Thriving in a VUCA World: Acceleration at the Speed of Change

Apr 28, 2020 1 Min Read

Change Leadership is critical

You can’t manage your way through a crisis. You need to lead the way to get out of a crisis – John Maxwell.

In my early days of consulting, I was introduced to Kurt Lewin’s model of change – ‘unfreeze, change, refreeze’. Unfreezing speaks about the burning platform for change, essentially asking the question – why change? Change speaks about moving toward the desired behaviours. Refreezing is about setting these new behaviours as the new norm.

Looking at the current situation around the world, it is obvious why we need to change. There are many things we need to unlearn. Simply put, we need to do things differently from before. As you read this, millions of people are reconsidering how their work and families have been impacted. In fact, billions are thinking about what they must do differently.


That….might be too different.

Unlearning is good, but we need to relearn. The strategies and plans of yesterday will need to be revisited, and for some, re-crafted. New behaviours, knowledge, skills, and competencies. Regardless, there will be a void (unlearn), and we need to fill that void (relearn) to help us navigate through this spell. Change leadership engages with the hearts and minds of the people.

At a recent webinar, Dr Deepika Gupta, Director of Leadership and Learning SBU at Human Dynamic, spoke about having to manage the re-entry when things return to ‘normal’. Our engagement and expectations with the team cannot remain the same. We need to talk about our experiences and re-orientate our behaviours. The ‘new normal’ is never going to be the same as the old one.

Change leadership allows us to transform our organisations as a whole, while sustainability ensures the transformation impact lasts over an extended period of time. In short, change leadership provides a structured framework to navigate in times of uncertainty.

Acceleration is pivotal

Not only must we change, but we must change quickly. Yes, life is a marathon, not a sprint. But even in marathons, there are moments where we must accelerate strategically. And in order to accelerate, we are bound to the rules of matter as described by Newton’s Second Law of Motion:

Force equals mass multiplied by acceleration.

Therefore, acceleration equals force divided by mass.

In other words, to increase acceleration, we need to increase force or reduce mass.

How do we increase force?

1. Enhance employee engagement

A recent Forbes article reported that highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability. Apart from a reduction in absenteeism and turnover, engaged employees show up every day with passion, purpose, presence, and energy. If that doesn’t convince you, I’m not sure what would.

I urge you to (re)consider engaging your people. I don’t just mean have a tool that measures engagement (that’s important too!), but have it ingrained in your leadership and DNA of the organisation to see people as people, and not a resource to be utilised. When you take care of your people, your people will take care of your business.

2. Build capacity

Capacity can be described as the size of your ‘container’. The larger your container, the more you can pour into it.

Building capacity requires learning agility – the transition from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. A safe environment and culture that promotes such learning includes a healthy coaching culture, knowledge sharing initiatives and stretching job assignments.


Formal and informal learning interventions can help create a growth mindset. These initiatives enable learning to take place anytime anywhere. Structured and unstructured learning create unending opportunities for people to be lifelong learners.

3. Seek opportunities to co-create

Co-creation presents a wide range of opportunities for innovation and creativity to flourish. It also allows participation and engagement, leading to greater buy-in. This translates into more effective outcomes. Imagine (some already happening) a college professor developing curriculum with a graduate student; new hires creating an onboarding experience for other future new hires; frequent travellers participating in curating a new ‘Frequent Guest programme’ etc. the opportunities are endless.

Workspaces have been reorganised to facilitate collaboration. Nevertheless, these physical changes do not confirm collaboration will take place. Collaboration requires intentional effort to come together and share ideas. A common desire to see something good coming out of the interaction of ideas.

It’s a culture thing.

READ: The Search for Leadership and Empathy in Times of Crisis

How do we reduce mass?

1. Workforce Optimisation

The key-word here being optimise. Workforce optimisation looks at identifying critical roles, core roles and pivotal roles. What are essential services (a term we’re all familiar with during this time!) and the roles needed to deliver them? Can the jobs be reconstructed? Are there opportunities to automate? Can we retain and retrain our people to do other things? What are roles that will be core to our business regardless of how innovative we become? What are roles that we can reshape because they have the potential to pivot our business?


Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau (Reinventing Jobs) explore what the future of work will really look like, its impact on organisations as they adapt and adopt new ways of working. To reconstruct and reframe our work, and integrate advances in technology and artificial intelligence to reshape and repurpose the traditional job.

2. Digital Transformation

It’s the ongoing buzz today. Everyone talks about it. Everyone wants it. (Not) Everyone is prepared to do it. We all (should) know that there is a stark difference between digitising and digitalisation. In simplified terms, digitising is about converting physical data/information into electronic, while digitalisation is about transforming the business.

Everyone talks about it. Everyone wants it. Not Everyone is prepared to do it.

Digital transformation requires investments into hardware and software, technology applications etc. It also requires engagement with the hearts and minds of people. In other words, it’s a culture transformation, not merely a process change.

3. Resource Planning

Like workforce optimisation, the key-word is planning. How do we deploy resources in a way that gives us the greatest impact for acceleration and return on investment? How should we allocate our budgets?

It was heartening to read the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) study related to where people would spend their learning and development budgets during this global crisis. The article speaks for itself.

Resource planning also requires us to know our resources. How much do we have? What can we do with what we have? How fast can we deploy them? Etc. This applies to financial and non-financial resources alike. You must know what you have, else you won’t be able to do the planning.

The world has been through many crises. I have not been through as many as some of you have, but the world has always come out better in times of crisis. In such times, are you repositioning yourself and your organisation for a relaunch? Have you shifted gears and are you getting ready for acceleration? If you have, great. If you haven’t, it’s never too late to begin now.

SEE ALSO: 4 Questions A Future Ready Leader Needs to Ask Every Day

This is the second in a two-part series on how to Thrive in a VUCA world. In the previous series, I addressed two more factors: vision and focus.

Bernard Lee is the managing director of Invigorate Consulting, a firm that aligns organisations with their purpose. Bernard is passionate about helping people realise their dreams. He enjoys travelling and is excited about the second half of life.

Republished with permission.

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