Uncertainty Has Internal Sources Too

When we think about working in a VUCA world, we often focus on changes outside the organization. What we do on the inside, though, can have an even bigger effect.

Uncertainty is an aspect of VUCA that can make your life difficult. While a lot of uncertainty comes from the world around us, we also create a lot of that uncertainty ourselves. That means we can also have more control over reducing it.

Where does internal uncertainty come from?


Every time there is a major change in the nature of the organization – such as mergers and acquisitions, rebranding, or the launching of a new type of product (such as when Apple got into the business of selling smartphones) – people start to wonder what the core purpose of the organization is.

We see this a lot now as companies talk about a “digital transformation.” A lot of employees are left wondering how that’s going to impact them.


Similarly, any time we reorganize our internal structure, people are unsure of how that will affect the job they do. They may end up worrying that they won’t even have a job. When I have taught workshops before on change management, one of the biggest concerns I hear is from people wondering if their jobs are about to go away.

When you reorganize, people are often unsure what they are supposed to do, and how the changes affect their future.


The social culture in which you operate can affect the amount of uncertainty in your organization. For example, if communication is limited – maybe leaders don’t feel they need to explain things to their juniors, maybe employees are afraid to ask questions, maybe nobody wants to tell a client “we can’t do that” – then people are left wondering about why certain things are happening. They may create unrealistic expectations because they don’t have accurate information.

So, consider how your social culture and organizational culture might be creating more uncertainty.


Every time someone new comes into a leadership role, employees wonder what is going to change. New leaders may have their own priorities and plans. They may have been hired specifically to make changes. It’s also possible that they won’t actually be very good leaders.

The longer that employees have to wonder about that, the more their uncertainty increases.


One of the most common sources of uncertainty in any organization is all the policies and processes that people do not understand. it could be something as simple as filing travel expenses, or more complex like your sales approach to new clients. When people are not sure how to do things, they either do them wrong, or just don’t do them.

One thing to consider as a leader is that, just because you understand how something works, or you understand why we do things the way we do, you should not assume that everyone understands. That’s often not the case.


Finally, one thing that gets a lot of people concerned is their future career. Not knowing what a possible career path looks like can leave people unsure about what they should do to advance their career. They may even wonder if they should stay at the organization or go elsewhere. Employees end up confused and demoralized when they do not understand what it takes to get promoted or even what career options exist.

Career paths keep changing as technology and the marketplace change. You can create a lot of uncertainty and anxiety if you fail to keep up with those changes.

There are plenty of things in the marketplace that create uncertainty. Customers’ preferences change without warning, and new technology can make you obsolete. With all of that happening in the outside world, why would you want to create even more uncertainty internally when you don’t have to?