Everyday at work, you are faced with ambiguous situations, uncertain solutions and complex problems. It’s tiring navigating through VUCA on a regular basis isn’t it! One of the biggest challenges that companies face in dealing with VUCA is the inflexible way they are structured. Strict hierarchies encourage corporate leaders to treat VUCA as a management issue and try their best to shield the rest of the company from it so that ‘work as usual’ can continue.
The problem is, VUCA is hard to contain; it impacts everyone, regardless of grade or position. When VUCA hits, we can’t rely on titles and where someone is in the organizational hierarchy to tell us who should deal with it. And in an uncertain world, words like “manager” and “lead” have less and less meaning.
Now, I’m not suggesting that job titles or pay differentials should disappear—monetary compensation should match responsibility—but we need to become much more open-minded as to where (and to whom) we look for answers. Those with the most relevant knowledge and skills should be allowed to step up and take the lead even though they are not a “manager” on paper—I call this “equivalence.” In practice, this may mean the people closest to the customers rather than the C-suite are the ones finding the solutions.
So, if this is the best way of making companies more resilient to VUCA, why aren’t we doing it already? Because short-term incentives and organizational hierarchies get in the way.
Pick the right leader for the right situation
The best way to manage VUCA is to allow anyone the opportunity to be a leader (but not necessarily a manager) in the right circumstances. Leadership is situational, meaning that at some point, every individual within a team will have a critical part to play and—at that moment—they are the leader. Situational leadership allows unique skills and perspectives to come to the fore that standard talent management may overlook.
Instead of traditional top-down leadership, where the manager comes up with a solution and the team follows, this style enables collaboration. One person is not expected to have all the answers, rather the collective wisdom of the team is sought. Diversity of thought and discussion are not just encouraged, they are essential in forming a solution. And, most importantly, the leader is willing to allow the right person to run the show when the circumstances demand, regardless of the title they may hold.
Investment is key
Companies need to be willing to invest in someone, even though they don’t have a management title. Why? Because, thanks to technology, much of what we expect managers to do has become automated—or it is heading that way, fast. In the future, management titles may even become obsolete. Rather than needing managers, we need leaders who can help remove barriers, and we need this now!
Equivalence = Engagement = Retention
Equivalence encourages employees to engage with the organization and to identify more closely with the company than with the career path. If a competitor tries to poach an employee, they are likely to think “If I go and work for them, I’ll have the title of senior manager, which I’m not getting here. So, I’ll go over there, and I’ve moved forward in my career.” Whereas, if this same employee is fully engaged, they have already had a chance to lead, and enjoyed it. When the competitor comes calling, they are far more likely to turn them away.
Increased employee retention is just one of the ways that engagement feeds through to the bottom line directly and, as I discuss in my forthcoming book Rules of Engagement, equivalence is one of the four critical rules of creating a highly-engaged work culture—what I call the Purposeful Workplace Experience™
In my next article, I’ll examine the second rule: Adaptability.