Supporting clients in a VUCA world and changing learning at work

VUCA is well known term in the theatre of war but is now noticeable in the agenda for public and not for profit organisations and businesses I work with.  Cuts, efficiency savings, reduction in financial support to public sector, removal of grant making, constant change at an accelerated pace, Brexit, post Brexit behaviours, terrorism, cuts in interest rates, increase in uptake at food banks, changes in government, climate change, digital revolutions, on demand everything - I could fill this page with a list of factors that people raise in training workshops when invited to discuss stress and resilience.  People find work, their jobs, the most stressful thing right now, along with the list above.

VUCA - volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity - sums it all up nicely in four words.  In a military scenario it means things are unpredictable on the ground in real time. In the world my clients inhabit this means something similar, that there are never answers to everything, there is always too much information and never enough time, that there are issues not even thought of that will arise that no one can prepare for and there is no such thing as perfect information or a perfect time.

Where people work in this landscape, embrace it, move with it, understand there is no ultimate "answer" (just more questions) I perceive that they are managing better.  So I find myself introducing VUCA more regularly in workshops and coaching 1-2-1s as a healthy way to surface the challenges.  

How does it help? Firstly, it gives a frame and explanation (phew, we are not going mad)!  Second, it acknowledges that people are experiencing difficult and challenging times at work, fearing for their their jobs and have legitimately "big" emotions - anxiety, fear, insecurity - so raising them openly, rather than avoiding them is healthy because avoiding conflict is never the answer, and explaining that fear of the future is normal and manageable is a much better option.  This means there is a job to do in changing the mindset.

Organisations that acknowledge VUCA and look for where others are succeeding (including across sectors) are going to fare better.  Even better, collaboration and mutual sharing of ideas and resources should follow.  

Second to this, organisations should up skill their people differently and ditch traditional ideas particularly the emphasis on classroom based training.  As a member of the CIPD's national initiative Leaders in Learning we have begun to learn and explore how the world of work needs to respond in terms of skills and how this translates into a shift in how learning at work is planned and delivered.  The three main "foundation stones" that those in a VUCA world need to get hold of are:

a. Being agile: we need agile learning in the workplace

b. Learning on the job on demand just in time: 70-20-10

c. Being digital: employees are often far more digitally enabled at home and work needs to catch up quickly. 

At a Learning and Development Forum hosted by a local authority just last week it was great to hear how the transformation of learning at work has begun and how it is being implemented in practice.  Three key strands that will make it happen: an open and shared relationship between client and provider that enables challenge and joint design based on outcomes; second, a change in language to "learning" and "development"; third, a change in what how how we evaluate - no more happy sheets and ROI, instead, a return on expectation

More to explore and expand on in the months ahead.  Right now I am embracing being a digital and agile learner myself and am off to a local coffee shop with my tablet and smart phone to hold a skype 1-2-1.