Leading in a VUCA World Using VUCA Prime

17 May 2021 5:26 PM | Sarah Elkington (Administrator)


"Well, we have always faced volatility." I hear this statement often when working with organizations seeking to help them thrive in the challenging environment they navigate. This environment is characterized as a "VUCA" environment (Bawany, 2016; Hall & Rowland, 2016): Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. When I discussed VUCA with organizations, I believed it was enough to identify the malaise for them, and they would take that identification and contextualize their best responses. I have since realized that identifying a problem like VUCA and not equipping an organization to address this challenging reality is much like a doctor telling a patient the name of the disease that ails them and not prescribing any remedy! And so I began the exciting journey of thinking through components of an effective remediation process, and VUCA prime emerged (Lawrence, 2013)!


It seems an emerging truism that the resources embedded within complex adaptive systems are often unnoticed and untapped, and this is no less true of organizations within a VUCA world. I am continually impressed y the rich resources residing within organizations that emerge powerfully and organically when suitable venues and conditions are provided. Organizations can leverage VUCA prime by using the following toolkit that I have found extremely useful and focuses on the organization's rich and embedded resources, its people, and its stakeholders. I will take you through the VUCA prime process step by step, and offer to invest time with you and your team if you wish to take a deeper dive into how to actualize VUCA prime in your organization:

Vision offsets Volatility. "We have a vision statement!" Another statement I hear often. I then ask the following questions: What is your Vision statement? Who forged your Vision statement? How embedded is your Vision statement? Margaret Wheatley suggested that "Vision ought to be the living breathing force of the organization." Vision is the north-star that guides you and norms you amidst the raging seas of Volatility! The key, though, is that you utilize a process like Appreciative Inquiry (Flanagan et al., 2010). In the use of Appreciative Inquiry, you leverage the incredible strengths of everyone in your organization, and you focus on a strengths-based approach to vision casting and embedding the Vision. When this method is used, the Vision becomes a living breathing force within the organization. It empowers the team to effectively navigate the Volatility that threatens to undermine the organization's capacity.

Understanding offsets Uncertainty. In his article discussing best practices after Hurricane Katrina, Patrick Lagedac (2009) argued for "Rapid Reflection Forces" in his writing. Organizations offset Uncertainty by reading weak signals and assigning a team to scrape big data for effective decision making (Edwards et al., 2016; Frisk & Bannister, 2017; He et al., 2017; Migliore & Chinta, 2017; Phillips-Wren & Hoskisson, 2015). There are many examples of how organizations both large and small in various sectors leverage data and Rapid Reflections Sources. Still, space does not permit the listing and discussion of these outstanding exemplars.

Clarity offsets Complexity. "If only they had communicated the 'why' of this decision. Right now, it all seems so unclear!" I hear that statement often in my work with leaders and teams in organizations. Clarity trumps complexity every time. Organizations develop clarity with intentional communication and sense-making through the rich channels of communication in the organization. Another point of clarity is ensuring that decisions, once drawn from evidence-based data mining, are aligned with the Vision and then clearly communicated as such. Meetings, too, should also be structured for absolute clarity, and often they are not!

Agility offsets Ambiguity. Agility is developed through the propensity to leverage collaborative decision-making, which in turn requires the development of rich social capital (Duus & Cooray, 2014; Homey et al., n.d.; Murthy & Murthy, 2014; Torres, 2013; Yadav, 2017). The looming question for many leaders within organizations who want to leverage collaborative decision-making is the simple question "when?" When do we include others in the decision-making process, and whom do we include. Here I help organizations by using the Vroom-Jago decision-making matrix.


Organizations in every sector face significant strain with the emergence of Industry 4.0 (Rahim, 2017; Simionescu, 2017) and the attendant VUCA environment. The good news is that within your organization as a complex adaptive system, there is a repository of rich strengths that you can draw on to leverage VUCA prime and thus thrive in this challenging environment. The tools to leverage this repository are simple to deploy and relatively inexpensive to access. As with most posts such as this one, much more could be said, but perhaps that is a conversation best hosted over a warm cup of coffee!

 Dr. Rob Elkington


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