Conquering VUCA Discontinuities


One of the interesting dilemmas in VUCA is how to manage discontinuities.
In our work with organizations, we encounter two types of discontinuities.


01. The first type is a change of scale.

This is where the speed of the business alters, typically going from a linear, predictable growth to an accelerating, exponential growth. The challenges faced by businesses undergoing changes in scale usually involve four core areas:

  1. Enough employees with the right skills and knowledge to handle the increased pace and load
  2. Organizational structure, processes and work flows in place to ensure the required flexibility and adaptability to handle the change
  3. Access to funds to cover the increased cash flow needs
  4. Robust, shared culture where everyone understands and adheres to common values and the same sense of purpose

The bottom line is that changes of scale are usually manageable, i.e. they can be worked on and resolved within the normal business environment.


02. Life is not so easy for the second type of discontinuity, which is a change of scope.

In this situation, the shift occurs suddenly, jumping from one level to another. When this happens, what previously worked no longer applies, and the optimum solution lies in adapting a completely new approach.

Shell, the global oil and gas company, faced this situation a few decades ago when it moved from on-land or near shore drilling to its first deep sea platform, named Ursa. Drilling had always been a very dangerous occupation performed by hardened, macho men who just toughed it out, no matter what.  Although it was the same business, the complexity and complications of the new Ursa platform represented a discontinuity in scope, and, as such, it required a complete review of how the managers lead their teams and how the men interacted with one another in order to succeed.

The solution came from outside the oil and gas industry, in the form of Claire Nuer, a holocaust and cancer survivor whose life mission was to help others find their greater purpose and to “open the door to impossible dialogues”. She got the hardened, macho leaders to face their fears and express their emotions in order to improve communication within their teams. This resulted in the sense of unity and purpose within every member of the Ursa project. The solution was so successful that it completely changed the mindset and culture of how Shell oil and gas projects are run to this day.

You can read more on the Ursa platform and the essence of the work that Claire Nuer did with the team in this recently published article.

If your organization is experiencing a discontinuity in scale or scope, contact us and we can start a conversation.


doug dean

Doug Dean is the COO of Human Capital Group Asia

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