Understanding the Challenges of a VUCA Environment

“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.