Welcome to the VUCA World!
I first time I heard the term “VUCA” was eight years ago when I was teaching a leadership class on the West Point campus in New York. A former Army General led my class of business leaders to an overlook of the Hudson River Valley where we had to strategize for a "battle." It was a fascinating exercise! The team debated where to put their troops and hypothesized about where the enemy would be coming from. Once our strategy was set, and troops were in place, the General explained what happened in the actual battle and told us how many soldiers would have likely died based upon on our decisions. It was not a typical Monday to say the least.
In the debrief…after we spectacularly failed the mission…the General wrote the letters V, U, C, A on a flipchart and explained that the Army uses this term when they are trying to plan for an unplanned world. In our case, we were perfectly prepared for the enemy to come up out of the river, but when they came in behind us, our plan failed immediately. Planning for the unexpected is routine in the military, but we do it less in the business world. As I listened to him describe the concept it reminded me of the Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” The acronym VUCA stands for:
The term stuck with me and I share it often in my leadership classes because, while business leaders may not find themselves in hostile combat situations, navigating a VUCA environment resonates with them.
Do you operate in a VUCA world right now?
Have you seen the impact of VOLATILE commodity prices, government regulations, weather conditions, or even a bad Yelp review, on your thoughtfully created business plans? Are you learning there is more value in the planning process than the plan itself?
Are you being challenged to take action despite UNCERTAINTY - launching products faster and imperfectly because start-ups are capturing your market share daily? Have you heard the mantra "get comfortable being uncomfortable" and learned to desire action over perfection?
Have you noticed the COMPLEXITY of the business world magnifying due to new technology, a global workforce, highly-matrixed organizations, consolidating industries, etc, etc? Are you learning to strategically design flexibility, not stability, into everything you do?
And finally, do you live in the grey zone of AMBIGUITY? Anyone who suggests they have expertise or mastery are kidding themselves. This is a world with more question marks than periods. Today's best leaders have learned to be infinitely curious and committed to learning constantly and quickly.
Everything we teach today is intended to prepare leaders who are navigating, and needing followership, in this VUCA world. We need outstanding leaders now more than ever to help us find a path forward in the midst of chaos. Old school leadership is causing new school thinking to die on the vine. We are seeing giants of industry crumble because they allowed outdated leadership practices to be practiced too long.
The role of leadership today is to bring clarity in uncertain times. The more uncertain things are, the more leadership is required. There is no job description for what you are facing, no rule book…today’s leaders need to thrive in the face of this uncertainty.
– Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
Welcome to your new normal. Things are not going to calm down or slow down in the business world. YOU need to keep up. If you are a leader who wants to thrive, not just survive, in today's VUCA world, we invite you to attend one of our new workshops called “The Gamechangers" where you will develop the key capabilities of 21st Century leaders. Registration for the 2018 workshops will open soon!