Do You VUCA? Should You?

Paul Hebert employee experience, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, HR, Uncategorized

I had a nice New Year’s breakfast with a friend and we were talking about VUCA. Yeah… I live on the edge!

If you’re not familiar, VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. The acronym was first described in 1987 and adopted by the U.S. Army War College to describe the multilateral world resulting from the end of the Cold War. I don’t think I have to go into much deeper detail to convince you that those four words also describe our new normal in business, and by extension, Human Resources. Every day another issue, another worry, another box to put on your to-do list.

But not to break my ongoing FOT streak. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most folks in HR are approaching VUCA wrong.

VUCA isn’t a human problem

Many of you are jumping from technology to technology trying to keep up with the changes occurring in the space. Or you’re trying to figure out AI or big data (I’m guessing you’re thinking you should have paid more attention in that statistics class now, huh?) Stop it. Walk away from machine learning and AI. Of all the departments focused on business success, HR is the LEAST affected by VUCA.

I know, why listen to me? I’ve never played a down in the HR world.

But, I have stayed at a ton of Holiday Inn Express hotels and I’ve studied the “human” part of Human Resources for about 30 years. And HR really is different than the rest of the company. HR is tasked with ensuring that humans are prepared to do their jobs to the best of their ability. HR makes sure they have the tools and the training. HR worries about engagement and connection between the company and the employee.

And not one of those things has changed in 200,000 years (give or take a few), humans aren’t VUCA (except after a few shots of tequila).

Human time scale

What we seem to ignore is that while our technology infrastructure and technology tools seem to change faster than a Kardashian’s wardrobe, the people behind them haven’t. The reason humans engage, the things that drive motivation and desire, the way our brains process information and make decisions, is pretty much the same as it was when we were all walking the Savannah Plain in Africa. For all intents and purposes, we are still using the same human software to manage our energized, electronified work environment that we used a few thousand years ago to keep us out of the belly of a saber-toothed tiger.

I suggest HR professionals quit worrying about the things you cannot change or influence (the speed of business and technology evolution) and focus on what you can influence and manage.

Human behaviors.

HR must focus on the one thing that isn’t VUCA – human behaviors and what influences them.

Don’t worry about big data–let data managers figure it out–you just tell them what you want. What HR needs to do is figure out how to train and educate ALL managers on how those managers’ employees think, feel, decide, and engage. Teach all your managers why they need to know that in an uncertain prehistoric world we all relied on instinct and emotions to survive. It is our dominant and default setting. We don’t approach problems rationally–we do it emotionally. Do your managers know that? Do they try to “convince” before they “connect”? If so, they’re doing it wrong.

Do they know humans favor not losing something vs. gaining something? Are you addressing that when talking about change in the organization? Do you position things as what they will gain or what they will lose? People hate change because they hate to lose something. Can you position the change as a way to “not lose” what they have? Try it.

Because the world was complicated in the past, humans started using heuristics to make decisions faster. One type of heuristic is classifying things–it saves time when threatened and you need to decide quickly. Friend or Foe? Do they look different than me? Maybe they aren’t a friend then. Know our biases are hardwired and need to be managed.

Focus on what hasn’t changed

We love to be busy. We love to be working on the latest and greatest stuff. We think that being up-to-speed on the new stuff makes us valuable.

I’d submit this counter-intuitive thought to HR–be skilled in what hasn’t (and won’t) change. That will make you irreplaceable.

If HR were to focus on making sure managers knew how to manage human decision making and engagement/motivation at the core of the human condition, the company would have more engagement and more productivity. Teaching employees and managers how their own brain works will keep them from making bad decisions on the regular (because we always think we’ll do it differently next time, but we don’t–because we’re HUMAN!)

Can HR take on the challenge of managing the HUMAN in the company’s resources or will they continue to focus on the all things that surround the HUMAN (tech, paperwork, process, etc.)?

Don’t VUCA–do anti-VUCA.

Do Human.

We don’t really need an acronym to remind us how to do human… do we?