In a recent Institute for Management Studies program, IMS educator, Dr. Kathy Pearson, emphasized that it is not about your ability to predict, it is about your ability to manage the uncertainties. This statement holds especially true in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world where it is difficult to predict even the near future (6-12 months) with any certainty. As more leaders embrace this paradigm shift by focusing more on managing the uncertainties, we will likely see as a result, better strategic decisions.
Throughout her program and in her book, The Perceptive Leader: A Handbook for Leading in an Environment of Uncertainty, Dr. Pearson encourages leaders to be more perceptive to early indicators of change thereby acting more proactively in this VUCA environment. The following represent areas of focus that Dr. Pearson discussed for perceptive leading in a VUCA world.
CLARITY OF INTENT
Everyone should understand the overall purpose of the organization. Even better, everyone should be able to state this purpose explicitly in a few sentences, including those that were not involved in the decision.
Employees cannot adapt easily if they do not understand the strategic intent. However, in many cases articulating the strategic intent is not enough, everyone also must be able to use this information to prioritize their resources and efforts.
DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT
Effective leaders actively seek diversity of thought. There has been a great deal of research confirming that heterogeneous groups arrive at higher quality decisions than homogenous groups. Diversity of thought also counteracts your outdated or wrong experiential frames and biases, which narrow the range of alternatives for the future. In most situations, more options and greater diversity of thought lead to better decisions.
Another benefit of diversity of thought is that there will be less groupthink within your teams and organization. I have highlighted two effective techniques to encourage contrary viewpoints and increase the diversity of thought.
- Assign a person on your team to the role of devil’s advocate. By doing this, you will increase the probability of prevailing opinions and assumptions being challenged within the group.
- Use the Six Thinking Hats method, where team members wear different colored thinking hats to ensure that all viewpoints and styles are covered. The distinctive styles of thinking represented by these hats include logic, emotion, caution, optimism, creativity, and control. For example, the yellow hat signifies rationale optimism. The person wearing this hat is looking at the positive aspects of a situation or the potential benefits of a suggested course of action.
PLAN FOR CERTAINTIES AND MANAGE THE UNCERTAINTIES
You need to strategically plan for the ‘known knowns’ by identifying those key certainties that you will need to address in the next year and beyond. I am often amazed at the number of organizations that don’t plan for these events that are nearly certain to happen in the future.
You also need to identify the strategic uncertainties, or the ‘known unknowns,’ associated with decisions. By doing this, you have now identified potential areas of adaptability later in the implementation process.
Finally, be willing to say, “I don’t know,” which does not come naturally but is an essential skill for all leaders to develop. What are those ‘black swans’ that you really can’t predict but you can get better at seeing before the competition?
To build strong decision-making skills in this VUCA environment requires that you ensure clarity of purpose on what is important, which then will help to direct people on where there should spend their time and resources. You also should actively seek diversity of thought. Use the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ method to encourage different perspectives or assign someone the role of devil’s advocate to bring forth contrary views. Finally, make sure to plan for future certainties while managing the uncertainties. And last but certainly not least, always be willing to say, “I don’t know” since no one has all the answers since it is your willingness to admit that you do not have all the answers will lead to better decision making and greater trust within your team. Follow these strategies and you will soon be practicing perceptively in a VUCA world.
ABOUT CHARLES GOOD
Charles Good is the president of The Institute for Management Studies, which provides transformational learning experiences that drive behavioral change and develop exceptional leaders. Charles is an innovative and resourceful leader who specializes in bringing people together to develop creative organizational and talent strategies that enable business results. His areas of expertise include assessing organizational skill gaps and leading the design, creation and delivery of high impact, innovative learning solutions that achieve business goals.