Has your company’s executive team been “VUCA’d”?

South Africans are familiar with the terms FICA and RICA. These are two acronyms that caused much upheaval in their lives, respectively, in 2003 and then in 2011.

FICA required all adults with bank accounts, and RICA required all cell phone owners, to provide documentary evidence, to their bank or cell phone service provider, of certain personal details such as home addresses and so forth.

For the uninitiated, FICA is the acronym for the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, which came into effect in 2003 to counter financial crimes like money laundering, tax evasion and the financing of terrorist activities. RICA is the acronym for the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act which came into effect in 2011 to help prevent cell phones being used for criminal activities without being traced.

At the respective times that each of these Acts came into effect, everyone described becoming compliant with the relevant legislation as being “FICA’d” or “RICA’d”.

Now, just when you thought you could relax, if you’re a leader of a political party, of a business entity, association or non-profit organisation, and you want to comply with the requirements that will help ensure the sustainability and success of your organisation, it’s time for you to get VUCA’d!

VUCA is an acronym that stands for: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, and the acronym is used to describe the prevailing and/or coming conditions in any given situation. The term originated in the US Army War College in the early 1990s and was then used by the military to describe the significantly more complex world that emerged after the end of the Cold War. Shortly thereafter, it made its way into the world of business strategy.

Briefly, the meanings of each of the four terms are as follows:

Volatility: The speed of change and disruption, and the forces and catalysts that prompt such rapid change, as well as the need to manage such change/s;
Uncertainty: The unpredictability and element of surprise that now dominates one’s environment, and the need to heighten one’s awareness and understanding of such matters;
Complexity: The absence of linear cause-and-effect, the multidimensional forces and the sense of confusion triggered by such complexities, and the need to navigate such complexities; and
Ambiguity: The duality, lack of clarity and multiple meanings of events, and the necessity to read and interpret very unclear and often multiple realities.       

In the light of the above, I ask: have your executive team, your senior managers, your operations people, your HR people and your supervisors been VUCA’d?

Phrased another way, have they been taught, trained, helped to cope with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity? If they haven’t, you’re headed for some stormy weather. As with all storms, an experienced and skillful captain is needed to steer the ship safely through heavy weather.

But, through no fault of their own, the majority of experienced captains of industry, simply do not have the agility, qualities and skills needed to deal with the waves of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that are now tossing their previously stable supertankers around like toy boats.

That’s because, to deal with these four elements, you have to first learn how to develop insight, not something generally taught on leadership programmes. But, while insight is very helpful, it is no longer enough. Apart from acquiring insight, you have to learn to develop foresight – the ability to predict and/or plan for the future. And it takes highly sophisticated skills to help people develop insight and foresight. It’s not easy but it can be done.  

There are many more new generation leadership “skills” required – skills previously never dreamt of as being business skills. You would be surprised to learn what they are!

They can’t however be taught with current Newtonian training principles – mechanistic, linear training techniques which are now inadequate for the non-linear, quantum world we have moved into.

My advice? Find someone who already has the insight and foresight to be able to teach your people these new leadership skills so that you can make sure you’re all VUCA’d!

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net@HRFuturemag. He assists executives to develop new generation leadership skills, manage their age as an asset, and achieve self-mastery so that they can lead with greatness and agility in an increasingly disruptive world.

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