“We live in a “vuca”world….it stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and it is being used as a short hand for what I think of as our new normal. In such a world, there has to be a huge premium for organisations that can understand and respond rapidly to changes or new trends by being agile and adaptable….” Peter Cheese, CEO of CIPD, Welcome note in People Management magazine, April 2013
I read this editorial and was lifted and a little cynical all at the same time. Lifted at the acknowledgement of complexity and ambiguity in organisations, because I experience working in complex, adaptive client environments where politics, budget, tradition, culture, pace, apathy, enthusiasm etc all influence how well or badly something is delivered (if at all). Lifted also because the words agile and adaptable are appealing, somehow –
they speak to me of a working environment which is functioning, healthy, where there is a swiftness and smoothness of movement and decisions, where folk can innovate where needed and this is seen as a good thing.
And I’m cynical for all the same reasons. As a consultant, I have the privilege of working with a number of different organisations and cultures simultaneously, so comparing and contrasting what is out there is kind of inevitable. On the whole? I’d say agility is altruistic and that my cynicism is founded in feeling the enormity of the task: How do we make whole organisations agile and adaptable?
In truth, I struggle to get my head round the “whole organisation” question. It feels huge. I’m not sure I can do much with a whole organisation ( Is there such as thing as an organisation? Hmm… another blog post, perhaps) – but I can work with people who will influence and shape their world. I can work to have conversations that can pack a punch across a business….perhaps that is the best anyone can do?
I’m thinking that, as we work in complex adaptive spaces, surely we need complex, adaptive responses? Yes, we need learning technologies and innovations that allow our businesses to be cutting edge and informed… but who will run and ensure that the technologies and innovations work? It’s people. Brilliant, bored, excited, stubborn, pissed off, playful, serious, awkward, destructive, creative amazing people.
What’s my contribution?
My response to a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous is that we must help people live, talk and work in that world well. But this made me think. What do I bring? What am I offering to the Organisational, UK plc, HR/OD/L&D conversation? If the call is being put out for those who will support agility and adaptability, what is my contribution to that?
I’m increasingly taking up a space that revolves around getting people to talk with more confidence and consideration in their day to day work. The Dialogue work I am so passionate about is compelling because it is so simple: in conversation you can advocate a point of view (in favour or against) or you can inquire into what is being presented (asking more, opening up thinking). You might think of it as tell/ask. You might think of it as push/pull. What happens though is there is a dance, a complex, adaptive, ambiguous conversational dance between the advocating & inquiring. We make tiny conversational choices (or great big old bold ones) to advocate or to inquire and these impact and influence those around us.
When you begin to understand your conversational dance moves, you feel more confident, more able to try new moves, more able to dance well with others. It is compellingly simple, elegant, complex and clumsy all at the same time.
Whether it is one-to-one coaching conversations, or group work using dialogue (and I’m about to risk bull sh*t word bingo here), my client work typically revolves around building people’s capacity to be resilient in the face of ambiguity and recognise their own brilliance and staying-power in environments that can feel hostile, volatile or confusing. You get individuals to see their worth, their contribution and the value they bring to the organisational party? You enable people to speak for or against a course of action with some clarity, confidence and conviction? Well then bring on the complexity and ambiguity, my friend, it will not faze.
What I bring is a little old fashioned – my stuff is about communication, talking, relating, being considerate and compassionate in the world. Oh and challenging well. Really well. Being able to put your opposition to an idea across with care and conviction so you are heard. Actually? Perhaps my stuff isn’t old fashioned… perhaps it’s classic.
My contribution to support living in a “vuca” world well and to the request to support leaders and managers to be rapidly responsive and agile, is a constant invitation to the people I work with to be “human” (see above – brilliant, stubborn etc) and to talk well with others. In order to work, my contribution also needs to be supported by those who can add technology in the mix, those who are creative, those who have the capacity to deal with data and finances brilliantly. I am part of the overall system – contributing and relying on others to support or challenge me. In a complex world, I don’t have a panacea or a simple answer( and nor does anyone else, Guru, Thought Leader or “Expert”).
I do, however, have a contribution to make in a “vuca” world.
And I’m interested. What is yours?
Further action :
fuchsia blue Exploring Dialogue Sessions are running May 8th & 9th, London
Please comment below or contact me if you want to discuss further.
Further reading :
David Rock’s work on Quiet Leadership (particularly the Dance Toward Insight chapters)
Ronald Heifetz, Martin Linsky’s work on Adaptive Leadership
Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science – example of writing here
David Bohm’s Dialogue work ( See article Dialogue: a Proposal here)