Living and thriving in a VUCA world

I use the term  “VUCA” in some of the speaking I do on mindset and resilience.

It’s an acronym that the US Marine Corps started to use during the Vietnam War, and it’s now found its way into business use.

It describes the way their field of operations, and now our world, changed from one of relative stability and predictability into one of rapid shifts where no one could determine where the next shift in the dynamic was coming from or which direction it was going to lead, and this created apprehension.

VUCA stands for:

  • Volatile – where change is swift and erratic.
  • Uncertain – the present is a bit vague, and the future is unsure.
  • Complex – where there are numerous separate and often interlinked factors at play, causing confusion and anxiety
  • Ambiguous – there is a lack of transparency or understanding about a given situation.

In the Property Management world, VUCA neatly sums up the challenges that Property Managers, their teams, managers, and businesses have faced. Individually, these challenges can be significant, but with the numerous tests facing the marketplace, we’re now seeing they can be even more daunting when they combine.

From where we sit now, this is now our reality and that volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are going to become more common in our world.

So how do we continue to manage our relationships with our clients – and each other – in an environment where challenge is the norm, and we’re expected to keep our heads clear…?  To manage ourselves, our teams and our clients in the VUCA age, we need to be aware of the changes that this kind of environment can cause.

From a human management perspective, a VUCA environment can:

  • Trigger our sympathetic nervous system – leading to “fight, flight or freeze” reactions
  • Destabilise Property Managers and their clients’ emotions and increase their anxiety.
  • Weaken our focus.
  • Thwart our career plans.
  • Necessitate constant retraining.
  • Take copious amounts of time and effort to recast.
  • Raise the probability of people making poor decisions.
  • Paralyse decision-making.
  • Jeopardize long-term projects, developments and innovations.
  • Create overwhelm within individual team members and their organisations.
  • Adversely affect team culture.

If we’re affected by this environment, we have to re-evaluate the way we operate.

While VUCA might seem a given today, if we can manage ourselves and our teams well, we can reduce its effects and even turn it to our advantage.

The key is to break it down into its individual parts and identify what are the volatile, uncertain, complex, or ambiguous situations then deal with them one at a time

Replace Volatility with Vision

  • Don’t resist the situation – accept and embrace change as a constant, unpredictable feature of our environment – the more we fight against something the more we increase our distress at it.
  • Create a strong, clear vision of what the future looks like within the current environment; of team objectives and values and be flexible in them so they can be altered if the circumstances call for it. This helps us find the way through unsettled, unfamiliar situations and adapt quickly to any further change.

Respond to Uncertainty with Understanding

  • Stop and listen and look around. Look for new ways of thinking and acting in response to the forces at play.
  • Stay up to date with industry news and listen carefully to your team and your clients to be sure of what they want. Make investing in and understanding business and competitive intelligence and data a priority, so that you stay current and relevant
  • Evaluate and review your performance. Ask yourself what went well, what can be improved, and what was unexpected.
  • Model different situations, so that you can explore how they might play out, and how you might react to them in the future. The aim is to anticipate possible future challenges and create likely responses to them. 

Counter Complexity with Clarity

  • Communicate clearly with your clients and team – the one glaring thing I saw in the early stages of the pandemic was a lack of communication by some directors at a time when their teams were desperate for reassurance – while some clarity is necessary, even saying that we didn’t know all the answers at the moment would have been enough but the lack of any sort of communication only drove anxiety.
  • Promote and create collaboration and team environments. VUCA situations are normally too complicated for just one individual to deal with. If we have teams who can work effectively in a fast-paced, unpredictable environment we stand a far better chance of doing better than merely surviving.

Replace Ambiguity with Agility

  • Encourage adaptability and flexibility. Plan in advance where possible and build in contingency time. Be ready to alter plans should the situation require it.
  • Recruit, mentor and promote people and teams who can thrive in VUCA environments. Look for people with collaborative mindsets and those who are comfortable with uncertainty and change, and who are able to think in the abstract.
  • Inspire your people to think and work outside of their usual roles, in areas where they might not be familiar, this increases their ability and their knowledge and improves the strength of the team.
  • Lead your team members, not dictate or control them. Develop an environment of cooperation and partnership, and work hard to bring everyone into the tent. Encourage different ideas and the debate of them, and participation from everyone.
  • Incentivise team members who show individual leadership, vision and understanding. Show what kind of behaviour valued by celebrating improvement and innovation

As in any situation, when you choose acceptance, you make yourself less vulnerable, and you become empowered to deal with uncontrollable, unpredictable forces, and in an industry such as ours where we’re affected by VUCA as we have been, this is also true – either we allow the situation to manage us and overwhelm us, or we accept and manage IT, so that we can reduce and reasonably control its effects.

This will create a strong culture, and now more than ever – culture is everything when it comes to attracting and retaining high quality team members.