Now and again, a term comes along that captures the zeitgeist so perfectly that it becomes part of our vocabulary. VUCA was one such term. Standing for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, VUCA first came to prominence in the 1980s and has remained relevant ever since – until now that is.
Over recent years, our world has changed so significantly that VUCA no longer seems sufficient. Instead, we’ve entered a new period described as BANI – brittle, anxious, nonlinear and incomprehensible. Below, I break down what this means for procurement professionals and how they can respond and thrive in this new environment.
We’ve typically treated many aspects of our business landscape as reliable, and expected certain things to remain the same. However, this expectation is weakening by the day. A major global health pandemic, swings in international economies and commodity prices, and breakdowns in international supply chains highlight that the business environment is far less robust and more brittle than we previously assumed.
How can procurement people operate in this brittle environment? By demonstrating huge flexibility. Leaders need to be malleable for themselves and their teams. Proactively planning can help manage perceived risks, but leaders must be prepared to deal with the unimaginable.
If we view the world from a psychological lens, we realize that many aspects of the world are less stable and predictable than we thought. Cost inflation at rates that haven’t been seen for generations, major supply shortages impacting entire supply chains, currency inflation and wars are making us feel helpless and overwhelmed. Today, people feel less in control of their lives and businesses – which can induce high anxiety levels.
To thrive in a BANI world, organizations must do more than have good plans and systems in place. Procurement leaders must be aware of the pressures their teams are under, juggling work demands and personal obligations. Leaders need to make sure they’ve built a strong support network, equipping their teams to deal with the world around them. An important part of this is ensuring they have the latest skills to help them operate successfully in today’s changeable environment.
As we know, we do not live in a traditional and straightforward world. Cause and effect no longer apply to many situations, which can sometimes make long-term planning difficult, if not impossible. Mathematically, we would input data into a system that generates predicted outcomes to help us strategically plan. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make accurate predictions – considering the climate crisis or disruptions in global inbound supply chains – there are no clear start or endpoints. Our existing technology is not sufficiently sophisticated to enable us to predict and plan the future. Too many major global variables interact with each other and interfere with our predictions’ results.
Ultimately, this means that what happens in the future will quite likely not only be different from what you predicted, but it may even be something that you never imagined could happen!
The result of the three terms above is incomprehension. We can see and experience what is happening, but it’s challenging to make sense of it until after it’s happened.
Although structure brings mental clarity, professionals need to be tolerant of ambiguity and hone leadership skills to cope with it. Exuding a sense of calm through stormy waters will lower anxieties and help team members focus on overcoming the challenges at hand. Leaders also need to lead by example when dealing with key suppliers. These relationships must remain collaborative so that both teams pull together for mutual benefit next time the whip comes down.
Mastering procurement takes years of training and experience. It’s not enough to have tools; professionals need to know how and when to use them. Even for experienced procurement professionals, the waters get rough, but this is when procurement training is a lifeline. The right training can help professionals navigate uncharted territory and return their organizations to safer shores. Explore Skill Dynamics’ procurement training here.