Managing the VUCA Damage – The HR ‘Avengers Endgame’ 0

Harini

With VUCA leapfrogging into corporate boardrooms and strategic planning meetings, in this new era, cracking the VUCA code is key for success. So how can our Avengers (Human Resource fraternity) decode and defeat this mysterious ‘Thanos’ that has made half the world disappear behind a wall of fear? Let’s find out!

VUCA, the acronym that is an unsolicited ‘gift’ to mankind since the wartime continues to thrive as the favourite business buzzword. It is indeed not so difficult to build a business case to justify it. Introduced by the U.S. Army War College in the 1990s to describe the new, constantly changing and extreme conditions it faced in Afghanistan and Iraq, the acronym has now found its place in the boardrooms and business talks. It is not wrong to say that perhaps, it has even become a new business model. Business schools now offer VUCA leadership certificates. Management consultants publish reports on how VUCA is changing business. Every other leadership conference includes VUCA – themed sessions. All these are mere manifestations of fear that organisations today face more volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity than ever before, and these conditions require a different leadership approach.

But is the idea even correct in today’s business environment? Our own Avengers (to be read as ‘Human Resource fraternity’) decode and defeat this mysterious ‘Thanos’ with the Infinity Stones a.k.a VUCA that has made half the world disappear behind a wall of fear. The Avengers here try to use the same infinity stones but redefined in a way to reverse the ‘Snap’.

Half the business world disappeared with the snap of the fingers that wore the VUCA gauntlet. This is where ‘volatility’ is the quality of being subject to frequent, rapid and significant change. ‘Uncertainty’ is a component of that situation, in which events and outcomes are unpredictable. ‘Complexity’ involves a multiplicity of issues and factors, some of which may be intricately interconnected. ‘Ambiguity’ is manifested in a lack of clarity and the difficulty of understanding exactly what the situation is.

Our team of HR Avengers remains undaunted by any fear and has set out on a brave mission. They say that although there are apparent challenges in an increasingly VUCA world, they are not really unmanageable especially for those who are willing to reinvent their thinking and approaches. Some of the ways in which the Avengers recommend reversal of the ‘Thanos’ snap help in creating an awareness of the forces of VUCA and strategies to mitigate the harm they might cause are integral to crisis management and disaster recovery planning.

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Everything is not unpredictable.

If you step back to take a system-level view of the world, there are many phenomena with trend lines that are actually clear. To list a few items of clarity –

• The majority of the globe’s population now lives in cities and this will continue to increase in the decades ahead.
With urbanization generally come longer life expectancies, lower birth rates, and greater economic prospects.

• The population of youth in the world is likely to shift. This could prove to be an opportunity.

• Technological advancement may convert devices to those that are smaller, faster, and less expensive. Each of these phenomena can be used as a lens on your business and industry to make it easier to discern what may come.

Get out of your comfort zone.

VUCA is a condition that calls for questions — and a variety of them. Challenging questions to stimulate differing views and healthy debates. Open-ended questions that fuel the imagination. Analytical questions that distinguish what you think from what you know. The only thing you know with certainty about your strategy is that it’s wrong. Persistent probing will help you know how severe it is before the events swiftly reveal the answer to you. Agility is critical because strategic adjustments must be made continually.

Constant change can perturb people because we humans crave certainty. People worry about their jobs, status, and influence. This can hurt engagement, productivity, and the willingness to act independently. But you can reassure your team through stability and transparency of the process. For example, be clear about your decision-making criteria, and be consistent in applying them.

Signal your tolerance for learning-based mistakes that are inevitable in a fast-changing environment, and be sure to capture what you learn as a way of certifying its value. Think about these failures as a resource you’ve already paid for. Finally, be rock solid about your values — they should endure, drive decision making and action, and be enthusiastically and energetically celebrated to give them high visibility amid the hurly-burly of daily work.

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Be sure to avoid unnecessary turbulence. For example, rather than having regular anxiety- inducing reorganisations of the hierarchy that rapidly become outdated, try for a more flexible, minimalist structure complemented by skills such as teaming that create fluidity and the expectation that structures will evolve.

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Create VUCA 3.0 by implementing VUCA 2.0

VUCA Element: Volatility
Secret Weapon: Vision
Evolved VUCA Element: Vibrancy

Leaders of the future with clarity of vision shall be able to navigate through the unpredictable paths that are bound to come in their way. This clear vision will ensure focus on the right decisions and will result in bringing about vibrancy.

VUCA Element: Uncertainty
Secret Weapon: Understanding
Evolved VUCA Element:
Unparalleled Work Output

An in-depth understanding of various factors that impact business outcomes is imperative. Future leaders will be endowed with a superpower to gather this information from all stakeholders including customers so that they are all set to become unparalleled in their business.

VUCA Element: Complexity
Secret Weapon: Courage
Evolved VUCA Element: Challenging Work

Environments that appear complex can be defeated by demonstrating the courage of conviction. The complex unsolvable could then get transformed into the challenging solvable.

VUCA Element: Ambiguity
Secret Weapon: Adaptable
Evolved VUCA Element: Agility

The last and final gem is the agile working which will turn the ambiguity to be more adaptable. Agility is all about matching the requirements of all stakeholders and quickly making course corrections to suit the demands. HR Avengers have discovered the 4 steps to VUCA 3.0 so that the Thanos VUCA disappears!

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VUCA isn’t something that can’t be destroyed; it simply is waiting to be destroyed. Attempts to simplify complexity, or to break volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity down into smaller and smaller parts in hopes that each can be decoded and countered will help them keep at bay. It is a network phenomenon and can’t be mastered through industrial age structures and practices. Leaders need to be aware of the “How’s” of VUCA to save the world from destruction.

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Harini is a strategic HR leader with proven expertise in organisational restructuring for M&A and Change Management. A design thinking practitioner, behavioural analyst, transactional analyst and innovator, she is a strong advocate of the concept of Happy Workplaces. Harini has been leading the HR function in MNCs and is a guest faculty at prominent B schools and universities. She is currently Affiliate Partner at SSI India, Chief Mentor HR at Intelliswift and Advisor to the Board at Caere Pvt. Ltd.

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