VUCA world, VUCA company?

Just because we live in a VUCA world doesn't mean that your company is too.

In this article I tell you why.

You've probably heard that we are living in a VUCA world.
I confess that the first few times I heard it, I needed to look up the definition to understand what it was all about. Perhaps the same thing is happening to you. Allow me to dedicate a few brief paragraphs to defining VUCA.

In 1987 Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus coined this acronym made up of the first letter of the words Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, and tells us that we live in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world.

It is volatile because changes are constant. Uncertain, because there is no way to anticipate or predict what will happen. Complex, since multiple variables are involved that exceed our capacity for interpretation. And it is ambiguous because it admits different interpretations of the same phenomenon depending on who observes it and where the signals regarding the courses of action to be taken are not clear.

Although we are immersed in a system that conditions and shapes the possibilities of action, the way in which companies adapt to and surf this reality is usually very different, even within the same industry. How they are organized and managed to deliver value is dissimilar, as are the results they generate and the organizational climate they experience.

Using analogies, I use the acronym used in the context to characterize certain companies as VUCA.

Their work agenda is volatile. What was a priority yesterday is no longer a priority today, even though the task is unfinished. It is common for activities to take precedence according to the energy and strength of those who shout the loudest, whether they are clients or heads of sectors that fight to be at the top of the list of urgent tasks.

They are uncertain because they inhabit a reactive culture, lacking the ability to anticipate changes and stay the course despite the adversities of the environment. They often embark on multiple projects without anchoring them to a core competency (core business) under the belief that "every opportunity must be seized"..

As for the Complex attribute, they are so because in the eagerness to reduce costs, they have generated multiple indicators that prioritize the objectives of each subsystem, losing sight of those of the company as a whole. As the objectives of each department are not subordinated to those of the company, multiple bottlenecks arise where the efficient management of each one of them threatens the achievement of the objectives of the other departments. Eli Godratt narrated it in a fantastic way in his novel, best seller worldwide, La Meta.

Source: kjpargeter –

The other acronym is A for ambiguous. They are companies that are trapped in dilemmas and try to make a balance by looking for solutions that leave them relatively well off, which they do not achieve. Therefore, they swing between both sides of the solution generating confusion and communicational chaos. As an example, they maintain lines of action to innovate and raise the perceived value of the brand while implementing drastic cost reductions that threaten quality.

A hot iron

To explain the consequences of working in a VUCA company, I use the metaphor of glowing iron.

If responding to the multiple demands people have in their jobs is akin to holding a hot iron without protection, it is not surprising that they distance themselves from what burns them, and even encourage others to lessen their commitment. Of course, if the others maintain their performance, they leave those who withdraw exposed.

Source: own elaboration based on data from Gallup (2013).

This is consistent with the report State of the Global Workplace 2013 Report The Gallup consulting firm reports that 52% of workers are not committed to their jobs. Moreover, 18% have an overtly negative attitude towards their work.

For those at the top of the pyramid, reality is usually different. For them, taking off the company's shirt is not an easy task, and even though it burns, day after day they cling to the hot iron of managing a VUCA company. I imagine there is no need to detail the consequences of holding a red-hot iron without adequate protection.

They suffer from what is known as burned-out worker syndrome, .. or surmenage in french.

This syndrome in its first phase begins with physical and emotional exhaustion. If the strategy to respond to stress is not adequate, the second phase is triggered, leading to cynicism and depersonalization. In this stage, the other person is no longer recognized as a legitimate subject with a valid point of view, but is perceived as if he/she were an object. Those who suffer from it "take off the shirt of their job". The 18% with a negative attitude mentioned above clearly manifests cynicism.

If exposure to stress continues without an adequate coping strategy, the third phase is reached in which productivity drops, the person feels a collapse in his or her sense of accomplishment and suffers an identity crisis.

Now, what are the physical consequences for this manager who continues to cling to the incandescent iron? The clinical repercussions usually include hypertension, high blood sugar, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, contractures, insomnia, irritable temper, etc. It is not exclusive to CEOs, it is also suffered by workers who, in spite of everything, continue to wear the shirt and put their chests to the bullets.

Both are victims of the VUCA company. But remaining in the role of victim does not lead to a solution. What is striking is that CEOs assume that these are the inevitable consequences of being in a managerial position and their concern is focused on the lack of staff commitment, not on the causes that generate this behavior.

The difficulty lies in the fact that the behavior is visible while the causes are not easy to distinguish. They are rooted in policies that translate into the way the company is organized and managed. Consequently, in the way personnel are measured and evaluated.

Trapped in the labyrinth

If the above description makes sense to you, I invite you to read the following post in which I will tell you how to get out of the labyrinth in a simple way.

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Thank you very much for your attention!

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