Gary Oster is founder and strategic growth strategist at Topline Growth Partners.
Leaders who look at adversity as an opportunity and who are not afraid to navigate challenges creatively will emerge more successfully in a volatile and rapidly shifting landscape.
Our nation is in the early phases of building a new version of itself. For the past six months, we have been in a perfect storm of epic proportions. No citizen has been untouched by dramatic changes to their lives. As multiple external forces continue to pull at the frayed threads that form the fabric of many American organizations, it seems as if evolution and revolution are arriving at the station on parallel tracks.
“Shark Tank” entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently spoke about how the current business situation is both a challenge and an opportunity: “When things are all messed up beyond recognition, that's when the heroes step forward and create things, invent things, and develop things that change the world. And that's what's needed right now. If you have a vision for America 2.0, now is the time to act.” I believe Mark Cuban is right; association leaders need to step forward, create, invent, develop, and change the world. Now is their time to act.
With all the discomfort and lack of clarity in our professional and personal lives, leaders should take solace in knowing they are not alone. What they are experiencing is certainly not new or unusual. In fact, what everyone is experiencing is a state of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA).
The term VUCA originated in the mid-'90s at the U.S. Army War College to describe the world after the Cold War. Today it perfectly describes our global environment. VUCA is everywhere, not just in the business world but in our personal lives as well. Typically, as a nation, we only experience one or two significant events at any one time. During the first half of 2020, a handful of big issues—a global pandemic, heightened political division, and renewed racial unrest—have strained our country, economy, personal health, and individual relationships.
Senior executives must solicit input at all levels—and listen—within the organization. They need to be human and authentic and act, adapt, and adjust faster, without fearing failure.
As an association executive, are you up to the challenges and opportunities these huge issues will create as you work in a constant state of VUCA? Leaders sometimes struggle to frame the macro (and micro) issues quickly and accurately enough to understand the short and long-term impact on their organizations and their members. They must size the problem, innovate solutions, and implement at lightning speed.
Unpredictable events happening outside an organization can be negative or positive, but both make it more difficult to determine which decisions are best. Flexibility matters. Senior executives must solicit input at all levels—and listen—within the organization. They need to be human and authentic, and act, adapt, and adjust faster, without fearing failure.
A CEO I know recently said, “Shame on us if we don’t come out of this nimbler and more creative. The crisis identifies more efficient ways of doing business, and we must make these things permanent.” A few weeks later, his organization overhauled its business plan. One example of their upgrade was eliminating one of their significant, but money-losing and low-value, legacy programs.
A year earlier, this action would have spurred a mutinous cry from several vocal members. Today, because of the VUCA environment, his board is looking to him to lead and encouraging and expecting innovation to ensure the future viability of the association, its members, and the industry it represents.
Now is not the time to make small, incremental, hold-on-for-dear-life changes to your organization. Think like Edison: Try bold new ideas, reward internal innovators, and promote member value creators.
The opportunity is yours. Are you ready to embrace it?