VUCA & How Digital Signage Can Help

EPISODE 122 | Guest: Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix

In this episode, we look at how business leaders and communicators can prepare for and react to the real and perceived effects of VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. To meet these challenges, they need to be diligent, flexible and adaptable at speed.

A good digital signage system can be an extremely valuable tool for delivering real-time, targeted and motivating communications to employees, stakeholders and the organization as a whole. Join us as we explore how digital signage can help you adapt, communicate and lead with agility in a VUCA world, where change is constant, and uncertainty is the only certainty.

  • Learn the origin of VUCA and why it should matter to you
  • Understand why flexibility, adaptability and speed are crucial
  • Hear four reasons digital signage is a great tool in a VUCA environment
  • Explore how to combat VUCA with Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility
  • Get content ideas to combat each of the four VUCA attributes

Subscribe to this podcast: Podbean | Spotify | Apple Podcasts | YouTube | RSS

Get more communications advice in our Free Guide: Digital Signage Communications Planning


Derek DeWitt: In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, leaders have to be prepared to navigate an environment characterized by VUCA, which is an acronym that stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. To do this, they need to be equipped with the right tools and strategies to communicate effectively with their teams, their customers and stakeholders. Digital signage is one such tool that can help. And to talk about that, I’m here today with Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix. Hi Deb.

Debbie DeWitt: Hi Derek. How are you today?

Derek DeWitt: I’m pretty good. Ready to talk about some VUCA?

Debbie DeWitt: Absolutely!

Derek DeWitt: VUCA, I love that term. Thanks for listening to this episode of Digital Signage Done Right. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the podcast, you can review the podcast wherever you listen to it and on IMDB, and you can follow along with a full transcript of the conversation on the Visix website. Just go to, resources, podcasts.

So, VUCA, yet another acronym in the business world. Oh, good. So let’s get into it. What is VUCA? It’s a term that was coined by the US Army War College in the 1990s to describe the Post-Cold War era. (Note: There is an alternative origin for VUCA here.)

Debbie DeWitt: Yes. But since then, it’s become a term in the business world like so many things that were military that get adopted into the business world. And it’s really about leaders wrestling with the impact of globalization, technological disruptions, and social and political change. It affects all levels of strategy. But for this discussion, we really wanna focus on how managers can communicate with VUCA in mind.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. So the easiest way to tease out the meaning of an acronym is to look at each of its items. So let’s look at these four things. Volatility is the V, which means in this context, the speed and magnitude of change are rapid and unpredictable.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I think we can all agree with that.

Derek DeWitt: Uncertainty, the lack of predictability that volatility brings, and the difficulty of anticipating future events.

Debbie DeWitt: I think we see this a lot in society right now.

Derek DeWitt: Complexity, the interconnectivity of systems and the multiplicity of factors that influence outcomes.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, and like you said, I think each one of these builds on the one that came before.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And the last one is ambiguity. Because of the lack of clarity and the presence of multiple, often conflicting interpretations of events, things get a little fuzzy.

Debbie DeWitt: And this is where leaders really have to deal with this challenge because all of those different things come together. And like they say, sometimes the answers are conflicting, so you have to make the best choice.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Obviously you can see why executives might pay attention to this VUCA stuff, but what does this have to do with like directly managing teams?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, good management and good communications are all about knowing your audience, as we say all of the time. You have to know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling and what they need. So you have to think about how VUCA is affecting your employees, students, clients, visitors, whomever you’re communicating with, because it can make people feel anxious and overwhelmed. It can make them uncertain about the future of their organization and more importantly, their future relationship with that organization.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Yeah. People get very nervous all the time. You know this. Like in a town hall meeting when the boss thinks, hey, I’ll be transparent and starts talking about the financials, and there’s only somebody in the crowd who’s going, does this mean I’m gonna get fired?

Debbie DeWitt: Always, always. Yeah. Absolutely. Definitely explain those stats. Yeah. And that’s the thing. It can sap motivation, which can affect employees career trajectories. They don’t know if they’re gonna be there, they don’t know if they’re gonna get that promotion. And it can paralyze decision making and innovation, you know, at all levels. And that jeopardizes long-term projects and strategies. And all of that takes its toll on internal culture, job satisfaction and bottom line productivity.

Derek DeWitt: So, I think people would look at this list and think, well, I can’t prepare for all these unknowns because they’re unknowns. But that’s not true, is it?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, I think to some extent you can prepare. I mean, obviously you can’t know the future, but you can put processes in place that will, you know, mitigate the effects as threats or events materialize. And leaders need to constantly monitor those VUCA challenges. You know, they’re not always the same thing. It’s not something you do in January and then leave it alone. So if you’re constantly looking at those, when they manifest in the real world, managers and communicators need to react very quickly.

Derek DeWitt: Right. So this isn’t really a how to methodology. This is more of a mindset (yeah) than any kind of a workflow. It’s about being flexible and adaptable at speed as things change around you.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And at speed is the key phrase there. And the biggest challenge is people who are resistant to change, which, you know, is the biggest challenge for a lot of things in business. You have to have a mindset and a culture that’s ready to meet unpredictable VUCA events. You know, you need to be flexible. You have to meet those events head on in a timely manner because it’s all changing really fast.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I think that’s true for any organization. If you have people or organizational structures that are rigid, resistant to change, you just can’t meet challenges effectively. It’s like, you know, the old cliche metaphor is like trying to turn a cruise ship, turn the Titanic in time to avoid that iceberg. You know, it’s a big heavy monster and it takes a long time to move it. They’re not agile.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Being agile, being flexible, not having silos, all of that’s really important. And collaboration, participation, democratization, things we talk about all the time on here, they’re really important. But even more so for leadership and communications within that VUCA context.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. So let’s shift to communications. Since speed and flexibility are everything, traditional communication channels, by that I mean like intranets, emails and so on, maybe these aren’t great options for conveying timely, relevant, up-to-date information to employees and stakeholders. And this is where digital signage comes in.

Debbie DeWitt: Absolutely. In the context of VUCA, digital signage has several advantages, and I will list them for you now because I do love lists.

Derek DeWitt: <Laugh.> That’s true.

Debbie DeWitt: So, the first one is realtime communications. Digital signage lets you communicate with your audience in real time, and that’s critical in a VUCA environment where the speed of change is very rapid.

The second thing is dynamic messaging. Obviously your content management system lets you update messages quickly and easily. And again, we’re talking about speed, so that’s essential when info can quickly become outdated.

The third is that you can target your communications. You know, you can tailor your messages to specific audiences where your different stakeholders may have different information needs.

And the last one, and maybe most important, is the visual impact. Digital signage attracts more attention and has better recall rates than any other medium that we’ve found so far anyways. And we process visuals faster than text. So you can convey complex information or complex threats or events, and that’s the easiest way for people to understand them and remember them.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. So let’s drill down to some of the specific areas where you can use digital signage for VUCA communications. Obviously we’re using the word threat here. So the first one that comes to my mind is, is crisis management and alerts, right?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Digital signage shows alerts and other important messages during some kind of unfolding crisis, like, I don’t know, a natural disaster or a weather emergency, which seems to be happening more and more these days.

Debbie DeWitt: Yep.

Derek DeWitt: Hmm. I wonder why. Digital signage obviously is great for this. You can display evacuation routes, safety instructions, updates on the situation, which in turn reduces confusion and panic and, and helps make sure that everybody remains as safe as they can.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. And our digital signage software has alert capabilities and it lets you override all the screens in your system or you can just pick like one location. Like you were talking about a weather event, so just Austin, Texas or something to show alerts and instructions. So that’s a great example of how digital signage can help you react quickly. But VUCA is also a long-term thing, you know, it’s around all the time. So day-to-day communications are really important.

Derek DeWitt: Right. In the VUCA world, we’ll call it, it’s more important than ever to keep employees motivated and engaged in what’s going on so that they can react and be flexible. One way to keep people engaged is by displaying recognition and appreciation messages for top performers in the organization, or highlighting employee achievements, their birthdays and anniversaries. I know that seems like small beans, but people do really appreciate that stuff. And sharing important company news and updates, just keeping people in the loop. Digital signage is great for all this.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. I mean, it helps create a sense of transparency and community, which in turn fosters a positive work culture. But you have to work constantly and consistently to counter the uncertainty and the anxiety your employees might be feeling. And of course, you know, ’cause you’ve written a lot of it, we have a ton of advice on our website about how digital signage can help with employee engagement. So I’d suggest you dive into those resources for more details.

Derek DeWitt: Right. I’d imagine data visualizations also play a big part in communicating with employees in this way. Every organization has just a ton of data available, and if employees wade through too much of that stuff or the information becomes outdated or isn’t accurate, it can actually add to the stress.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. You have to keep those real time. ‘Cause as we talked about with VUCA, the whole point is that things change rapidly. So digital signage can help by showing KPIs, real-time analytics and other data in an easily digestible format with charts and visuals. You never wanna throw a bunch of rows and columns of text on the screen. You know, we all want a pie chart. Please show us the pie chart.

Derek DeWitt: We like pie. Everybody likes pie.

Debbie DeWitt: Who doesn’t like pie? If you don’t like pie, I don’t trust you.

Derek DeWitt: <Laugh>

Debbie DeWitt: And most enterprise digital signage systems include some data integration tools. So, you know, we talk about this a lot, which is auto-updating content. You set up those data visualizations once and then they update automatically as that data changes. And that can be, you know, honestly every hour.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Or I mean every 10 minutes if you’re weird.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Most systems, uh, have a minimum of something like 15 minutes to refresh, but I mean, 15 minutes is a good increment.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Sure, sure.

Debbie DeWitt: So, if you do that, it means everyone has the most recent information, which helps your teams make better decisions, and also, they can take action more quickly.

Derek DeWitt: Right. I’d also think like career development and training is also important. You mentioned that as one of the VUCA effects. So as all of this change and flexibility is going on, you gotta keep employees up to date so that they have the latest skills and knowledge, not just in methodologies and what the current organizational protocols are, but even just they know how to use the most current form of the software they’re using, you know?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Like I talked about, all of these VUCA elements make people feel uncertain about the future of the organization and where do they fit in and what’s my career look like. Also, leadership generally is constantly changing the objectives and goals. So, retraining on those new goals and processes is super important. So, using digital signs can help by advertising and reinforcing those new goals. And you can also show things like training videos, quizzes, and other content that helps employees continuously learn and improve within that environment.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, I think that’s an important thing. I’m a big fan of continuous improvement and evaluation because I think a lot of times training gets kind of like, okay, we do it, we do it once, and then hey, we all know it, right? Even if the things that you’re doing aren’t changing too often or too rapidly, people have a lot going on in their heads and it really doesn’t hurt to at least make refreshing the procedures available to them so that they can take advantage of it if they so choose.

Debbie DeWitt: Well, that’s true. And like I said though, it’s not just refreshing on what you’ve been doing. The entire point of this conversation about VUCA is that things have changed. So as things change, you have to remember not only to be transparent and put that out to people, but also help them adapt to it. And that’s what training or certifications or even just team meetings can help with.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. Okay, so I’m a communications manager or the digital signage manager. What’s the takeaway for me? Now, this is a huge subject. So first off, I’d say, listeners, you should research and find out all you can about VUCA management. There’s a ton of stuff out there on the web, because this is one of the hot new buzzwords. But let’s just say that you want a quick guide on how you can consider VUCA when you’re designing messages and campaigns. Okay. So what should we know?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, it’s another list. I’m very excited, but it’s a quick list from a much longer article on the Mindtools website, and we’ll include a link in the transcript. And actually that article takes these tips from a book called Leaders Make the Future 10 New Leadership Skills For An Uncertain World by Bob Johansson. And we’ll put a link to that as well.

Derek DeWitt: Alright, so let’s just very quickly go through our short list of four items that you can keep in mind within the VUCA mindset.

Debbie DeWitt: So, the V in VUCA stands for volatility, and you wanna counter that with vision. So at the high levels of your organization, that means having a strong vision, mission and values, and clear objectives at the team level. So you need to build change and flexibility into that vision and instead of fearing it, embrace it.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And when you’re creating content, what this means is put up your mission statement. As you change it, put up the new version and maybe let people know, hey, this is what’s changed on here. So everybody knows, hey, we’re moving in a slightly different direction. We’ve done a little bit of a course correction.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And when we’re talking about clear objectives, that’s where showing those KPIs like progress to goals can really help.

Derek DeWitt: Mm-hmm. Sure. Okay, what’s second?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, the U in VUCA is uncertainty. So you wanna meet that with understanding. And that’s about gathering information and analytics. So you always have a clear picture of what’s happening. And of course with that, you need to invest in those systems to help you stay up to date. And you have to evaluate your performance within the greater environment and on a regular basis.

Derek DeWitt: When it comes to specific kinds of messages, what we’re talking about here is KPIs, progress towards goals, things like this. The more people understand, the less uncertainty there is to freak them out.

Debbie DeWitt: So, in this case, when we talk about understanding, we’re talking about gathering analytics, getting that data, looking at that data, and paying attention when it changes and communicating that out to everyone.

Derek DeWitt: So, the third letter in VUCA is complexity. What are we countering that with?

Debbie DeWitt: Well, in this one, and you notice these all start with the same letters. That’s very cute.

Derek DeWitt: I was gonna say we’re, we’re combating VUCA with VUCA.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly!

Derek DeWitt: Volatility with vision, uncertainty with understanding, complexity with…

Debbie DeWitt: Clarity.

Derek DeWitt: Hey!

Debbie DeWitt: So, this means you want to communicate clearly and obviously consistently with all of your stakeholders. And you need to be transparent and authentic in those communications. You want to encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing at the team level,

Derek DeWitt: Which, uh, yes, again, this is the same sort of messages of hey guys and gals, this is where we are, this is what we’re aiming towards. But also, the collaboration aspect is interesting because sometimes, you know, the digital signage manager doesn’t have to be the only person to create content.

And so, if it’s possible and feasible within your organization, you might consider opening it up and let other people also create content, which obviously goes through some kind of an approval process. And that adds to the sense of buy-in and collaboration and knowledge sharing. You can’t expect your digital signage manager to know everything that goes on in every department. You know, who knows that stuff? The people in those departments.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And I think this one really is a broader use of digital signage. When we talk about communicating clearly and consistently. That’s what digital signage is for.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And one way to really get across that clarity aspect is the way that you design them. And, we have tons and tons and tons of resources and design advice. You know, using not too much text, the 3×5 rule, having an engaging visual of some sort that reinforces your message. All of this helps people get the information that’s in that message very quickly and very clearly. You’re not doing yourself any favors if the messages that you’re putting up in order to clarify things are themselves unclear.

Debbie DeWitt: Absolutely. So, I don’t know if you can guess, but you fight ambiguity with agility.

Derek DeWitt: Ah!

Debbie DeWitt: So, there’s our A. This means promoting flexibility and adaptability in all aspects of the organization. It means you wanna recruit and nurture people who are comfortable and innovative within a VUCA environment. This is where we talked about being flexible. You can’t get people who are resistant to change. And anybody who does adapt well, you need to reward them for that performance.

Derek DeWitt: And I’d say that ties back in, too. Someone who is doing well, ’cause there are always gonna be people who are more or less, uh, comfortable with change and flexibility. Those who are comfortable with it can, you know, sort of peer teach the other people. Hey, this is what I did, this is how I did it.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. And taking it back to digital signage, this is where recognition comes in. If someone gets a certification, if someone gets an award. Again, we talked about birthdays and anniversaries, but really you can, you can call out day-to-day things. You know, I’ve mentioned this before. We have a shout-out form on our intranet. It’s just saying thank you. And say you’re doing that knowledge sharing, or say you just led a collaboration session, you can congratulate someone for that or take a look at what they came up with, you know, what those results were. And you can celebrate that on your screens.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And I’d also say, calling people out by name, you know, people do communicate with each other in, in offices and, and other types of environments. So if, you know, I see on the digital signs, Samir got some certification and I think to myself, hmm, that’s interesting. Maybe I’m interested in that. Who am I gonna go talk to Samir?

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. We’ve actually had that happen where someone gets a certification and we’ve had other employees come forward and say, can I get that certification? It makes you go, hey, someone just got a certification. I wonder what is out there for me that maybe I could, you know, either bolster my skillset or go for a certification or an award of some kind. Because you know, you’re busy doing your daily tasks, you see it up on a screen and you think, hey, I’m gonna take a look at this. It’s a good reminder.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And I’d say the real thing here is just like VUCA is a mindset, I think flexibility and agility is also a mindset. You have to just get people used to it. Humans get very into patterns, which can very quickly become ruts. And you have to constantly remind us to sort of fight against that base nature that we have as well. I just kind of get into this routine. But I don’t want you to be in a certain kind of a routine. I want you to do your tasks, I want you to get everything accomplished, but I also need you to be mentally agile enough to be able to shift as need be. Make it seem exciting and fun instead of, you know, oh God, now I have a new task, which is I have to be agile as well.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. I mean, routine is necessary. Routine is necessary for people to get their jobs done. So, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just like you said, being flexible that when that routine changes. Or what we’re talking about is you may have a routine, but the outside world is going to intrude on this organization in some way. And so if leaders are adapting to it, then you have to as well.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah.

Debbie DeWitt: But now, you know, the whole point was what can we say to digital signage managers, or I’d say any employee in a VUCA environment. You know, use this new VUCA, which is vision, understanding clarity and agility.

Derek DeWitt: All right. So that’s a brief overview of VUCA – VUCA one and VUCA two, we might say. Or VUCA danger and VUCA solution.

Debbie DeWitt: Good VUCA and bad VUCA? I don’t know. I think it’s a boss fight.

Derek DeWitt: It’s a boss fight between the two VUCAs. And we gave you a few examples of how digital signage can help you communicate within that sort of VUCA world. As I said at the top, business landscapes continue to evolve and as a result, flexibility, it really is, it’s just becoming more and more important. And I think as the 21st century progresses, we’re gonna see that this is even more the case. The companies, organizations, even universities that succeed are the ones who can adapt on the fly to the ever-changing environment.

Debbie DeWitt: Yep. You gotta roll with it.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, you do indeed. And honestly, digital signage is not just a responsive tool for communicating, engaging and adapting to change. Right now, I think it’s the tool to use.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. You’re not gonna engage and keep people up to date with, you know, a hundred emails a day.

Derek DeWitt: No, that’s for sure. All right. Well, I’d like to thank Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix, for talking to me about VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, and how to fight it with VUCA – Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility.

Thanks Deb. Interesting stuff.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Always happy to be here.

Derek DeWitt: And again, I’d like to thank everybody out there for listening and remind you that there is a transcript with very helpful links on the Visix website.