Amidst increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity

Before Covid-19 descended upon us, many in business were already struggling with the challenges of rapid unpredictable change. This was summed up by the term “VUCA” – referring to all the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity which has accompanied the digital age. But since the arrival of Coronavirus – followed by the tricky journey out of lockdown – we’ve been hit by what we could call “VUCA-Plus”.

You could see it as Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity all on steroids. This upsurge in VUCA may come as a shock, but it is in line with what we’ve long been told about the acceleration of change.

When I was in my Sydney high school debating team, the most popular book for our team to quote was called “Future Shock” by futurist Alvin Toffler. Future Shock is defined as a syndrome where there’s a perception of “too much change in too short a period of time.”

The Future Shock syndrome was alive and thriving when I wrote a 1919 MD2MD article about giving great answers to tough questions in VUCA times. Everything in the article still stands.

But the additional Corona-charged VUCA-Plus since last year means there’s all-the-more need to prepare to communicate effectively in this new environment – as there’s so much more coming into and and going out of the communications fog swirling around us.

If you’ve tried to capitalise on support offered by the UK Government support during Corona Times while running around doing so much else to protect your business – and/or tried to get hold of the government-supported loans (supposedly) offered through banks – you can probably detect the sudden arrival of VUCA-Plus particularly acutely.  The upsurge in VUCA during the Covid-19 period has hit every business in different ways.

So business leaders seeking to communicate effectively – and get key people in their companies to do the same – have EVEN bigger challenges than before. In sessions helping you get your message across in VUCA-Plus times, we focus on each key aspect of communicating in this tumultuous environment. If that sounds daunting, then consider saying a prayer, because the key acronym to guide us is “AMEN”.

What does ‘AMEN’ mean?

A = Audience

The session helps you define those with whom you’re seeking to connect – and to segment your communication targets as you may well do in your marketing.

So whether you’re focusing on your internal audiences of managers, wider team members and investors – or external audiences like clients, prospects, officials, suppliers, financiers and journalists – you need to get inside the minds of each group.

As you do so, try to appreciate that members of each group probably have more demands on their attention in Corona times than ever before – especially those working from home with additional domestic distractions such as home schooling.

To succeed in connecting effectively with each group you need to focus on what they need to know – and potentially buy into – in order for your business to succeed.

M = Message

As we emerge from lockdown and begin establishing the new normalities, it’s more important than ever to clearly define your essential messages for each audience.

This applies to whether you’re communicating verbally or in writing, online or face-to-face at the required social distance.

In these crazily fast-moving times, it’s vital to frame each message in a way that it can – as far as is humanly possible – not be overtaken by rapidly-changing events.

You don’t necessarily state your message explicitly within each piece of communication – but each message nonetheless needs to be clear even when you’re not directly spelling it out.

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E = Examples

In order to shine through – and be remembered amidst the fog of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity – it’s ideal to identify a relevant example with which to illustrate each message.

By doing this you can paint a picture in the minds of your audience so they can more readily envision what you mean – and remember it later.

N = Negatives

At a time when information and images can go around the world in nanoseconds, it’s vital to think ahead about how you might respond to any negative reactions your communication may trigger in these times of heightened emotion.

If you think about what the reactions are likely to be as you formulate your initial messages, you can ideally adjust before launching them in order to reduce the scope for unnecessary attack. Be aware how easy and quick it is for detractors in VUCA Times to criticise your stance before a wide audience on social media or by sending a message to every contact in their phone.

So do your thinking about negatives in advance. At the same time, be aware that communication at its simplest is a two-way process. So some response, even if it’s not entirely positive, is to be embraced.

Getting Communication-Ready Amidst VUCA-Plus

In VUCA-Plus times it’s all-the-more valuable to do your thinking and testing out in advance in order to react at speed to fast-moving fast-changing situations. This testing is what we can work on in sessions on this topic – to put you in the best shape for your forthcoming communications challenges in post-lockdown times and beyond. As MD2MD members edge towards achieving your 100-year goals, it’s safe to predict that you’ll encounter evermore VUCA-Plus along the way.

One business leader, when faced with the prospect of absorbing something new at the start of Coronavirus lockdown, said the idea of extra learning felt like being taught algebra while having your leg bitten off by a shark. Hopefully it will be less painful – and actually joyfully rewarding – for you.

Being fully prepared for the communication challenges ahead, as you seek to tell the world about your adjusted plans for 2020 and beyond, is the smart, pain-minimising, safe way to proceed.


Written by MD2MD speaker, Michael Dodd.