Understanding the Challenges of a VUCA Environment

© AdobeStock
VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Six corporate leaders says they’re seeing all aspects of it.

“You cannot ignore the development of the employees, because they are the foundation of how things operate every day,” says Synchrony Financial’s Margaret Keane. “We have to make sure we are thinking through the skill sets of our employees to make sure they will be successful in their careers and that we have the right talent.” All the companies we studied have inhouse employee training programs. Deloitte,

for example, takes pride in Deloitte University, which uses case studies in small-group settings to prepare professionals for the complexity and ambiguity inherent in their business environment and to help clients solve their challenges.

“When you walk through the doors, you see a different setting,” says Fucci. “After you check in, your mind switches to learning mode. It’s very collaborative, a lot of group settings and multimedia interactivity. Not a lot of presentations. Groups of 6 to 8 to 20 can get together and solve problems. We do a lot of case studies; we do a lot of hands-on kind of learning. It’s a very immersive experience.”

Synchrony addresses development by moving people with real talent, leadership and capabilities to different functions. MSCI’s CEO, Bob Weidner, sees his organization’s role as offering training and education for client companies. He has established a graduate program—the Strategic Metals Management program (SMM) at Washington University in St. Louis, and he sponsors conferences on emerging trends in the metals industry.

Pratt & Whitney has a comprehensive employee training program that includes leadership training for managers at all levels. In addition, stretch assignments and cross-functional rotational programs develop high-potential leaders for more senior positions. Leduc believes much of his company’s leadership development philosophy revolves around modeling and reinforcement of positive behaviors until they become ingrained in employees’ DNA.

Listen, Be Patient and Persevere

At the end of the interviews, we asked the executives to reflect on how well their efforts are working. They mentioned that employee surveys and “voice of the customer” feedback provide indications for how internal and external stakeholders perceive change efforts. They also believe it’s important to be visible and available to employees—listening to employees at all levels share their stories and experiences with change.

They employ “leadership by walking around.” The executives expect the changes to result in better performance of the business. Although they are anxious to see early results, they also understand

that many of their efforts will need time to fully blossom. While they understand the importance of patience, they are eager to celebrate early successes and anticipate making great progress.

Perhaps this is the most important take away: Excellence in a VUCA environment takes time, requires strong leadership and agile, resilient team members dedicated to being learning leaders who persevere in the face of resistance and setbacks.

Read more on VUCA and the CEO’s role in shaping an organization’s culture.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.