Business in a VUCA World

Topics: Small Business

Summary: We are all currently living in a VUCA world. But what is VUCA and why is it important to understand what it means in how we work with each other, employees and customers? Learn how you can use the 4 elements of VUCA together to help you support your small business community.

By Julia Shumulinsky, Manager, GTO OCM & Communication at AmTrust Financial

Business in a VUCA World


You may have heard this term over the past few years, that the world is VUCA. It’s not a groovy new slang term; VUCA means Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

Think back to 2015, and consider the question, “where do you see yourself in five years?” Could you have possibly guessed that you’d be living through a global pandemic? Were you preparing for social distancing and quarantines? Did your five-year plan include working remotely and interacting with your co-workers, clients and friends over zoom?

The world has changed dramatically over the past year and returning to “the way things were before” may never truly happen. Even the handshake may be gone forever.

That’s OK! Change is important, change is inevitable, and most importantly, change is growth. Here are a few tips you can use to help your business community – or any community for that matter – in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times.

Learning from the VUCA World: Supporting Your Business Community

You want to help, you want to support, and you want your business to grow for you, your employees and your clients.

How can you do that effectively in a VUCA world? The same way you would any other time.

Assess Yourself

You are human too; you need to take care of yourself before you can help others. Remember traveling? Flight attendants tell you the same thing before every take-off: put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. The same is true with support. You can’t pour from an empty cup; you can’t help others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

How do you take care of yourself? You can follow any self-care routine that works for you. If you don’t have one or don’t know where to start, take a look at the rest of these steps and apply them to yourself. You need to support you too!

Listen With Empathy And Accountability

Your employee may be caring for an elderly aunt who is highly susceptible to COVID-19 and has a few other health problems that make it dangerous to get the vaccine. Your client’s spouse may have lost their job and now the small business is all they have to rely on for income. Your business partner may be dealing with anxiety or another impairment that may be invisible to you but is very impactful.

First things first: listen.

Listen to what they’re saying and listen for what they may be leaving unsaid. They may need help in the form of schedule flexibility or an adjusted pay schedule. They may need resources they can reference to get answers. They may need to speak and be heard with no judgment or unsolicited advice. I can’t speak for everyone, but that last one is the most common in my experience.

You’ve assessed yourself already, you know how difficult this past year has been. Consider the impact that the environment has had on you and hold onto that feeling when you listen. Have empathy for those who want to share, and for those who don’t.

Empathy doesn’t mean that everyone gets a free pass on every responsibility. That’s where accountability comes in. Work needs to get done, bills need to get paid, and your business needs to keep operating. You can hold those around you (and yourself) accountable but do it with caring and empathy. And remember, not all accountability is the same.

Be Flexible Where You Can, Clear Where you Can’t

Companies and schools worldwide have sent employees and students home, but the world hasn’t shut down.

Be flexible where you can, supporting your team with flexible work options like working remotely, adjusted scheduling around childcare or other responsibilities. If a client is experiencing pandemic-induced financial troubles, perhaps you can work out a payment plan that accommodates you both.

Like empathy, flexibility isn’t a free pass either. As I mentioned, the world hasn’t shut down, meaning that companies and schools can still be productive. You can’t always be flexible, and you need to be clear in those circumstances. A factory worker can’t work remotely. A small business owner can’t waive or delay every payment owed to them. Life and business need to move forward, and if you can’t be flexible with a request, then be sure you are clear when explaining.

Be Consistent, Except Where You’re Not

Consistent isn’t synonymous with identical. Every situation is a bit different, and flexibility in one scenario doesn’t mean you have to be flexible every time.

Along with the pandemic, the world has been going through other sweeping changes that we can all see through social actions and raised awareness. The concept of equity has been brought to the forefront, particularly that it’s not synonymous with equality. A band-aid helps a cut but doesn’t do much for a broken leg or a migraine, so equal solutions aren’t always the best. The same is true (only more so!) with challenges in this VUCA world.

Balance empathy with accountability, flexibility with firmness. However, the balance point may be different for different people and different situations. There is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution, and that’s ok too. Be fair and considerate, listen thoughtfully and carefully, and accept that the answer may not always be the same.

There’s always something uncertain about the future, and you support your community when uncertainty strikes. Start with yourself; once your oxygen is flowing, you can help others.

Julia Shumulinsky leads Organizational Change Management and Communications for IT and Operations at AmTrust Financial. She spends her energy on leading change, creative problem solving, herding cats, creating order from chaos, coaching and mentoring, baking cookies, growth and development, public speaking, wearing many hats to get the job done, focusing on people first, appropriately using the Oxford Comma, and thriving in high-energy situations with a smile.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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