We first came across the concept of VUCA in our interview with Clyde Fernandez from Salesforce a few weeks ago.
He used it to describe the current world of work that most of us are operating in today: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
It was such an interesting topic that we felt it was important to explore it in a little more detail and provide all of you leaders out there with some tips on adapting and thriving in a VUCA-driven world.
To help us tackle this important topic, we managed to chat with Chief Marketing Officer of IBM for Africa and the Middle East, Sophie Stanton.
Be more human
Interestingly, Sophie echoed many of the same ideas that we have been hearing from multiple senior-level leaders worldwide when it comes to adapting to a VUCA world – the importance of being more human:
Sophie: “The most important part of being a leader is getting people to collaborate. This has become more and more difficult in our current, ever-changing environment and means that showing your human side has become more important than ever.
In the past, it wasn’t really the done thing to be empathetic, vulnerable and human as a leader, but nowadays, I don’t think you can afford to lead any other way.
Most of us can’t be in the same room any more. We don’t have all those physical signs that you can pick up on when people are in the office sitting next to you, so you need to be asking the right questions, listening and following your intuition to make sure that you provide the best environment for each single individual in your team to perform at their best level.”
Is taking a human approach worth the time?
As we mentioned earlier, the concept of being more human is becoming more and more accepted amongst senior-level leaders. However, many people are still leading teams who say they haven’t got the time for all that “soft”, human stuff because they have a business to run.
We asked Sophie how leaders can get the balance right between driving the business and engaging with their team on a deeper level. This is what she said:
Sophie: “People should always come first, but it takes practice to get this right. It’s a discipline. For example, every single time I move into a new job, I start running HR meetings as part of my management system.
In these meetings, we talk about recognition, learning and about how the team makes progress. We talk about our talents, and we get to know everybody in the organisation as a whole.
It’s important that it’s not only me as a leader who is doing this. The need for HR meetings needs to be infused throughout the entire organisation because everybody needs to care about their people.
Having these meetings creates this proximity with the employees that I think is absolutely crucial, and you should want to do it. As a leader, you are a people manager, and you should want to know everything about your team to get them doing their best at work.”
Sophie makes an interesting point. Sometimes, leaders get into the mode of thinking that HR topics belong in HR, but, in reality, they’re not HR topics, they’re people topics. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to make sure you are paying attention to them, especially in a VUCA world.
Communicating in a VUCA world
Another critical point Sophie made about leading in this modern environment was about communication:
Sophie: “Communicating your strategy effectively has become more and more important in the world of business today.
Leaders today need to be able to break down really big picture stuff and communicate it in a clear and transparent way to every department across the company, not only the team they manage.
You need to be clear about the changes up ahead and how to cope with them, which means giving people more than a week to get ready. Always try to give people as much of a heads up as possible so they don’t feel anxious or overwhelmed about any changes.
Also, your communication with other senior leaders and managers should be as consistent as possible. I like to use the term ‘one voice’, which means no matter who is communicating the strategy in the business, they articulate it with the same voice as any other leader.”
Learning and development is a valuable gift
Sophie: “When you operate in an evolving and complex world, you need to up your game, and your team needs to up their game. This is where learning and development can really help. I see development and career development learning as a present. It can be taken with you wherever you go, so if someone is using resources to advance your learning, that’s a wonderful thing!
As leaders, we can offer these resources to our team; and in a time of uncertainty, when people are worried about losing their job or what’s going to happen next, this is an unbelievably valuable gift.
In my leadership roles, I would train my team in multiple skills such as theatre improvisation, communication and how to give and receive feedback too. We had an external trainer that would reach out, and I would work with them to build programmes tailor-made specifically for my team.”
Building an open environment
Sophie: “I always wanted an environment for my team that is open. I want people to grow, and I want them to feel like if something is wrong, they can speak up. And it’s not only the leader that needs to be able to do that. It’s everybody in the team.”
So, it seems that being a leader in a VUCA world isn’t only about you being more human. You also have to create a work environment that allows everyone around you to be more human too.
However, showing empathy and being more vulnerable isn’t the only thing we need in this new VUCA world. Time and time again, leaders talk to us about the importance of being agile and ready for any curveballs that will inevitably get thrown our way.
Here is what Sophie had to say about being agile:
IBM and the value of being agile
Sophie: “These days, no matter what size business you are in, it’s essential to be flexible. Things are moving so fast that you cannot stay static. You have to move with the times, and if you can, try to be ahead of it.
A great example of agility at IBM was how they managed to completely digitalise their flagship event ‘Think’. No one at IBM had ever done anything like that before. We didn’t have the platforms. We had to build it from scratch in seven weeks, and we did!
Everybody contributed to something in that massive task, not because we forced them to but because they wanted to be a part of our vision.
That collaboration came by taking that human approach, communicating our vision, training our teams correctly and, of course, being more agile.”
We hope you found this article useful!
To learn more about thriving in a VUCA world, tune in to our weekly podcast, The Leadership Detectives.
P.S. We are always keen to chat with anyone about how they can improve their leadership skills, so to get in touch, feel free to reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.