The pandemic brought new challenges to businesses that were already dealing with the VUCA environment
“Whereas the heroic manager of the past knew all, could do all, and could solve every problem, the post-heroic manager asks how every problem can be solved in a way that develops other people’s capacity to handle it.”
Charles Handy, Irish economic and social philosopher
The world in which we live is full of chaos and disruption is the order of the day. The world at large has become volatile and unprecedented and everything around us is in a state of continuous flux. The challenges today growing in size and scope can be at best summarised by a four-letter acronym called VUCA which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. The term was coined in the late 1980s to describe the uncertainty of the business world, which is equally applicable in today’s world. There has been a drastic escalation in the level of uncertainty in present times. The world in general and the corporate world in particular need to devise concrete strategies to offset the negative impact of the VUCA environment.
VUCA and the pandemic
The pandemic brought new challenges to businesses that were already dealing with the VUCA environment. Business leaders faced unprecedented challenges as they tried to navigate uncharted waters in this environment of VUCA in the workplace. The pandemic has shown that the world can change irreversibly, turning business models and strategies irrelevant. In this environment of VUCA variables, leaders need to pivot and respond to ever-changing circumstances. They must align themselves to the changing landscapes and adapt to the environment by enhancing their skills to meet new demands and challenges. The VUCA environment has also affected employees in many ways.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, “75 per cent of people say they feel more socially isolated, 67 per cent of people report higher stress, 57 per cent are feeling greater anxiety, and 53 per cent say they feel more emotionally exhausted.” (Qualtrics and SAP 2020). L&D is critical in this environment to serve as a growth engine for career trajectories and meaningful business impact.
L&D to lead through VUCA
As new-age organisations are faced with challenges that are riddled with contradictions, learning and development with an innovative and agile approach will help turn these challenges into opportunities for businesses in the VUCA environment.
According to Linkedin’s 2022 Workforce Learning Report, “the demand for L&D specialists increased 94 per cent in July – September 2021, compared with April – June 2021.” Many believe that leadership has never been more important than it is today. Employees are weary of constant change and added pressure, and it is easy for individuals to lose faith in the overall vision of the business in this environment.
L&D’s role in this case, as it has for a long time, is to assist leaders in developing the right skillset, mindset, and toolset to bring out the best in their employees. L&D adds value to employees with problem-solving skills, leadership, communication skills, and project management. It benefits them at all stages of their careers, regardless of external factors, and prepares them to face VUCA in their role, organisation, or business.
Transforming leadership is right at the top of the to-do list for businesses in the VUCA world. To lead people reliably through the VUCA age, businesses need agile leadership. An agile leader is someone who spots a challenge or opportunity and responds effectively. A leader who can tackle VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) with VUCA (vision, understanding, courage, and adaptability). The crucial learning programs help organisations and leaders to meet challenges related to efficiency, agility, productivity, accountability, and more. These programs at large help to counteract uncertainty and enable organisations to adapt to the change and prepare accordingly.
Agile organisations: a way to the future
Organisations have to respond quickly to the requirements and lead people reliably through the VUCA age. According to Organisational theorist Karl Weick, Organisations will fail to respond to VUCA without robust communication and teamwork that brings diverse perspectives, teams, and organisations together. As a way forward, organisations must develop concrete strategies to adapt to changing technological advancements, keep up with the disruptive environment, and prepare for change. To accomplish this, organisations have to revise some of their traditional belief systems to embrace change with the help of learning and development programs to learn, adapt, and transform.
The writer is Chairman and Managing Director, BYLD Group. Views are personal.