Guest blog by Mark Harris
CrisisFit® Crisis Management Lead

Going into freefall is used to express a rapid descent in several things, most commonly parachuting. To manage the expectations of any sport enthusiasts who expect to read about the thrill and excitement of freefall parachuting, this is not a read for you.

Freefall is not widely associated in crisis management, either at a professional level or at a personal one. When this is the case, the team or individual either has to work very hard to resolve the issue,  or appears to be losing control of a situation.

In this context, freefall is what a lot of individuals are looking at from the point of view of their mental health and welfare. And the reason for this is simple – we are living in a significantly more uncertain time. We are dealing with a volatile and unpredictable world. But this is not a new phenomenon.

Towards the end of the 1980s, at a time of political transformation in the Soviet Union and the break-up of the Eastern Bloc, the US Army War College adopted a new approach to assist in defining strategy and managing their approach during this transitional period: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA). In time, VUCA proved itself successful and was subsequently incorporated into the curriculum at business schools.  It became an approach used in boardrooms and by executives in commercial enterprises.

Over the last two to three years, those involved in business here in the United Kingdom have seen VUCA as an academic theory brought to life.  This has been through a succession of events:  Brexit, Covid-19, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Never more so have volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity been omni-present when it comes to making business decisions.

However, is VUCA the preserve of the boardroom? In short, no. In the UK and beyond, everyone is facing the cost-of-living hikes prompted by a cumulation of factors but driven by the supply and demand of fuel.

The concept of VUCA is now impacting us all at a personal level daily: considerations and decisions relating to the cost of fuel; the ability to buy what we want to eat; the possibility of going on holiday; or re-thinking care plans for elderly members of the family or indeed children. And all of this against a seemingly consistent and depressing 24-hour news cycle. In our own right, we are all applying our own risk mitigation and crisis management strategies.

This situation brings us back to freefall.  The mental state some may find themselves in against everything, and the risk of potential freefall, is real, as people struggle with what is going on around them.

This freefall situation takes me to a lifelong piece of guidance I received when being taught how to climb: always maintain three points of contact on the rockface. Of our four limbs, at least three had to be in contact, or the risk and likelihood of falling is far greater.

When discussing this with those facing difficult decisions or trying to navigate a challenging environment, the four ‘limbs’ that make up a person are:

  • Work
  • Social life
  • Family
  • Character or upbringing based on religion/ideology and their educational experience.

With VUCA confronting us at a personal level, all four elements, or ‘limbs’, are challenged, and an individual is fearful of losing one or more of those three points of contact.

Senior management in organisations will be aware of this and, most likely, feeling it themselves too. So what can organisations do to support staff and ensure that by investing in them, you are still getting the best of their effort in these challenging times?

As well as any initiative that may be offered by government departments, organisations can promote and support staff welfare, and assist with advice. This is not an exhaustive list of considerations or ideas, but the following could be considered:

  • Open-door policy with executives and managers so they can be aware of issues and open to discussing them.
  • Internal communication campaigns to help staff exchange pertinent information, e.g. car-pooling, mental health buddy schemes, money-saving tips, staff social gatherings, competitions.
  • Engaging with not-for-profit organisations to host on-site clinics, webinars, or on-demand training modules to assist with issues impacting staff, e.g. financial planning and debt management.
  • Engaging with occupational health providers.
  • Engaging with wellbeing and fitness professionals.

By investing now in practical and relevant support to your staff during these volatile, uncertain, complex, and often ambiguous times, you will help mitigate the risk of freefall and future-proof your organisation and staff, as well as discharge your employer duty of care. By building and supporting personal resilience in your staff, you will enhance your organisational resilience. All of this will contribute to ensuring that when the wider economic and geopolitical landscape improves, you will have an organisation and people who are crisis fit at a personal level and better prepared to thrive and strive.

Photo Credit: Lane Smith, UnSplash

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