Preparing For The Unexpected
The information age is also the age of acronyms. Our friends and colleagues make us LOL. Or we might affix a humble IMHO to our suggestions. If there is one acronym that probably best defines the hypercompetitive, dynamic world of business today, however, it is VUCA. VUCA, as Pamela Meyer explains in her book The Agility Shift, stands for “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.” In other words, companies need to prepare for the unexpected because the unexpected is coming.
However, how does one prepare for the unknown, the uncertain, the ambiguous? According to Meyer, the answer is to shift mindsets and strategies from the status quo and complacency to agility and entrepreneurialism.
This is no easy task for many companies who have been successful doing what they’ve always done and operating in the world of the past. Success will not last, however, if companies do not become more agile. Studies show that agile companies are “more profitable, sustainable and innovative,” she explains. The real reason to pursue agility, however, goes beyond bottom line results. The “core dynamics” (interacting and interconnecting) of a shift to agility, she writes, “are the key to your ability to create and experience meaning, purpose and happiness.” Meyer puts meaning, purpose and happiness at the center of the agility shift because “it is essential to fostering and sustaining the level of engagement, commitment and creativity you need to respond effectively when the unexpected hits.”
The Relational Web
The agility shift, Meyer explains, is a shift in mindset from “the false comfort of a plan to achieving a state of readiness to find opportunity in the unexpected.” Such a state of readiness begins with a resource that already exists in most companies: the “Relational Web.” Agility exists, according to Meyer, when individuals, teams and organizations weave a strong Relational Web.
According to Meyer, a Relational Web is much more than another term for social networks. For example, in addition to active relationships with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, an individual’s Relational Web would include extended and/or inactive relationships; skills, knowledge and talent; other sources of ideas; knowledge and expertise; tangible and intangible resources.
Tangible and intangible resources can include anything from capital and raw materials to the brand reputation of the organization for which the person works.
Agile Shift Dynamics
The interconnections, relationships and resources of a Relational Web are not, in themselves, sufficient to ensure agile leaders, teams and organizations. Individuals and organizations must also adopt a mindset, strategy and practices that lead to what Meyer calls “the five agility shift dynamics”: relevance, responsiveness, resilience, resourcefulness and reflection.
Agile organizations are relevant, which means that they have a clear sense of purpose — a “why” for everything they do. Relevance, Meyer writes, aligns purpose and values with the success of the organization. The result is a workforce and leadership that is engaged and committed: an important requirement for agility.
Agile organization are also responsive: They don’t react to events out of fear or to protect or defend themselves but respond to take advantage of new opportunities, writes Meyer. Agile organizations are also resilient, able to “regroup, reorganize and renew in response to a significant disruption,” she writes, and resourceful — taking full advantage of resources. Finally, agile organizations are able to reflect on new developments, understanding which are relevant to their organizations, and demand a response.
An international consultant and professor, Meyer fills her book with case studies and precise how-to steps gathered under “Making Shift Happen” subheads. Thus, one of the Making Shift Happen practices for resilience is to “designate understudies” (a former theater director and producer, Meyer draws metaphors and stories from her show-business career). To designate understudies means to have redundant vital systems to ensure that the organization is not left short when the unexpected happens. Exploring best practices and the mindset for agility for individuals, teams and organizations, The Agility Shift offers practical and timely advice for managers and employees dealing with the challenges of the age of VUCA.