Navigating a VUCA World

November 22, 2021

I don’t know about you, but life has felt completely upended since early last year with the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout our world, in our communities and at home. Looking beyond the coronavirus headlines, there’s a daily barrage of negative news, from labor shortages, empty store shelves and increased food prices, to natural disasters and political divisiveness. This doesn’t include the personal burdens that many of us bear.     

There’s no doubt about it. We’re living in a VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.  

  • Volatile Change is rapid and unpredictable
  • Uncertain The present is unclear and the future is uncertain
  • Complex Many interconnected factors come into play with the potential
    cause chaos and confusion
  • Ambiguous There’s a lack of clarity or awareness about situations 

VUCA isn’t a new acronym. It was coined at the U.S. Army War College to describe the environment around the world after the Cold War – the period of tension between the U.S. and Soviet Union that began after World War II and extended through 1991 when the Soviet Union was dissolved.         

I was introduced to the term this fall at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, when I had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Bob Johansen, a distinguished fellow and author with the Institute for the Future. He adapted VUCA for the business world over a decade ago with his book “Leaders Make the Future,” in which he lays out a framework to respond to VUCA threats.  

We can all learn from his recommendations – applying the principles on the job and even putting some of the learnings to work outside of the office: 

Counter Volatility with Vision: Accept and embrace change as a constant and create a strong, compelling statement of team objectives and values, and shared vision for the future.   

Meet Uncertainty with Understanding: Pause to listen and look around to understand and develop new ways to respond to VUCA environments. Evaluate what you’re doing well and what you could improve.   

React to Complexity with Clarity: Communicate clearly with your people. Develop teams and promote collaboration.    

Fight Ambiguity with Agility: Promote the flexibility, adaptability and agility needed to alter plans as events unfold. Develop a collaborative environment and reward team members who demonstrate vision, understanding, clarity and agility.      

I was fascinated as I sat and listened. It all made perfect sense – and sounded strangely familiar.  

Much of what Dr. Johansen recommends is what Phibro is doing with dairy farms across the country – using many of the VUCA principles to help farm families and leadership teams clarify their purpose and values and foster thriving work cultures through the Our Dairy Values™ (ODV) and Vital Insight™ programs.  

We all deserve to know where our food comes from and who’s producing it. Be assured that farmers share the same values as all of us who eat and are making ethical decisions when it comes to high standards of animal care, food safety, workforce culture and environmental stewardship. ODV and Vital Insight™ simply help dairies demonstrate how they live out their values each and every day.   

As part of ODV, my Phibro colleague John Frey and I meet one-on-one with farm families and leadership teams, helping them put their purpose and values down on paper, and provide tools to share the story of producing safe, wholesome milk with integrity.     

Through ODV, John and I have met with more than 50 farms.  I can’t begin to express how proud I am to help celebrate and spotlight farms for taking good care of their employees, community and animals, as well as their important contributions to a healthy, affordable food supply.    

[I invite you to hear from Rachel Van Nieuwenhuyzen with Werkhoven Dairy in Monroe, Wash., a farm that participated in the ODV program.] 

Vital Insight builds on ODV by gathering valuable feedback from farm employees – providing a way for farm managers to better understand employee values, learn about on-farm successes and challenges, and then take action to continuously improve at being a better leader and manager. It’s a program that empowers employees, fosters collaboration and creates an environment where workers know they’re valued for the important roles they play in caring for the cows and ensuring a quality product leaves the farm each day.      

Both programs help provide clarity of purpose and values, paving the way to a firm course of action.  

Truly, navigating the ups and downs of life simply boils down to knowing who you are, where you want to go, having a plan to get there, and allowing your values to guide your behavior along the way. 

As Dr. Johansen put it, “Your clarity and purpose will be critical to thriving in a VUCA world.” 

Wise words, not only for dairy farmers across the country, but for all of us as we look to not only survive, but thrive, in the constant of change.