing Partnership employee

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