Volatility: Inspire those around you to embrace it!

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Chief Executive Chris Payne looks at how organisations, including NEBOSH, can turn fear-inducing volatility into a calming and effective vision…

Chris PayneIn my previous blog piece - Don’t fear the thrill of the roller-coaster. Keep on riding! - I explored how our modern world can be seen as highly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous, or VUCA for short. I explained how leaders should acknowledge these real-world VUCA characteristics and set out on a journey to reshape them into Vision, Unison, Champions and Ambition. For this article I’ll be looking more closely at how we can transform Volatility into Vision.

When things change quickly and unpredictably it can be fear-inducing. It’s like we’ve suddenly been dropped into an unfamiliar territory, without any sense of how to respond or get out of it. When this happens to organisations, it can create nervousness, panic, knee-jerk reactions and in the worst of cases, failure.

Of course, we all recognise this feeling from the pandemic. For NEBOSH, the pandemic could not have been a more volatile situation. Although I wasn’t Chief Executive here during the start of the COVID crisis, I’m well aware of its impact here. As an organisation almost entirely reliant on people sitting supervised examinations together, our entire way of working was suddenly brought to a screeching halt.

We survived, but even more importantly we learned a lot from this volatility. If I’m honest, NEBOSH had grown comfortable. It didn’t see a great need to change and move forward pre-pandemic. Things had been going well, but we lacked vision. I’m talking about a shared, transformational and inspirational vision that would have seen us better prepared for the kind of volatility we faced in 2020 and beyond.

So what?

So, what are we doing now at NEBOSH to address this? Quite simply, we have a new vision. One which sets out ‘what’ we aspire to look like in the future, underpinned by our mission, which provides the ‘why’, our purpose. Together they create a clear direction of travel involving the whole organisation

Importantly, our new vision and mission forms our strategic intent, without the traditional micro planning detail. This enables our organisation to remain agile, dynamic and responsive to change, whether this change is known or unknown. In other words, the end goal remains clear, but we acknowledge that the journey to achieve it can take many twists and turns. What is essential is that everyone remains on track and we all arrive at our destination together.

The detail lies in our strategy, tactics and overall plan, of course. There’s no space to cover all of this here, but agility, diversification, customer-focus, and empowering our people are all significant elements. However, let’s be clear, it is people who will achieve our vision forward.

When we enable people to actively take on responsibility for their own behaviour, actions, development and solutions, their personal growth, with a clear vision in mind, magical things always happen. In particular, fear of the unknown starts to erode. People feel they can influence outcomes and discover that challenges and mistakes, yes mistakes, become the most valuable learning tools we have at our disposal.

Don’t fear volatility. The recent pandemic formed a volatile world, which for organisations dismantled traditional hierarchical leadership, where top-down management simply became ineffective and redundant. Instead, leaders needed to learn to serve before they could lead, by flipping volatility into a vision. Where a servant leader embraces it by inspiring and empowering those around you. Put people first and create a culture of trust so everyone can grow and be part of an agile, confident high performing team capable of facing all kinds of challenges and always with the same goal in mind.

Next time, I’ll look at how we can turn Uncertainty into Unison.

For more on our Vision and Mission, please visit www.nebosh.org.uk/about-nebosh

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