The term VUCA was first used by the US Army in 1987 in response to the set of circumstances after the collapse of the USSR. While they are used to dealing with situations that can certainly be classified as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (vuca) nothing would’ve prepared for the scale we witnessed with the coronavirus pandemic. It hit globally. Perhaps worse for Zimbabweans was the fact that we were already living in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment, at the very least from an economic viewpoint. The show however must go on and businesses still need to plan in vuca times.
To understand what vuca means we need to be clear on the meaning of each word in the acronym.
A volatile situation is one where change is rapid and uncertain in terms of direction or extent. Volatility is more often associated with adverse turns in conditions but it is volatility regardless of direction.
An uncertain situation is one where the future or conditions in it are neither known nor definite. While the future as a whole is unknown an uncertain situation is one where you cannot reasonably forecast anything.
A complex situation involves multiple factors that are interconnected each with its difficulties that need to be considered.
An ambiguous situation where there is a lack of knowledge or awareness about things. This makes it difficult to quantify all the factors involved.
You would agree that Zimbabwe before the coronavirus pandemic was already living in a vuca state. Policies chopping and changing. Rumours of new policies being denied only to be implemented just as rumour had it. Hasty introduction of ill-thought-out policies which then need amendments and adjustments. You will also take note of poor policies which look good at first but in time they show their true colours, the forex currency auction and ZUPCO monopoly come to mind.
It may seem as though planning in a vuca environment is pointless but it is even more important. Difficult as it is. Planning gives a business direction beyond the prevailing circumstances. Here’s how to plan for your business in a vuca environment.
Create a vision
A vision transcends present circumstances and measures and looks forward. A business vision can include among other things positioning in the market, volume growth or customer growth. Such goals create measures that automatically adjust with any inflation or exchange rate changes.
Plan in detail
When planning, even in a vuca environment the more detailed the plans the better. Planning in terms of tasks to be carried out instead of the broad goals facilitates this. So improved customer base can break down into tasks such as increasing marketing reach, improving customer conversion and retaining more customers.
The tasks or processes are carried out by people within a business and these people can prove to be a source of agility in a business. It’s best to stay abreast of the skills and experience you have within the organisation, particularly cross-functional skills. A person in the administration function with sales experience can help improve sales processes.
In a vuca environment, the only thing you can be certain of is that change will come. When change comes that makes a goal or vision harder to reach the response we have been taught is to change the goal, usually to downgrade it. To achieve success what we really should do is change the methods or levels of effort. This happens in the tasks, so when change hits we need to analyse our tasks and see what will need to change to achieve our goals.
Change the plan
Finally, we must adapt or die as the saying goes. Adapting through making the necessary changes in the plan. One thing I’ve found in many success stories is that they rarely succeed at the goal they set out on but they change as they go. While the goal might change, the vision does not. Apple’s vision was to make the computer personal. A lot has changed since the days of the Apple 1 but billions of iPhones, iPads and Macs later the vision is still the same.