Managing business under VUCA conditions

When one thinks of Covid-19, one immediately associates its impact as VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. The acronym VUCA was first introduced in the late 1980s by leadership theorists Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, however, it became more commonly used since 2002 as the rapid advances in technology created an ever-changing business landscape.

The world assumed future disruption in the world of work would be technological and were blind-sided by the blow which the global pandemic wrought on economies.

There can be no denying the devastating impact on business that the global pandemic continues having. Some sectors have been decimated, people are losing income – and jobs, and there is no knowing when normalcy will return. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that Covid-19 could cost as many as 195 million jobs in the short term and continued ripple effects will likely entrench long-term economic impact.

South Africa is no different. Initial lockdown hit the economy hard, but relief schemes such as the C19 TERS from UIF helped to cushion some of the blows felt by businesses and their employees. But, as the second and third wave hits harder than anticipated, relief funds have all but dried up, and complete vaccine delivery seems a while away, businesses need to adjust to VUCA conditions on a longer-term basis.


Marketplace instability fuelled by wave infection surges will make planning difficult. Changing lockdown levels, and the varying restrictions they inevitably bring will require organizations to operate in a constant state of flux. Businesses will need to maximize opportunities whilst mitigating risks, continually adjusting their service offerings, and operating models. Employees and employers alike will have to have new skills continually to cope.


Leaders will need to carefully consider how best to resource their businesses, managing the unknown. With labour as one of the highest costs in an organisation, the ability to link these expenses with income generation is critical for sustainability. Partnering with a compliant Temporary Employment Service (TES) provider offers the chance to bring in the right skills at the right time, adjusting manpower levels to meet fluctuating operational requirements.


The pandemic has forcibly sprung many organisations into the future of work. Leaders – and employees – are grappling with new ways of doing business. Re-negotiated terms of employment, including productivity-based ‘quasi employment’ models, have complicated compliance, administration, and expectation management.

Remote working has added further complexity to employee engagement, synchronous working, performance management, and a lack of visible role models has left some, especially youth, struggling to adjust to the new normal.


The lockdown conditions brought on by the pandemic have blurred boundaries, including what’s work and what’s home. For some, remote working has meant being ‘always on’ and resulted in far longer hours of work. For others, the demands of the family and homeschooling, lack of contact with colleagues, or the structure of an office, has created additional strain and had a knock-on impact on productivity. And, until ‘new rules’ broad enough to accommodate the myriad of different work-from-home scenarios are introduced, individuals and their managers will continue to operate in a state of increased stress.

“TES providers have long managed diverse employment models,” says the Confederation of Associations in the Private Employment Sector (CAPES), “and offer organisations the opportunity to find flexible, fit-for-purpose solutions within a VUCA landscape. Key to success is choosing a workforce management partner that provides trusted advice, and fully compliant service offerings.”