Managing Uncertainty in a Time of Chaos and Shifting Realities

Confusion Diagram Shows Direction Or OptionsManaging Uncertainty

Change is inevitable, and it arrives from many sources. Last week, those in the United Kingdom, the European countries, and most places across the world felt a wave of uncertainty as the Brexit measure passed in the UK. This left governments, businesses and individuals with many uncertainties about jobs, trade, regulations and many other areas. This one event is precipitating uncertainty across the globe.

Closer to home, uncertainty is a huge issue in technology-heavy places like Silicon Valley, where many have worked for a company that has been acquired, re-organized, or perhaps just ceased operations.

We all face what I call the dysfunction of transition, the chaotic time of moving from one reality to the next. Individuals make a choice of letting the future happen to them, or participating in the co-creation of the future. Those who worry about protecting the past will likely find themselves on the wrong side of history. Those who help co-create the future also help find their place in the future.

As leaders we can help our team when facing uncertainty. Here are 4 practices that I redouble in times of uncertainty and ask of the leaders and managers in my organization:

  1. Keep moving – Manage deadlines and priorities. Uncertainty does not mean that things stop. Leaders must manage to deadlines with great vigilance in times of uncertainty because even the best employees start second guessing what is important. In less stressful times, it might only be necessary to reach an agreement, and the staff will go off and do what they have committed to. In times of stress, people get distracted and miss deadlines and let other responsibilities, like maintaining good customer or partner relationships, suffer. Unless a company is closing its doors, those partners and customers are part of the new future, and it is important to remind people that the best future is one that arrives from a strong present.
  2. Increase communication among the management team. It is very important that the management team be on the same page and deliver consistent messages. In times of uncertainty, knowing the right thing to say can be difficult, and just making a statement from experience may not result in the best statement to share with a team or individual. The management team needs to discuss any questions that aren’t clear and come to a consensus about how to answer those questions consistently. Managers need to look to each other to keep their own issues with uncertainty in check, and to shore up their personal safe guards in order to avoid making the already difficult situation of change into something negative.Businesspeople sitting at the table during a meeting in office
  3. Create as many learning opportunities as you can. One of the drivers of fear in the face of uncertainty comes from being too routine, or too personally connected to a particular skill or discipline. Most businesses give people opportunities to stretch their experiences, learn new areas and challenge themselves. I find that those who do this are much less fearful of uncertainty because they know they can align with whatever happens. Instead of wasting time worrying about what might happen, take that worry time and focus it on learning.
  4. Listen, console and coach. Not everyone has been through major changes in their lives or careers—and some don’t deal with change well, even if they have been through this before. Managers need to recognize this and make maintaining a cohesive, engaged and productive organization their priority. That means listening to people, coaching them through transitions and reminding them of priorities. Sometimes it may mean consoling them because something they believe is important is going away, be it a technology or a process, or perhaps a colleague. Good managers are at their best when they help the people who rightly or wrongly perceive themselves as facing the most risk, work their way through the transition.

It is important that we see change as a learning opportunity.

It is important that we see change as a learning opportunity. I learn something new about myself, my organization, about the world, every time change occurs. It is important for me to pass along this love for learning to my management team and to the entire organization, as I believe that only by actively learning from change do we find a way to face it without fear.