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Why Leadership Matters in a VUCA World

After three crazy years, we all know that the world is changing fast. And for the first time in most of our lifetimes, that change doesn’t seem to be leading us to any clear destination. We’re not sure what the world will look like next year or next month. In fact, the rate of change seems to be increasing, creating new levels of turbulence and continual disruptions.

While rapid, dramatic change has not been the norm in U.S. businesses, there is one place where volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are nothing new: the military. In fact, it’s been such a recurring condition that soldiers created an acronym for it: VUCA.

VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. It’s a common factor in military conflicts, large and small. After all, the Armed Forces often face complicated situations in which the players and the consequences are unclear, in environments that can change rapidly.

Each element of the military’s acronym, VUCA, describes an aspect of our uncertain world that we can use in the business environment.

  • Volatility describes change’s nature, speed, volume, magnitude, and dynamics.
  • Uncertainty addresses the lack of predictability of issues and events.
  • Complexity refers to the confounding of issues and chaos that surrounds any organization.
  • Ambiguity is used to describe the haziness of reality and the mixed meanings of conditions.

The Role of Leadership

Anyone who has spent time in or around the American military knows the importance they place on solid leadership. In a VUCA world, leadership is vital to progress and protection. In the military, commanders not only develop plans and lead initiatives, but they’re also charged with risk assessment and protecting their troops. They must be decisive without being reckless. And they must know when to move forward and when to reassess.

In the current business environment, these same qualities are necessary. Leaders must be flexible to shepherd their teams through today’s state of constant change. Company heads must develop plans and lead initiatives that are efficient and effective while also keeping an eye on the ever-changing landscape, watching for threats, embracing flexibility, and continually refining contingency plans.

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How Can Leaders Plan for VUCA?

In the old world of “yesterday,” contractors could make a lot of assumptions. They could assume that this year will be pretty much like last, with a few minor exceptions. They could look back on the previous ten years and use that knowledge to plan for the next ten years. They rarely had to contend with supply chain issues, closed borders, almost instant shifts in demand, record unemployment followed by record employment, inflation, tug-of-war legislation, and the complexity of a whirlwind of social and economic shifts.

While nobody really knows what is coming next, we have learned tactics to take advantage of VUCA. To thrive in the “new normal, ” construction leaders must enable their teams to be responsive and flexible. Rigid structures that once made it easier to get ahead now get in the way. Today, construction leaders need to embrace new approaches. Organizations must be created in ways that allow them to quickly adapt, adjust, and modify in response to the world around them.

Change Translates to Opportunity

While constant shifts can be challenging, every change comes with opportunity. Each time the landscape transforms, it presents a variation in the status quo, which means that creative, innovative construction leaders have a chance to grow, expand, improve, or operate in ways that leverage the latest transformations.

Unexpected events are most dangerous to industry leaders who have become cumbersome and inflexible. Large, established firms often try to “wait it out.” They feel protected by a significant market share and a history of success. As General George Casey puts it, they are “..befuddled by the turmoil and don’t act.”

Conversely, small and medium players rarely rest on their laurels. Change represents a chance for disruption and a shift in the industry pecking order. Firms that are innovative, flexible, open to new ideas, and able to think on their feet will find that VUCA provides the kind of chaos needed to gain share, increase workloads, and grow in ways that would have been difficult (or even impossible) in more stable times.

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VUCA Leadership Skills Can Help Area Contractors and Developers Grow Faster

In turbulent times, certain leadership skills are a critical part of any corporate evolution. Here are a few approaches that can help companies position themselves to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

Shift from a “heads down” mindset (operational excellence) to a “heads up” focus (a market and customer focus)

In more stable times, it’s wise to work on core competencies and consistent excellence. That’s the time to focus on doing it better. But in a VUCA world, it’s time to stop focusing on the process and start focusing on what customers are doing. How can you change your company to make it fit more seamlessly into how customers plan, spend, and build right now? Should you do more planning online? Do you need an app? Should you lock in materials costs? Should you offer more flexible payments? Should you start using other materials? Do you need to handle health and wellness differently? Should you stop using certain brands? Decentralize or centralize? What new options, features, benefits, or processes can you create that will make you the perfect choice right now? 

The “unexpected” is coming, so watch for it

Throw your assumptions out the door. Stop approaching your customers and business as if they are the same as last year or five years ago. Instead, this is the time to start talking with your customers and asking a lot of questions. If you are not constantly asking questions, you will never see “the unexpected” coming. So take extra time to find out what’s happening in the world of your customers, subcontractors, suppliers, and employees. How has their process changed? What do they like about your firm, and what would they change? What new, cool things are they seeing? What’s a big unsolved problem, and how can you solve it? With enough time and attention, you’ll get more skilled at reading the situation, sensing ambiguity, and developing contingency plans for a variety of potential situations.

Move beyond boundaries

Leaders used to know their boundaries and were relatively comfortable with them. But in a VUCA world, flat organizations are more nimble. Leaders must now think and work outside of their usual functional areas. This is a good time to embrace job rotation and cross-training to improve your company’s agility. 

Embrace change with a positive attitude

There’s no use fighting it. Change is coming faster than ever. That means that leaders have less time to research and deliberate. While supporting any initiative with research is always a good idea, don’t use it as an excuse to stall. Instead, be proactive, move quickly, and face new challenges with an optimistic attitude. Bullishness will keep you and your team motivated to identify and implement game-changing improvements.

Metro is Here to Make Your Job Easier

This is a tough time to be a business owner. Contractors, developers, and facility managers already face a lot of challenges, so the implications of a VUCA world can be intimidating. But you’re not in it alone. Metro Interior Distributors is here to help firms in New York, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut become more efficient, effective, and flexible. We are agreeable to modify and committed to helping our customers stay nimble, evolve, and grow. Contact us today to find out what we can do to help your business thrive.