Are You Working in a VUCA Environment?

September 22, 2021

VUCA. What comes to mind when you hear that acronym? The first time I heard it, it was so unfamiliar to me that I thought of Veruca Salt, the fictional character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (similar sound, don’t you think?). Since then, I’ve heard the term many times and have become very familiar with it. It’s an acronym that stands for:Volatile Uncertain Complex AmbiguousThis term was first popularized in the military in the 1990s, but has since then been applied to all types of organizations, including health care. Those of you who work in health care can probably think of aspects of your organization and culture that meet the definitions of each of those terms!We as human beings crave stability, and the lack of it can bring about lower productivity, poor employee health, and decreased engagement. Thus, leaders should have their pulse on the organization and understand what in the organization is volatile, uncertain, complex, or ambiguous; a quick employee survey or focus groups can help get the employees’ perspective on this. For larger projects contributing to VUCA, you should be using common change management techniques, such as stakeholder analysis (a tool that identifies directly and indirectly impacted stakeholders, possible sources of resistance, benefits, etc.) or an impact/gap analysis (a tool that compares the current state to future state and the implications of those gaps).It also helps to identify the sources of stability within an organization and capitalize on those. In organizations, this can be clear job descriptions and roles/responsibilities, clear reporting relationships, defined processes, and regular, planned communication. It also helps if you clarify your process and criteria behind decisions, be consistent in how you apply policies/procedures, and provide clear expectations on performance and projects. Be direct in your communication style and don’t leave employees guessing. Being trustworthy and reliable by saying what you’re going to do and doing what you say is also a great leadership tactic for helping bring about more stability and accountability within your team.As a leader, this is part of your role. You should be helping your employees cope with the VUCA environment because you can’t eliminate VUCA; it is now part of our organizations and it’s not going away!Kelly Topp, Ph.D.Kelly has more than 20 years of experience in talent management, organizational development, and change management, primarily in Fortune 100 organizations. She has a Ph.D. in I/O psychology, as well as 10 years of teaching experience at the university level.

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