5 Tips to Manage through Uncertainty

Today many organisations are in a constant state of change. It’s difficult to avoid, and may come from the external environment as well as major internal structural upheaval. The problem faced by many managers, is how to lead their teams effectively when the future is uncertain.

Overcoming the “don’t know so let’s worry” syndrome requires leadership. You see the symptoms. Staff members showing increasing signs of anxiety; the office talk is constantly about what people don’t know peppered with negative stories of what might happen. Left unchecked, this syndrome quickly spreads until it is endemic in proportion and you have a completely unproductive team on your hands or half your team has exited to more secure positions.

Leaders address this syndrome in order to keep teams productive and people positive so that the business unit’s challenges now and in the future can be met, and the business does not suffer as a result of the uncertainty. Allocate the time in your diary to engage in the following initiatives, so that you’re not wasting time putting out disruptive fires.

1. Communicate “Knowns, Unknowns and Controllables”

It’s known that communication is critical through periods of change and that we should be keeping staff informed of likely changes and their potential impacts from an early stage. The problem is that we don’t necessarily know what changes are being planned at the organisational level. That makes people feel ill equipped to even begin a conversation with their teams and therefore avoid communication.

Take your team calmly through sharing their worries and concerns. Get them out in the open. Keep Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence in mind and focus the team energy on what they can influence and do. It will give them back a sense of control. If it’s difficult to cut through the negative atmosphere use negative brainstorming to identify what they can do to make their concerns worse. It will quickly become clear that the opposite actions are the way to operate.

One idea that has worked for me to really cleanse the air of frustrations is to facilitate a session where worries are written on paper, which is screwed up, thrown into a bin, taken outside and set on fire. It certainly has the shock effect that re-invigorates and enables people to focus on what they can control – our current work.

2. Refocus effort on the job at hand

Staff can feel expectations of them are unclear in times of change, even when expectations are communicated in the same manner as the past. Provide extra direction and guidance focused on progress on annual plans and the job at hand. Reinforce the importance of doing this by referring to the effect of your business unit’s output on clients, other teams or departments, on other individuals or service providers etc.

Introduce additional individual and team meetings where progress against plans is discussed. Ensure mini goals are set to guide daily work effort. Frequently check in with your team to guarantee their success in achieving their mini (and more significant) goals.

3. Keep the whole team interested, engaged and busy

There are times when the importance of the job at hand becomes questionable if a change may make the work you’re doing obsolete. This will be felt more strongly be team members who are in development roles. These people need to be working on a mix of small achievable tasks and projects that will have an immediate positive impact, as well as their normal projects. It may stretch your creativity, delegation and project management skills to initiate and manage them through to a successful conclusion, but you’ll be rewarded with positive staff.

4. Feedback and more feedback

Feedback is like vegetables – almost impossible to over indulge in and especially important to stay healthy. Feedback reinforces people’s personal value. They might not be sure about their future with the organisation, but they know they are important to their team. As well as daily on the spot feedback highlight any success, and celebrate where possible. Don’t avoid the constructive feedback where it is required- but do take care in how it is delivered so that your team are never in any doubt that they work in a fair environment and that you care about them professionally.

5. Make decisions

Procrastination and decision avoidance by managers increases insecurity. Managers need to look confident. Be extra vigilant about tackling issues, conflict and future plans and working them through to a decision. Now is a time to really fight for higher level support in order to proceed with plans, and if those up the ladder are reluctant to make a decision give them these 5 tips!

Going through major organisational change is difficult for most people. But we can minimise its negative impact on our own team. We need to remain productive and positive so that our team members are well placed to benefit from any opportunities that arise in the upheaval.


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