A VUCA series: be prepared for uncertainty, not scared of it
- Service management
June 30, 2021 |
3 min read
- Service management
An organization might have information and insight that tells it something about yesterday or today. However, the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) state of “uncertainty” offers another level of difficulty: it’s about knowing what to do tomorrow.
Figuring out and anticipating future customer needs is about sifting through hard-to-untangle information to identify what’s really important. It might be one essential data point out of 10 you need to decipher.
For example, training services evaporated during the Covid-19 pandemic and raised serious questions for firms in the industry: How long would it last? Would people want virtual training or snap back to the way things were before? Would some needs change forever?
The future can have lots of different outcomes and it takes thought, investigation, reflection and listening to customers to identify key trends and be prepared for uncertainty.
What are the general issues posed by uncertainty?
The biggest threat posed by uncertainty is making assumptions about the future: investing money, time and infrastructure to build something that might not be the right path to take. This can waste a lot of time, energy and finance.
However, worse than picking the wrong path is picking none because of analysis paralysis.
Fear of doing the wrong thing doesn’t work. Instead, it’s better to make a decision based on the best information available, diversify your products and services where it makes sense, and pivot if you need to change.
Pivoting business for survival
When Fujifilm – once a stalwart of traditional cameras and photo printing – saw its core business declining because of digital, it used its expertise in chemical compounds to move into pharmaceuticals, healthcare and cosmetics and high-tech x-ray diagnostics. The company’s pivot meant it has both survived and thrived.
Conversely, Kodak – Fujifilm’s principal competitor and early developer of a digital camera prototype in the 1970s – failed to capitalize on its innovation, eventually stopped making cameras and filed for bankruptcy.
Antidotes to uncertainty
Coping with uncertainty involves collecting, interpreting and sharing valuable information from your own people.
Organizations often have a mountain of knowledge but don’t share it. In times of uncertainty, you need access to the people talking to your customers in real time and, if someone hears something important, create a mechanism to escalate it to leadership and put that knowledge to good use.
Having market research, analytics and customer insight is vital to pinpoint trends and see how customer preferences are changing.
ITIL® 4 – addressing the problem of uncertainty
At a macro level, upskilling or re-skilling people in ITIL 4 provides professionals with a lot of new ideas to cope with a world of uncertainty.
And particular concepts in the guidance are valuable, such as absorptive capacity in the Knowledge Management practice.
If knowledge management is about maintaining and improving the effective, efficient and convenient use of information and knowledge across the organization, absorptive capacity is about recognizing the value of new information, embedding it into a knowledge system and applying it to achieve business outcomes.
ITIL 4 Leader: Digital and IT Strategy explains how the SECI (socialization, externalization, combination and internalization) model helps organizations build a culture of absorptive capacity. Using explicit knowledge (easy to transfer to others, e.g. information from books) and tacit knowledge (more difficult to transfer, e.g. based on experience, values, skills), the SECI model offers a way of harnessing knowledge from people for the benefit of the wider organization. For example, this type of knowledge can include someone sharing with colleagues and acting on what they’ve learned in a training course.
Combating uncertainty with knowledge
Knowledge is such an untapped resource in organizations. If you can fix that, you can be much smarter in times of uncertainty.
Better even than failing fast, understanding the failure and learning fast means if your business picks the wrong direction you can change course quickly.
Being prepared for change, diversifying and cross training your people so they have a lot of different skills to call on means that uncertainty needn’t be scary and pivoting as an organization becomes easier.