V.U.C.A. is a concept that originated with students at the U.S. Army War College to describe Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity after the Cold War.  What better way to describe 2020?

  • Volatile – changes that happened rapidly and on a large scale
  • Uncertain – a future that cannot be predicted with any precision
  • Complex – challenges that are complicated by many factors with few single causes or solutions
  • Ambiguous – little clarity on what events mean and what effect they may have

What made 2020 even more challenging was the multitude of interacting events globally, nationally, statewide and within our own organizations.  But we survived!  Now the V.U.C.A. challenge for 2021 is to thrive.  We need to accept that the new normal will continue to include:

  • Information overload with no clear definition of reliable and unreliable information
  • The interconnectedness of systems, including business, communities and personal welfare
  • The dissolving of traditional organizational boundaries, roles, modes of communication, and, most important, leadership processes and models
  • Changing values and expectations of our organizations especially regarding diversity, equity and inclusion

To thrive in 2021 our organizational leaders will have to focus on resilience, adaptability, self-awareness, boundary spanning, and systems thinking.  Let’s start with an exercise for your leadership team.  For each of the following questions, each person on your leadership team should write down at least three responses then share their responses.  When one individual is sharing, the rest of the team should ask only clarifying questions to gain more understanding.  All responses reflect valuable information.  There are no right or wrong answers.

  1. In 2020 what did we lose and why was it important in the past?  How will we replace what we lost?
  2. In 2020 what did we gain and why will it be important going forward?  How will we take advantage of what we gained?
  3. What did we learn and how can we use what we learned?
  4. What assumptions worked for us in the past but are no longer valid?  What new assumptions must we adopt?
  5. In order to be relevant to our customers in 2021 what must we stop doing?  Start doing? Do more of?  Do less of?
  6. In 2021 what does thriving look like?  What must we do today to thrive in 2021?
  7. What must we do now to plan for 2022?  For 2023?
  8. What am I most afraid of?  Excited by?  Regretting? Grateful for?

As your leadership team shares their responses, talk about the similarities, what you experienced in common. And, talk about the differences, digging deep into why individuals experience some things differently. 

And now the biggest challenge.  Identify five actions that the leadership team should take to move from surviving in 2020 to thriving in 2021!

Stephanie Olexa, President of Lead to the Future, LLC advises privately held and family owned businesses in the areas of succession planning, sustainability and governance.