“Hope is not a method!” Gen. Gordon Sullivan, former chief of staff of the Army, coined this phrase in his 1996 best-selling book titled the same.
The Army, as well as all the services in the 1990s, was going through a transformation. Not only the way it fought, but more importantly, how its leaders thought in an environment that was volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. VUCA was a concept taught at and originating from my alma mater, the U.S. Army War College.
The study and prosecution of warfare was radically changing from the nation-state, set-piece, force-on-force, battle lines established by opposing forces characterized by the world wars, to the asymmetric, boundary-less, three-dimensional, criminal, lethal exploits committed by bad actors with zealot followings epitomized in the Middle East.
There was a lot of wishful thinking post-Vietnam, military leadership hoping our current doctrine was adaptable to the future fight. Sullivan’s point was hope, wanting something to happen and be true, is not a method…it doesn’t replace the hard work of strategizing, focusing, planning, visioning, team building and educating…all methods that lead your organization to greatness!
Our military thought leaders had to address VUCA and change old-school doctrine to a much more encompassing, agile, responsive, decision-making process that addressed and dominated the VUCA environment. In other words, our warfighters had to adapt, improvise and overcome in a radically different setting.
Business leaders and owners are confronted with the same environment: a marketplace that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, exacerbated by the velocity and volume of information (V2). If a business leader doesn’t have the will, capacity and capability to adapt to and improvise in this relatively new VUCA x V2 setting, chances of long-term business survival are slim. As Sullivan says, how you dominate in the marketplace is by investing in the hard work of strategizing, focusing, planning, visioning, team building, and most importantly, educating.
A new threat came upon our shores more than a month ago and it has the potential to negatively impact many Santa Clarita Valley businesses — a threat likely not planned for and asymmetric in its attack. It meets all the conditions of VUCA x V2 and once the viral wave passes, many businesses will have suffered significant loss, if not mortality, because they panicked and hoped instead of planned and acted: hoped the coronavirus would go away; hoped the coronavirus would not be contracted in their workplace; hoped the coronavirus would not impact the different sectors that either bought services or products from them, or the customers who consume them; hoped the government would bail them out.
There is a much better, rational way to address the coronavirus and that’s to lead, think, plan, and act! The business world has changed once again. Time to rethink the entirety of your business, from lenders, investors, suppliers, employees, customers and stakeholders. Time to plan on how your business will adapt and improvise to dominate in this transformed business environment. And, it’s time to lead, think, plan and act, not delay, not procrastinate, not hesitate, but lead and act, regaining control and certainty.
First and foremost, communicate with your employees, customers and various stakeholders. Be positive and accepting of the facts as we know them today. Recognize the business environment has changed and you can’t hope the change away. You’ve got to adapt and improvise the way you do business, internally and externally. Don’t stop marketing and selling, but do reassure your customers that you’re open for business now and will be in the future, because you have a rock-solid plan to get through this.
Finally, don’t panic, but plan and use common sense and most of all, compassion. Lead, think, plan and act. Let’s get after it!
Paul Raggio is a certified business coach and Valencia resident.