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Lynne Rutherford’s views on VUCA

Lynne Rutherford, Brambles Group Vice President Learning and Development, shares her views with us on VUCA and how this has impacted on her people agenda

How have leadership skills and competencies changed in Brambles over the last 10 years?

In the 10 years I have been with the organisation we have moved significantly from putting a premium on expert knowledge and a deep understanding of the supply chain (all still important), to valuing leaders and potential leaders who are demonstrating a deep awareness of self, resilience, and learning agility, i.e. being able to adapt quickly to new and constantly changing circumstances impacting on our business. We need leaders who are constantly learning, with a broad perspective on the world in which we live and work.

How has VUCA impacted on your people agenda?

We have seen increased competition, huge changes in technology affecting the way we operate, and a change in the macro environment. As a result, the way we assess and develop our talent has changed as we need not only professionals with outstanding technical skills, we also need leaders who think differently, who have the courage to challenge the status quo, and bring innovative thinking into the organisation. To quote Marshall Goldmith, “what got you here won’t get you there” – and this sums up where we are right now when thinking about our future leadership qualities.

What development initiatives have you put in place to cope with the VUCA world we operate in?

In our Talent Review sessions we have been educating our senior leaders on the concept of learning agility and comfort with ambiguity, so that when we are discussing future leaders we are not only judging on performance, but on potential. This feeds into various leadership development programmes at all levels. Practical examples include having sessions on Disruptors (I like to call these sessions “where are the Gorillas?”), as this puts any leadership development into the context of the VUCA world. We also have been running a programme for high potential leaders since 2013 where we have challenged their mental models through exposure to anything from Shakespeare to a horse whisperer! Assessment and coaching are key components of all of our development programmes, as self-knowledge is key to development.

How do you see these initiatives changing in the future?

The first thing we need to do is agree a new leadership model. This is not about change for change’s sake, its about adapting to the world around us, and ensuring that we are equipping our leaders through assessment and development to take our organisation into an increasingly complex, demanding and uncertain future.

How much of your leadership development is focused on preparing leaders for the VUCA world compared with other leadership challenges they face?

I think most challenges our leaders face right now are as a result for the VUCA environment. By giving our leaders a better understanding of who they are and what they stand for, we are equipping them for current and future challenges. Technical expertise is no longer enough, leaders need to learn to let go of the myth that they have to have all the answers. Having the ability to know and trust their teams (who are probably sitting on some really good answers) will make them more effective leaders.

What will VUCA be replaced with?

This is a great question. It’s almost a pity we have labelled it as VUCA as it starts to look like another “fad”. What will be the next big thing? More VUCA, probably as a result of technology that we haven’t even dreamed of yet!

Brambles is a supply-chain logistics company operating in more than 60 countries worldwide. Lynne is a talent management and learning and development professional with deep experience in executive and leadership development and career counselling, coaching, high potential assessment and development, recruitment and succession management. She has lived and worked in South Africa, Belgium and the UK, is fluent in French and Afrikaans, with reading fluency in Dutch. She has worked in Retail, Banking, Insurance, and Supply Chain solutions.

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