2.1 Dealing with uncertainty
All organisations must deal with uncertainty, which can be due to internal and/or external factors. While this is a constant element for organisations, it not only can impact an organisation’s ability to thrive, but also the wellbeing of those within it.
Having a robust approach to managing uncertainty requires a clear purpose and vision, and an embedded structure for change to help manage expectations and understanding as to why change is needed, both short term and long term.
Many organisations plan for the short- and long-term future, based on understanding the environment in which they operate.
The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), TUNA (Turbulent, Uncertain, Novel, Ambiguous) frameworks, and the Cynefin Framework focus on sense making for ordered, complex and chaotic systems in time of uncertainty. They are often used by organisations to help make sense of uncertainty, futures planning and approaching change.
The acronym VUCA was used by the US military in relation to the international security environment after 2001 (Stiehm, 2002).
This acronym was adapted for business by Bob Johansen (2009) to describe how external forces are disrupting organisations. Bill George (2017) suggested that leaders within organisations who plan for uncertainty need to be authentic, create clarity, and have the courage with their decision and the ability to adapt (Figure 3).
TUNA environments is a social theory approach to understanding the conditions of uncertainty, developed by Dr Rafael Ramirez and Dr Angela Wilkinson, within the Oxford Scenario Planning Approach (OSPA). This approach is useful to consider, plan for and respond to rapid and radical change, and can help organisations to develop ‘Strategic re-framing’ for solving problems.
The Cynefin Sensemaking framework developed by Dr David Snowden helps leaders and organisations make sense of different situations, and show that they may need a different approach to decision making. It provides five domains to assess the situation.
The complexity of operating in an uncertain environment means that many of the challenges facing organisations can be considered as ‘wicked problems’ (Rittel and Webber, 1973) or intractable problems. You will explore these in the next section.