How is accountability different in an uncertain (versus a certain) world? In response to VUCA, we can no longer follow the plan as initially set, since it needs to be flexible in response to changing conditions, new information, lessons learned, etc. So, accountability has to be to a vision – where we want to get to – not the “how to get there” plan. Frequently this means we’re tracking things we can’t really measure. There’s no qualitative data available, and we don’t yet know the steps that will be necessary. However, we can monitor whether we’re moving closer to, or further away from, our vision. This also means that we need to reward proactive behaviors – doing what needs to be done in the moment, not waiting to be told. This may require a culture shift. From a leader’s perspective, this isn’t the most common form of delegation and, again, needs to be negotiated and monitored with care. This too, takes a different set of leadership characteristics and skills.
In this VUCA world, leaders need to continuously adapt to change that is speeding up every year. Those leaders that are able to do this are in a position to co-create a future in which they can survive, and thrive. To find opportunity in the VUCA dynamic, leaders need to rethink the commonly employed linear change models. These models describe a change process in which each step is required, in a planned order, and in a one-way top-down direction. They produce change initiatives that detail how the change process will uniformly unfold across the organization. When this method of change encounters the VUCA world dynamic it succeeds less than 30% of the time.
VUCA Prime ~ a positive alternative
One of the answers to how we can be part of the successful 30% comes from The Institute for the Future fellow Bob Johansen who in 2007 published the idea of transforming VUCA into Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility. This is called VUCA-Prime, and we place an infinity loop (∞) between them to show their dynamic interaction.
VUCA, on its own, appears to be a set of problems to be solved. However, VUCA isn’t solvable. Including VUCA-Prime illuminates the dilemma leader’s face today. VUCA ∞ VUCA-Prime is an adaptive challenge that provides leaders with the opportunity to manage their business by incorporating the best of both sides of each dynamic.
VUCA ∞ VUCA-Prime requires both a new perspective and a new set of tools for leaders. As a dilemma, each component exists simultaneously in a both/and state, as opposed to an either/or state. Both VUCA and VUCA-Prime exist concurrently in a dynamic state that alternates between the two. Understanding this perspective, we can take advantage of the benefits of each, while minimizing their limitations. Understanding this dynamic provides leaders a way to navigate successful change – change that moves the organization toward coherence rather than into chaos.
How the system is structured matters. And, it’s a frequently overlooked or under-addressed dynamic in the quest for ways to effectively meet the demands of this uncertain VUCA world. Here are a couple of specific ways the structure matters, and can get in the way.
What’s rewarded and what’s not – or, how are behaviors that we don’t want being indirectly rewarded. No matter what the talk is, one of the dynamics that determines what people do is how the system is set up to respond to various behaviors. We usually do what we are rewarded for.
If we want to be agile in response to VUCA, we need to reward agile behaviors, which includes risking and failing. Ideally, in a VUCA world, we take risks that we can afford to have fail (what’s called “safe fail”), since with VUCA there’s no such thing as a “fail safe” option. So risking, and failing, needs to be rewarded. How that gets set up is a careful balance, but saying you want out-of-the-box thinking and then punishing people for trying something that doesn’t work means you won’t get thinking very far outside your box.
If we want people to pay attention to weak signals, we have to include more people in the conversations earlier, and provide them with access to more data. We have to actively encourage and make use of input from every level of the organization. We have to re-think leadership, and move from rewarding the leaders for having “the answers” to rewarding the leaders for engaging the team in finding the answers.