Coping comfortably with change

BY Archana Law

“Reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays…” says Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Today’s reality is the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world!

Digital technology and AI are transforming the world, and the workforce has to learn fresh skills continuously to adapt to new occupations as they emerge. In the aftermath of the pandemic however, it is unclear what skills are required to move forward.

Research by the McKinsey Global Institute has looked at the type of jobs that will be lost and those likely to be created as automation, AI and robotics take hold. It infers that the need for manual and physical skills, as well as basic cognitive ones, will decline. But demand for technological, social, emotional and higher cognitive skills will grow.

Pressure to change has been building for years. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, senior executives worldwide routinely worried whether their organisations were too slow, siloed, bogged down in complicated matrix structures or overly bureaucratic.

Leaders feared their companies were organised for a world that was disappearing – an era of standardisation and predictability overwritten by a combination of heightened connectivity, lower transaction costs, unprecedented automation and shifting demographics.

If the incumbents didn’t see the future in themselves, they saw it clearly in the competition: digital upstarts that continue to innovate and win in bold, new ways.

Even as leaders take action to reenergise their people and organisations, the most forward-looking see a larger opportunity – a chance to build on crisis related accomplishments and reexamine or reimagine their enterprise’s identity, and how it works and grows. Businesses that navigate this seismic shift can successfully take advantage of its transformative opportunities.

Though VUCA may seem inescapable, can you help your team and organisation mitigate its effects, and even use it to your advantage?

Accept that VUCA is here to stay! We have to get our heads around the fact that this crazy period is ‘normal’ and will be with us for many years to come. The right approach will be not to simply plough through but agree that we need to see constant, unpredictable and tumultuous times as a normal, and ongoing, part of our lives.

Practise creating and maintaining a sense of centred calm to thrive in turbulent times. As American author and playwright Jean Kerr wrote: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible that you haven’t grasped the situation.”

Watch your thoughts and utterances of statements such as these: ‘Once we get the new position filled’; ‘after the restructuring is complete’; ‘when the project is finished’; ‘once the new system is installed’; ‘when I get organised’ … ‘then things will settle down again.’

Do things ever settle down? No, they never do. As the saying goes: “One of the only places where life no longer changes is the graveyard.”

Solutions are by their nature context dependent; and in the modern world, context changes quickly, and previous solutions may not be suitable for the future.

To drive a new competitive advantage, it’s necessary to tread untrodden paths and try fresh ideas. This requires individuals to be comfortable with uncertainty and able to reframe problems.

Get comfortable with change and don’t be prejudiced towards it. This trait is twofold. Firstly, it is about accepting change as a constant, and not rejecting and fighting change out of bias or fear. Secondly, it is about avoiding bias towards existing solutions simply because they are more tangible than new ideas.

Be curious and learn fast… because this capability is most effective when it’s married to a growth mindset or belief that your abilities are dynamic. These two traits give people the confidence to approach new situations with curiosity to learn and evolve, and reach proficiency fast.

This trait has merit in many situations that range from learning new truths about your industry or market and moulding them to enhance strategic thinking in your organisation, to the more tactical side of learning on how to use a new software package that provides an operational advantage.

To maintain market share, innovation is necessary but risky. So risk tolerance that’s tempered with a degree of risk averseness will provide a competitive advantage.

We need to cope now with the upheavals, which the recent years have suddenly caused. Emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to our abi­lity to recognise and manage emotions – our own and other people’s. It helps us to handle pressure well, get the best out of people and make good decisions no matter what’s going on around us.