Three-quarters of the way through the year, most of us are probably confident in saying that we will look back on 2020 as the embodiment of the leadership term VUCA - volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. We have watched industry stalwarts stumble, and have seen remarkable examples of organizations flexing their agility muscle as they collaborated with unexpected partners, tapping into their entrepreneurial spirit.
For years to come, we will be studying the success and failures of the last several months, but some lessons are already clear. We need to move beyond the panic and short-term focus, and concentrate on actions that will help us forge the path forward into 2021 and beyond.
Assembling a team of individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences is especially beneficial when solving complex issues. Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once famously said that “many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” We don’t need to look far to see the truth in his statement. Across the country, we see committees and groups forming to solve issues such as returning to school in the fall, economic recovery plans, and social equality.
Within our organizations, we should establish similar working groups and committees to reimagine how to:
- Serve existing clients
- Perform business development in a virtual world
- Support employees to ensure they have the tools and resources to continue working remotely
- Return to office strategies
- Create new products and services for the next normal
When establishing these teams, ensure there are clear goals aligned with your business, and each team member brings creative solutions to be discussed. By listening to each other, we begin to learn, innovate, and create a new vision.
Perhaps one of the most notable VUCA behaviors we need to continue to demonstrate is effective listening. True collaboration includes intentional, active listening. Too often, we witness situations where listening is not taking place; voices may get louder, but there is no progress.
Ralph G. Nichols, known as the father of listening, tells us that “the wise listener is attentive and non-evaluative; he asks only unslanted questions and praises those statements by an adversary which he can honestly praise.” In the digital age, it is easy to hear from only those that affirm our beliefs; effective leaders are seeking input from a diverse audience.
While listening, don’t forget to follow the critical thinking process. When collaborating with diverse groups, critical thinking can help protect against our own biases that may interfere with finding new solutions. It’s also important to listen for and separate the facts. While stories are important – people make decisions emotionally – facts are necessary to develop projections and forecasts.
The world has been changing so rapidly it may feel that, while flexing to meet the new normal, we are in danger of breaking or losing our way. One of the many lessons learned throughout the pandemic is the ability to be responsive and nimble as external factors outside of our control, impact our business. You have to continue to balance stability in your organization while making frequent adjustments to plans. In a VUCA world, we must remain aware and responsive to the dynamic changes and continue to adapt new strategies allowing for greater levels of flexibility and responsiveness.
Evaluate opportunities to transform internal processes such as continuous budgeting, windowed work, and inclusion of more technology to augment our teams’ skills. A lack of staff flexibility may also be a vulnerability to be aware of and work around - not everyone is able or ready to return to the office. Spend time working on workflow processes that include a blended workforce, staff in various geographic time zones, and leveraging outsourced resources to supplement peak demand to make your organization more nimble and stable.
Agility is also required in the development and deployment of new products and services. Our customers’ needs and expectations have changed, along with how they consume our product or service. Being agile is not just about how we shift our processes, but how quickly we respond and incorporate their needs into the products and services offered to them.
Before you feel overwhelmed with the concept of being agile, keep in mind that “what you do matters; why you do it matters more,” Jimmie Bulter. Staying committed to our mission in a changing environment means we need to be flexible in how and what we deliver.
Whether you think of this as the new normal, the next normal, or the next better, the key is that we are always learning and always changing. 2020 has been a sharp learning curve for many, but success is defined by the path we create. John O’Leary describes moments like this as “inflection points” in our life. “The two greatest motivators that guide us through inflection points are: fear and love.” We will look back on this and see how the choices we make now will launch us onto a new course.
Interested in learning more about how to create a future-facing organization? Read Mike's other posts on how to position your organization for a successful future.