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COVID19: This is VUCA in Action – your questions answered

3 min read


watch-icon October 6, 2020

COVID19: This is VUCA in Action – your questions answered

If you haven’t heard the term VUCA, then that’s the first question we’ll answer. 

VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. It is a term that’s been used in management literature for many years to describe the future (and the current) business environment.  

In ‘future of work’ seminars or keynote presentations by futurists you’ll hear this term used as a noun and a verb. VUCA (said vooka). 

We are seeing the best, and the worst, of human behavior at the moment. People are singing in Italy, the cops are dragging people out their cars in China, there are people delivering free toilet paper to neighbors in Australia and people lining up for guns in the USA. In each country there is good and there is bad as people try to figure out how to respond.   

The current challenge that COVID-19 has thrown at us is the definition of VUCA.  

Volatility – the speed at which the changes and government responses to the pandemic is one element. The fact it’s a pandemic (ie: a worldwide) issue is another.  

Uncertainty – the answers aren’t yet known, there is a lot of speculating and the answers we do know are unsettling. We all feel out of control without past experience to rely on – unprecedented is the term of the day. 

Complexity – the illness is one thing and the impact of the response to the illness is another. Each change to the response means businesses are having to pivot to respond to ‘physical distancing’. 

Ambiguity – the information we have is patchy and changes day today. Experts are arguing with each other. Some say you must wash your hands and stay 1.5 meters away. Others are saying its airborne so can move through air ducts and direct transfer (ie: hand to hand) is limited. 

This pandemic and the response to it is exactly what the VUCA experts have been trying to prepare you for. But its past prep time now. It’s time for management and action. 

What you can do to help manage through this VUCA situation: 

          1Increase communication

People are social creatures and will start to wilt if they are left alone for too long. Stay connected regularly. Even if it’s a quick text message or a 5-minute Zoom.  

          2Be uncertain together

As a leader, you are feeling uncertain too, and your role is to stay connected to your people. It’s ok for them to know that you don’t know everything, it’s ok to show vulnerability and it’s ok to ask for their help in working out what to do next. They will see you doing working and caring for them. They will see and feel that you’re in it together.  

           3Clarity is key 

Setting boundaries is essential for creating safety. We’re in a state of vulnerability and so anything you can do to create safe boundaries is essential. If you want them to feel comfortable and be productive then be clear. Clear is kind.  

          4Radical acceptance

Let go of what used to be and embrace a new normal. The first stage of change is acceptance. Stress is caused by struggling against what is. It is what it is, accept it and that will allow you to act effectively.  

         5Put on your mask first

On an airplane, they tell you to put on your oxygen mask before helping others. Do self-care things that work for you to maintain your health and strength. If you aren’t strong then you have nothing to give to others. 

Author: Michelle Holland  

Michelle Holland