Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.Vernon Law, Major League Baseball pitcher
Learning through experience is a normal part of lab management. However, our ever-changing world can make it difficult to reuse our lessons learned. To be responsive to these shifts, we can apply VUCA thinking.
Introduced to the military in the late 1980s, VUCA thinking acknowledged that the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity of general conditions and situations within the world had changed, and thus military practices needed to change as well. Understanding these four aspects ultimately leads to better outcomes, though they are not always intuitive:
Volatility – The nature, speed, volume, magnitude and dynamics of change
Uncertainty – The lack of predictability of issues and events
Complexity – The confounding of issues and possible chaos
Ambiguity – The haziness of reality and mixed meaning of conditions
Things aren’t much different in the industrial world – every day is different than the past, and thus the VUCA mindset is a key shift in your approach to management and leadership. I recognized this myself over the span of 20+ years of supporting various businesses as new challenges continuously arose. The staff also sees these changes evolve and are very much impacted by how we respond as leaders and needs to change.
The COVID-19 environment has elevated the VUCA environment to the next level and leaders have had to truly respond in rapidly changing and evolving conditions that we never experienced.
Recasting the VUCA model in the context of staff leadership better equips your team for the pace of change and unique events that will continue to shape our future efforts. Applying this guiding framework to your efforts will allow you to have a dynamic perspective on the lessons learned.
Vision – Clear, frequent communication with your staff to inform, encourage, support, and provide expectations. Acknowledge all aspects of Volatility head-on.
Understanding – Listen, be empathetic, and find out what is really needed. Uncertainty is fueled by not knowing true, detailed concerns, and thus seeking solutions to the wrong problems.
Confidence – Manage knowing that you and your team will rise to the challenge. Navigate Complexity by seeking solutions to intricate issues as a team.
Agility – Do your homework to adapt but move quickly in applying solutions to accomplish the specific goal. Delays can fuel Ambiguity.
Richard Durand currently serves as Director/Analytical and Material Science for Sun Chemical Corporation at their North American R&D facility in Carlstadt, NJ. During his 32 years at Sun Chemical, he has held a variety of positions including Senior Scientist, Director/Newspaper Ink R&D, Director/Knowledge Management, Director/Analytical Science. He is past president of ALMA (Association of Laboratory Managers -2013, 2014) and is currently treasurer and board member.