Navigating Rapid Change and Unpredictability in the Modern Workplace


Kendal Drew and Helen Holan are the directors of Strategic Career Management Pty Ltd, the WA recipient (Organisation) of the 2021 CDAA Division Awards for Excellence in Practice. They have developed and delivered multiple programs that incorporate a values-centred approach to career conversations, job application and careers reflection.

The term VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) has been in use since pre-2014. The past two years of the pandemic has only served to emphasise that change is an unremitting reality of the world in which we live.

In terms of career development, the volatility and change – particularly in terms of business and careers - has presented an opportunity to our profession to assist individuals and organisations in navigating change and responding to a fast-moving work/life environment.

One positive outcome has been an increased awareness of career management as a specific field of expertise – which has resulted in more funding from state and federal governments to deliver high quality services through a range of programs from upskilling teachers in WA as career development professionals, to the delivery of telephone services to youth by highly qualified practitioners.

As independent, purpose driven, private practitioners, a responsive and innovative approach to the delivery of our services is built into our organisational DNA. The past two years have certainly seen us double down in delivering results that are responsive to the changing needs of our clients. This has resulted in creating new ways of supporting our clients and delivering services. While there have been challenges, we have also been afforded opportunities to increase our reach through the use of digital technologies and offered assistance to a much wider audience.

Volatility has been pre-eminent. Through remaining responsive to external forces and devoting resources to preparedness, we have invested in a range of tools and mediums through which to offer our services (e.g. online consultations, online team workshops, tools and presentations, with an ability to switch from one medium to another e.g. face-to-face to online – seamlessly and with little to no notice).

Uncertainty has required us to invest in information. In our profession, we’re trained to collect, interpret and share information to ensure we provide optimal information and assistance to our clients (both individuals and organisations). This is a muscle we’ve been keeping toned for some time; however, the speed and variety of information has increased throughout the pandemic and has required sophisticated interpretation to ensure high quality translations for our audience.

Complexity has raised the challenge for organisations to restructure, bring in specialists and build up resources to address the complexity. Due to the complexity of the employment sphere, the skills and insights of career development professionals have come into the spotlight and we’ve seen our services be more highly valued within organisations.  

Ambiguity has required us to be brave and experiment. We have looked at cause and effect and generated a range of hypotheses, been brave in promoting and testing them with our business partners, learning lessons and applying those learnings in new ways.

In navigating the rapid pace of change and unpredictability, we have been focusing on working with clients to do the same within their own spheres, through recognising their values and defining their authentic purpose.  

Having a sound picture of one’s values, purpose and meaning serves as a secure foundation throughout the changing external forces. Regardless of the situation, environment or change, an ability to tap into individual anchor-points can assist our clients to re-orient themselves and identify a path beyond current conflicts/challenges towards outcomes that will be both personally and professionally rewarding.  

In building their storytelling skills, they recognise their accomplishments and growth areas and can set themselves up for success moving forward. The more they know about themselves and the situation, the better they are able to predict the results of their own actions.

Helping individuals authentically express work values

We’ve been educating people on how to speak from a place of authenticity, communicate their values and identify how they reflect those of the organisation.

A major project has had us working with internal applicants within a large organisation undergoing significant cultural change, where values are central to their recruitment process and organisational development. We helped applicants demonstrate their alignment with organisational values throughout the application process, particularly in written applications and interviews.

Applicants often feel confused and challenged in finding their authentic voice. Faced with the task of responding to values-based or values-embedded selection criteria or interview questions, many feel uncomfortable and counterfeit.

This challenge has two roots. First, applicants believe they need to throw buzzwords into their applications to hit the mark. Second, they have difficulty articulating their personal values and identifying how these drive their attitudes, actions and ultimate outcomes. 

Taking a three-step, person-centred approach, we support applicants to:

  • elicit their own personally held values
  • identify the link between the values and how these drive their behaviours and workplace outcomes through storytelling
  • establish a link between their own values and those of the organisation in language that feels authentic for them

Ultimately, identifying workplace values increases a person’s understanding of how their actions, attitudes and behaviours are driven by these values. This leads to increased ability to communicate the qualitative elements of their unique stories. This starting point builds capacity to outline the rationale for decisions made, actions taken and their personal approach to overcoming challenges. 

From here, clients can better demonstrate their uniqueness in even highly structured or process-oriented work environments where previously they believed there was little opportunity to differentiate themselves.

The depth and richness of the stories, the level of detail shared and the angle from which the stories are told are personal, interesting, value-laden and allow people to stand in their own space to describe what they did, why they did it and how it made a difference.

This helps improve confidence in identifying career focus, applying motivated behaviour to closing any knowledge gaps, and in facing the selection process. Our participants overwhelmingly found this person-centred approach liberating and confidence building, leading to highly personalised, targeted and effective career planning, building their personal tool-box for navigating a VUCA world.

From an organisation’s perspective the benefits are manifold. Organisations that build on aligned values ensure a workforce with a stronger connection, increased commitment and loyalty. This contributes positively to building happier, more productive and committed workforces. The challenges faced by modern employment landscape will require businesses to build workforce capability and offer workplaces that value the whole person and commit to building capacity to ensure retention.