Raising Workplace Engagement in the Modern VUCA world

One of the most challenging issues facing the Human Resources function in 2017 is creating an Engagement Strategy across the organisation that takes into account the increasingly "fluid" world that we live in. There are many competing socio-economic levers that are making it harder to predict the future direction of a business and its customers and therefore how the workforce will be structured and optimally engaged.
 
In the UK, some of these current factors include: 

  • The uncertainty around the UK leaving the EU - "Brexit"
  • The intensity and potential instability of the global political climate
  • The shortening of tenure a worker stays in a job - "the gig economy"
  • The lack of skills in critical roles within the business
  • The pressure to raise productivity from rising cost inflation
  • The need to evolve the internal HR skillset as the function moves towards big data analytics

 So how do we raise engagement and commitment to brand loyalty during so much change in the workplace?
 
To me, the easiest way to start to deal with this is to break down this challenge into manageable chunks and then rebuilt into an overarching strategy. This "huge change" can be conveniently addressed using the acronym VUCA. For those of you who need a reminder, VUCA is: 

  • Volatility - the liability to change rapidly and unpredictably
  • Uncertainty - desired outcomes are in doubt due to external factors
  • Complexity - an intricate relationship of many interconnected parts and variables
  • Ambiguity - a situation open to many interpretations - unknown unknowns

If HR and Senior Leadership look at strategies to overcome the workforce concerns of each of these areas then your people are more likely to be committed to your organisation than others, engaged and retained.
 
How you deal with each of these is different, however there are some common themes.
 
In the case of Volatility and Uncertainty, this often manifests in people as a fear of the future unknowns. This lack of knowledge of the future can lead to rumours and untruths being listened to more internally within the organisation.
 
As a parallel, if we look at the current general population, as the world becomes less predictable and more unstable then untruths are being believed often above facts!
 
Proactive actions here should focus on leadership, obtaining regular feedback and communication.
 
LISTEN  -->  RESPOND  -->  ACT

Listen to underlying concerns.
 
If something unpredictable happens, check in with your people and listen to the underlying feeling. Pulse surveys, focus groups, line manager feedback can give you valuable data about levels of engagement.
 
Respond in a human way.
 
Openly respond to concerns and comments with an approachable style. A stage managed approach doesn't work anymore in 2017. People openly challenge and disbelieve scripted speeches. The recent UK elections showed a massive swing from May to Corbyn, substantially based on the style of messaging in uncertain times.
 
Line managers need to be positive leaders.
 
In times of volatility and uncertainty, team members look to their manager for clues on "how bad it is". Leadership, focusing on Emotional Intelligence and the understanding that everyone is different, is imperative here. If the business has done everything right to this point but the behaviour and language of the line manager is not in sync with the central message then there will be distrust leading to dropping motivation and engagement.
 
Develop an adaptive mindset.
 
Having an ongoing positive communication strategy is key for readiness for change. Celebrating the achievement of positive change and reinforcing the benefits that have happened this year versus last year is a great way of fostering a culture that is resilient to uncertainty when it arises. A resilient workforce will more likely see an opportunity from change. Too often great change projects are lost in the mists of time and people forget how much better it is in the present than the past.
 
In essence, Engagement comes back to great leadership, excellent listening strategies and open, honest communication. In the VUCA world this needs to be honed into proactive development ready for uncertainty.
 
Complexity and Ambiguity bring separate challenges for HR and Business Leaders.
 
If you want to know more, Tap'd Solutions is running a Webinar on the topic of Raising Engagement in the Modern VUCA world on Wednesday 20th September at 12:30pm where the topics above will be discussed in addition to many more ideas for HR Leaders to draw new thinking and actions from.
 
If you want to listen in to this conversation then click the link to register for the webinar:  www.tapdsolutions.com/webinars2017

 
 
Anthony Ryland is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Tap'd Solutions - the HR Consultancy focused on the Future of Work and the Future of HR.