In their 2014 Harvard Business Review article titled, ‘What VUCA Really Means for you‘, Nathan Bennett and James Lemoine warned us not to use the VUCA acronym as a crutch.
Sadly, looking at the South African context today, this has indeed become a reality. It is important to understand that just because we can’t prepare for a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world, does not mean we cannot lead our businesses through it.
Sustaining the growing faith
Ahead of President Ramaphosa’s 2019 State of the Nation Address, marketing and social research consultancy Citizen Surveys released data from the South African Citizens Survey conducted shortly after the May elections. It showed that 73% of South Africans believe that unemployment is the most pressing problem, followed by crime and poverty.
The number of South Africans who are confident that the country is headed in the right direction has increased by 9% since April to 38%. However, to sustain this growing faith in our country’s future, leaders will have to demonstrate purposeful action to grow the economy and attract investment to create more jobs.
So, in a South Africa (and a world) of so many opinions and political instability, how do you build a stable environment for your business?
The truth is, you can’t. But more importantly, you cannot allow this to paralyse you and those you lead – step out and stay true to yourself and your business.
I suggest that you start by being BRAVE:
- Take BOLD steps to navigate the VUCA storm – The worst thing you can do in the midst of constant change is stand still. Being left behind is worse than failure, because by doing nothing, you learn nothing. Don’t let fear paralyse your decision-making as a leader, or your team’s ability to innovate. Keep the old proverb of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ in mind. In my own business, I often launch new offerings to address customer needs – some sell better than others, but they always teach me how to improve.
- Make RECOGNITION a habit – Don’t let negativity stunt the opportunities this world of change presents – be intentional about building confidence in individual and team abilities. Recognise team members when their efforts add value, for their loyalty and for their success. Also, remember to celebrate together when you achieve as a team.
- Embrace AMBIGUITY – Accept that teams are becoming increasingly diverse and that different things will have different meanings to different people. Use these different points of view to your advantage to cater for a diverse customer base and stay ahead of the curve. When I put something out there, I always ask for as many opinions as possible because I know that applying feedback grows the audience that I reach.
- Encourage VULNERABILITY – Since work environments are becoming increasingly pressurised, it is vital to provide team members with a safe space to be vulnerable. This is so important for relieving stress and building a culture where team members feel secure enough to ask for help when they feel overwhelmed.
- Set clear EXPECTATIONS – Because this modern environment rarely allows anyone the luxury of knowing what to expect, it is of pivotal importance that those you lead know what to expect from you, and from each other. As a leader, make sure to establish clear direction, clear rules of engagement and clear deadlines. Don’t allow the VUCA storm to set your boat adrift.
Above all, leading in this VUCA world is a daily choice, and not so much a skill. You can’t become an expert at something that changes its shape so often – you can only keep your mind and your approach agile enough to take on the next wave.