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Operating In A VUCA World

by Caroline Buhagiar | 06 May. 2016

As the end of year approaches organisations have a tendency to look back and reflect on what went well and what could have done better. Many try to look at their successes and learn from past mistakes. However this type of mind set in today’s global organizations does not work.

In a world where businesses are faced with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA), thinking about the past to make sense of the future won’t help. Business leaders need to be able to navigate in a world of constant change and fast paced decision making. This brings about a lot of strain on the human capital of any organisation. So what does VUCA mean for your business and how can you set up yourself and your organization for success?

We need to reflect on these four areas and ask ourselves:

  • In a world that is highly volatile: Is my organisation / business flexible, fast to react, focuses on growth and is good at change management.
  • In a world of uncertainty where we cannot predict the future: is my organisation / business adaptable to customer’s needs and demands?
  • In a world of complexity: is my organisation / business able to make sense of the chaos that many a times surrounds us? Are we able to operate in a chaotic environment?
  • Operating with ambiguity: how comfortable are you and your employees to work in the unknown? To manage doubts and persevere towards those goals that have been set by the organization?

Having experienced daily this VUCA world during my 6 years in Asia, I can say that those organizations that are able to navigate in these conditions and are also quick to change course fast when the market demands it, will outperform their competitors. In the last 10 years Asia has seen unprecedented growth while Europe and the US markets where drowning holding to their dear life. The Asian Tiger has definitely come out in full force riding the waves of economic prosperity. And it's not over yet. The Hays 2015 salary survey stated that employees can expect more salary increases as business continues to grow and thus demand for highly skilled professionals keeps rising. Let’s come back to Malta which is experiencing a similar cycle to a smaller extent but nonetheless important. In the last edition of Legatum Prosperity Index we can clearly see that Malta is on an exciting trajectory of its own considering our size and small population.

Therefore to the leaders and leaders out there, I say:

  1. Look at the culture of your organisation and identify traits that will allow your business to react fast, to embrace change, to challenge the status quo and demonstrate resilience

  2. Look at your HR practices and throw out of the window all those rigid working contracts and traditional training centres that are aimed at the few employees rather than the mass. Bring in a new wave of HR Business partners who are business literate and not HR literate. Bring in a Chief of HR that drives HR strategically from the “Outside In” and not inside out (source: HR Competencies by Dave Ulrich). It’s useless to measure engagement in a world that is highly mobile and global. It is useless to create contracts that contradict today’s workforce expectations in terms of rapid professional growth and career advancement within a short span of time. Create a mindset of self directed learning and move away from the traditional one-size-fits-all training. Leave that to the schools and universities as we would be trespassing an area that would be better managed by those competent. On the other hand let us give employees more challenging jobs, participate in projects that can expose them to their global colleagues and other global practices. Let us dare to throw our people in the ocean and take some risks. The lessons they will learn from such experiences will last them a lifetime within your organization.

  3. In a world of ambiguity, join forces with your competitors, create partnerships that leads to a win-win situation rather than loose-loose. Let us stop protecting our turf and share best practices so that together we can learn to navigate in this VUCA world.

Being insular and attempting to preserve the status quo had bad implications on surviving in a VUCA world. Be open and ready to embrace changes with the hope of creating some valuable change yourself.

Caroline Buhagiar is an avid and passionate HR professional who has worked in large multinational companies in Europe, US and Asia. She is fluent in manufacturing excellence, business excellence, building HR capability and driving
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