VUCA Now, VUCA Forever: Four Key Takeaways From Signature 2022 to Navigate Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity in HR

Author(s): Karen Mann

Looking back on the theme of McLean & Company’s last pre-pandemic Signature conference, “Working in a VUCA World,” I have to chuckle. In the fall of 2019, we thought things were already VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). We had no idea what was to come: the pandemic, lockdowns and quarantines, social upheavals, and so much more. If there’s been a silver lining to the past few years, it is that the importance of employee experience – and HR functions as a whole – have been recognized. It’s safe to say the way we approach nearly every area of HR has evolved more in the last two-and-a-half years than it had in the previous ten.

Last week, we were thrilled to have many of our members join us in Toronto for our in-person Signature 2022 conference, that focused on HR trends and how HR can help shape workplaces where everyone thrives. We were fortunate to have so many talented HR leaders openly share their learning and successes, as well as their challenges and recommendations. And that’s not all; our own McLean analysts also shared the latest research and, as is the McLean way, shared practical tips for applying the research in the workplace.

Reflecting on Signature 2022, the four main themes I took away were:

1. Chart the Course With Purpose

  • Articulate or revisit a clear organizational purpose, as that was key to successfully navigating the VUCA waters over the last few years for many organizations. Use that purpose to chart the course of HR, and even the company.
  • Develop and integrate a shared common language to bring people together and help focus them in the same direction.
  • Clearly communicate organizational values and expected behaviors, hold leaders accountable as role models, and exit leaders who are unable or unwilling to demonstrate the expected behaviors.

2. Lean Into Discomfort to Move the Organization Forward

  • Start now to plan for the “Grey Rhinos” a.k.a major, highly probable threats (Michele Wucker, 2016), that may seem overwhelming and need to be tackled on many different fronts.
  • Take personal risks as an ally to make the workplace more inclusive. In the words of one panelist, focus on “Progress over PR” – allyship should never be performative.
  • Address the ongoing burnout pandemic by thinking and acting differently at a systemic level versus solely treating the symptoms of burnout.

3. Be Transparent and Focus on Communication

  • Use open communication as a way for leaders to hold themselves accountable for next steps and culture change.
  • Meet employees’ expectations around transparency, even when it might feel risky to do so.
  • Communicate with transparency, honesty, and vulnerability, even (and especially) when you don’t have all the answers – and let’s face it, in a VUCA world, we rarely do!
  • Actively seek out employees’ perspectives and train managers to do so as well.

4. Actively Develop and Communicate Career Opportunities

  • Recognize that people aren’t just leaving organizations because they’re not advancing in their careers, but also because they’re not developing skills or aren’t using the skills they have on the job.
  • Find ways to make career, project, skill development, and other learning opportunities more visible and open to all employees, such as through initiatives like Internal Talent Marketplaces.
  • View alumni as a source of both ambassadorship and great talent, which can mean celebrating employee departures, maintaining connections, and leaving the door open to return.
  • Move beyond a hyper focus on existing skills when hiring. Hire for things you cannot develop (e.g. ability to learn) and implement a targeted skills development path during onboarding and beyond.

There’s no question that we’re still living in a VUCA world. No one has all the answers. However, as Nadim Kara, CHRO of Canada Post, shared with attendees in his closing remarks, “[HR] may not get it perfect, but we can lead the change.”

As you chart your course for this year and the years to follow, McLean & Company is here to help with research, diagnostics, training, and advice. Reach out to your Account Manager or Jon Campbell ( to get started on your next HR initiative.

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