Cange - riding VUCA wave

“THE TENSION” Riding the VUCA Wave

Tired of talking about change yet?

We all know that change is our new normal; it is as much a part of our lives as the air we breathe. So why is it that we are always so surprised when we are interrupted, disrupted and unexpectedly faced with VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity)?

Perhaps it’s time to stop lamenting about change and shift the conversation to focus on the opportunities that an increasing pace of change presents.

Change is like waves in the ocean: reliable, yet unpredictable; expected and sometimes surprising. Ocean waves can be slow and gentle, while at other times they knock us over with their strength. I learned a long time ago to respect the power of ocean waves and to remember, if ever to be overtaken by their force, to move with them, not against. I know how to relax into a wave’s energy and use its strength to bring me to shore safely.

What if you looked at change in the same way we look at the ocean when we are standing at the shore? What if you saw the beauty, opportunity, unpredictability and power of change as something to embrace, even welcome, as part of your strategy and culture?

Companies spend tremendous intellectual and financial resources on reacting, responding and leading through change. And yet, according to Gallup, 70% of change initiatives fail. Clearly, something’s not working: it’s time for a new change strategy.

ARE you ready for change?

In the same way that one needs to know to relax into the energy of an unexpected and powerful wave, you will need to develop employees that know how to “surf” change and look at it as an opportunity and competitive advantage.

You will have to make sure you, your people and organization are developing the levels of agility, resilience and emotional intelligence (ARE) required to harness the energy and momentum change offers. The key to this will be to remember that these skills are teachable and learnable. Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that they will have to look for new people if they don’t see ARE qualities present with existing employees- an expensive and demoralizing process. The good news is that with a thoughtful plan for leader development, ARE skills can be embedded in an organization’s culture.

You may be wondering why these three competencies are so vitally important, so let’s define them:

  • Agility – agility is not only the ability to pivot, but to know how to align the strengths of leaders and teams in a way that can respond to and lead through change. It is knowing what levers, strategies and tactics will be needed to navigate change, and how to activate them in a way that promotes confidence in leadership.
  • Resilience – resilience is the ability to bounce, or to return to center. It is experiencing the waves of change, both peaks and valleys, while keeping an eye on forward momentum and an environment for growing and performing despite disruption.
  • Emotional Intelligence (EI) – the dictionary defines EI as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. EI allows leaders to lead in a way that builds relationships and competencies that can be built on agility and resilience.

“The Tension”

This past week I was at yet another event where results of a leadership study were presented to a group of senior executives. Once again “the tension” showed up. “The tension” is exactly that; the tension that always exists in an organization between producing results and developing a people experience and strategy that will allow it to succeed into the future.

I am fascinated by “the tension”, especially because it is even more present during times of uncertainty and change.

Despite the research, which continues to show the same results across studies, organizations are afraid to invest in their people in a way that prepares their organization for success in the future, even knowing that these three competencies (ARE) are essential to accelerate their ability drive performance results. It happens over and over again.

Leaders almost always place a disproportionately high emphasis on investing in execution, driving results and operational efficiency, with a disproportionately low emphasis on investing in the development of people. Where instinct might suggest that building agility, resilience and emotional intelligence falls under “soft skills”, they actually consistently show up equally as important to driving results in leadership studies across organization size and industry.

We know that the “bottom line” is what senior leaders pay attention to most, it’s often how they define success. In this new and ever changing environment, what is the bottom line and how do we define success? Is it merely profitability or should we be measuring the ability to embrace and ride the wave of change?

We believe that success today is the ability to drive to a triple bottom line: financial success, an inspired employee experience, and having a positive impact in the world. And we already know that for employees to feel inspired today, they must be offered a leadership journey that includes developing themselves to gain the competencies most essential for performing at their highest level.

Fix your Roof while the Sun is Shining

If change is today’s new normal and the time has come to look for opportunities to use it to your advantage, ask yourself if you are doing everything you need to do to ensure that your leaders, teams and organizations have the agility, resilience and emotional intelligence they need to lead into the future.

Perhaps it’s time to double down on your investment in building the skills, strengths and competencies in your leaders and culture that will make VUCA irrelevant. In this scenario, your leaders, teams and organization will always have the kind of agility, resilience and emotional intelligence necessary to outperform in any market or economic environment. Don’t wait until things go off the rails before developing your people to have the skills they need.


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