Handling change in an uncertain environment

Twenty sixteen feels like a volatile year, both on a global and local scale. If you hold a position of authority, it’s likely that you have to manage change, whether that’s within your team, your organization, your industry or even within a domestic setting.

A client of mine, let’s call her Gemma, came to a session with only one agenda item: change management. She is faced with taking her team through a re-structure and is keen to manage it as effectively, compassionately and positively as possible.

To begin, we talked through her experience of being on the receiving end of change during her career.

‘The first thing I noticed was that it was a huge distraction: it was all anyone ever talked about. We all seemed to be told different things by our departmental managers so we’d compare notes to see if we could find any common threads as to what might be going on. I get that these issues are sensitive and you can’t tell everyone everything but little bits of information would leak out and then the rumour mill would be working overtime.

There was so much insecurity too and it seemed to make everyone a more extreme version of themselves. My quiet colleagues seemed to stop talking all together, whereas the louder ones were very open about making their views known to all and sundry. Teamwork seemed to break down as people became increasingly concerned about their own roles. It seemed to go on forever too and we all seemed to become very lethargic about work, not knowing whether it was worth starting something.’

It’s a VUCA world

As we talked, I was reminded me of the acronym VUCA. Coined by the US military at the end of the twentieth century to describe a world after the Cold War in which there was no longer one great threat but many, the concept is now used within business too. The acronym is broken down thus:

V = Volatility

U = Uncertainty

C = Complexity

A = Ambiguity

As we look at the commercial pressures on our organisations, it’s easy to see that we are in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous landscape. How do we handle this?

Gemma and I discussed each of the four components to come up with the appropriate ways of leading her team through the restructure within a VUCA environment.


Gemma decided that the opposite of volatility is stability so she would seek to create stability within her team. She can’t limit the volatility of the restructure itself but she identified several ways in which she could make her team’s experience of the day-to-day as stable as possible.


The opposite of uncertainty is of course certainty. Gemma’s not in a position to offer certainty about the outcomes of the restructure. However, she can make sure that her team are certain that she is there for them, is actively listening to their concerns and suggestions and effectively representing her team within the organisation.


To counteract complexity, Gemma is simplifying and offering clarity wherever she can. In her communication, she is being straightforward and transparent. She is being clear about what she is able to share with her team and is ensuring she has the right information in order to make able to make the restructure process as smooth as possible for her colleagues.


In an ambiguous environment where a subject is subject to different interpretations and outcomes, Gemma’s goal is to keep her team agile and ready to react to the changing needs of the business. She believes that in equipping her to team to handle the volatility, uncertainty and complexity of the situation, she is building their resilience and capacity to best handle ambiguity.

Today’s pebble for you to contemplate:

In a VUCA environment, whether at work or at home, how are you handling change?


ps I’m taking a screen break for a couple of weeks and will be back with a new post on 26 August.

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we can work together?


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3 Responses to Handling change in an uncertain environment

  1. cms says:

    great post.

  2. Pingback: Looking for some tranquillity? | Turning over pebbles

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