Understanding how to manage in the VUCA world

Dec 5, 2019Consulting

You might never hear about VUCA, and wonder how it could help you manage the changing world around you. Fear not! We’re here to help.

VUCA is an acronym that stands for:

  • Volatility
  • Uncertainly
  • Complexity
  • Ambiguity

The term was first used in the 1990s by the US military to describe the conditions faced by the world following the Cold War.

The four concepts of VUCA are also applicable today, especially in the pre and post-Brexit world. So, how can businesses and individuals flourish in a VUCA world?

VUCA Prime

VUCA Prime was first introduced by Bob Johansen, a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future. Prime is an effective strategy for countering each of the elements of VUCA, using a specific counterpart.

VISION over Volatility

Having a clear vision is the first important step in coping with VUCA.

That is clearly illustrated by the army’s methodology of a “Backward Planning Sequence,” where a mission is planned from the end first, then working back to the beginning of the operation.

From a management perspective, envisage where you want to end up and work backwards.

UNDERSTANDING over Uncertainty

To overcome uncertainty, learn to exercise and encourage empathy, sensing, and effective listening skills. Understanding will also contribute to stability.

Teach yourself to stop, look, and listen. Become more flexible in your approach. Take a fresh perspective and be prepared to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

CLARITY over Complexity

To solve problems and make decisions effectively and quickly, critical and creative thinking are essential and should be highly encouraged among workers and managers. To overcome the problems caused by complexity, make simplicity your watchword.

AGILITY over Ambiguity

Agility means that you must try hard, fail fast, and learn. The ability to communicate across your network, collaborate, and maximize the talent within your network are vital. Also, you must have all your team members fully engaged. Becoming more agile means seeking to make your business a learning organization.

VUCA 2.0

Another approach to leading in a VUCA world is taken by Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School in the US. George redefined the VUCA acronym to stand for Vision, Understanding, Courage, and Adaptability.


Today’s world and business leaders require a clear vision to enable them to navigate a path through the complexity and uncertainty that’s inevitably encountered in all aspects of life. A clear vision will enable leaders to focus on the elements that will lead them in the right direction.

With that in mind, it’s true to say that coaching vision is an invaluable tool in learning to manage in a VUCA world.


Understanding the many factors that influence outcomes is essential. Managers and leaders will gain this understanding from a diverse range of people, including customers and employees. That will provide managers with a clear sight of the big picture.

So, as a leader, you must spend time in labs, warehouses, factories, stores, IT departments, and offices, interacting with as diverse a group of people as possible.


Today’s business and industrial world is unpredictable, and leaders need more courage than ever before to meet the world’s challenges head-on and take risky decisions. Quick and effective decision making in the face of adversity could make the difference between failure and success.


VUCA demands that managers and leaders are adaptable and flexible and that they have a range of plans and strategies at their disposal, which could be actioned as required, even at short notice.

Final thoughts

Whether you subscribe to Bob Johansen’s Prime approach or prefer to adopt Bill George’s VUCA 2.0 strategy, changing your attitude and mindset can help you to manage your business and take the lead in this VUCA environment.

Training and coaching vision is an important element of all training courses that teach business leaders and individuals how to manage in a VUCA world that can make the difference between coping successfully and failing.