How to be successful in today’s VUCA workplace

Learning agility at work

It was Michelangelo who, at age 87, said, “I am still learning”. With the demands of work on us in the 21st century, we desperately need to follow his example.

Today’s knowledge workers face a business environment that often leaves us feeling somewhat bewildered and confused. In fact, there’s even a name for it – VUCA.

What does this strange-sounding acronym mean?

VUCA is a framework that helps describe our 21st-century world — from battlefields to business environments.

It stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

VUCA World
In a VUCA world, complex – not just complicated – challenges are common, and no one has all the answers or all the information, or even the one true definition of the problem.

What’s the difference between Complicated and Complex?

Complex and Complicated
Korn Ferry Institute conducted a sizeable assessment of executives (c. 1 million) and found that as we scale the executive ladder, we become increasingly comfortable facing the uncertainty and sudden change that our VUCA world brings us.

And Ferry’s research has shown that those who are learning agile are more likely to succeed in our volatile, complex and ambiguous world.

But what does learning agility mean and how can we become more learning agile as we look to develop within our roles and companies?

Learning agility is “knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do” — a kind of sixth sense, if you like. It’s being able to deploy a complex set of skills that allows us to learn something in one situation and then to apply it in a completely different situation.

For success at work, you need to become learning agile.

Be curious:

  • It’s important for you to make sure that you do not get stuck in your bad habits. As Marshall Goldsmith said, “What got you here will not get you there!”
  • Challenge yourself to come out of your comfort zone and seek to have the broadest perspective possible.
  • Look for opportunities to continually improve yourself, whether that is keeping abreast of the latest business books or connecting with your PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Be reflective:

  • Taking time to be reflective is vital because learning only happens when we pause to understand what went well and what did not — that way we can do things differently (and better) next time around.
  • In today’s business world, so often we are consumed by the speed of business; we need to take time out so we can reflect.

Be self-aware:

  • This is one of the key indicators of High Performing Individuals. Those who demonstrate high levels of being self-aware are more likely to react in the best possible way in any given situation.
  • One of the leading derailers in doing business in the 21st century is not being self-aware and failing to understand our impact on others.

Focusing on these three areas will help you develop your own learning agility to maximise your learning and what you gain from those experiences.

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About the author

David Smith is Global Director of Virtual Learning Solutions at TMA World, he is passionate about virtual working whether communicating, meeting, presenting or training virtually. He is also a regular speaker at international training conferences and Citrix webinars. In his spare time he enjoys many sports (unfortunately, most as a spectator), has a family that keeps him young, loves Spanish Tapas and great red wines. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter More blog posts by David Smith ››
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