Uncertainty: Normal is Gone!

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By Dave Hickey

‘Normal is Gone’ was widely used in spring and summer 2020 to reflect the seismic change caused to society and business by the pandemic and its consequences.

There was only one certainty: the ‘next normal’ would be different from the last one. Just how different was not predicted by anyone.

Given all that’s happened since then, the only certainty for business at the moment is that uncertainty rules!

Back in summer 2020 Forbes asked some of its contributors for their tips for dealing with uncertainty in a business environment. Some of these are set out below:

1. Build in Flexibility

Uncertainty often requires that decisions be made with incomplete information. In these instances, we must acknowledge the unknowns, build flexibility into the plan and then monitor and adjust accordingly. It’s much easier to alter the course of a sailboat when the wind changes direction if the captain has accounted for the need to tack.

2. Be Transparent

“It’s better to show up authentically with nothing, but questions than to pretend you know it all and learn nothing.” In addition to operating with transparent authenticity, a good leader unlocks the power of those around them, including other leaders, advisers and peers to cultivate well-thought-out approaches to new and challenging terrain.

3. Ready, Fire, Aim!

Your first idea or action is never your best, but it is the path to improvement and more options. You need to go down the path of your imperfect ideas and then make two commitments. First, you won’t beat yourself for what you didn’t know at the beginning. Second, debrief, optimise, iterate or whatever term you like to use for “make it better!” Do it over and over again.

4. Practice Candid Communication

In times of uncertainty, people want credible and trusted sources of information. Leaders can play this role. To build trust, leaders can provide candid communication that is factual, involves relevant stakeholders, demonstrates vulnerability and humanity and models what they espouse. Leaders who communicate transparently build trust and increase employee confidence in uncertain times.

5. Develop Worst-Case Scenarios

Don’t let the fear of what could go wrong paralyse you and don’t stay in analysis mode forever. Go straight into the fears and imagine them. What is the worst that can happen? If that happens, so what? Really feel each of the possible outcomes. Use scenario planning to not only think through a multiplicity of options available to you, but also to disempower fear of the unknown.

6. Focus on what has the Highest Payoff

In an uncertain world, it’s easy to jump from one crisis to another, but this is not the best use of a leader’s time and energy. Instead, they can be more effective if they focus on what will have the highest payoff for the organisation. By communicating a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished, everyone’s efforts become aligned with the activities that will bring the greatest success.

7. Establish A Risk Management Plan

Brainstorm all the potential risks that could occur in your business. Rate each risk as low, medium or high based on at least these two factors: likelihood and impact. These can be plotted on an x- and y-axis. Risks that seem highly likely and are likely to have higher impacts should be examined. Then establish mitigation strategies to either prevent them from occurring or respond if they do occur.

8. Accept You Don’t Have All the Answers

Our world is rapidly changing and none of us has all the answers, so it’s vital to remain curious, ask questions, test ideas and continually learn. If you are rooted in having all the answers, you won’t be able to flex rapidly enough to lead a team during uncertainty. Organisations that pivot quickly to meet market changes are the ones that survive and thrive during crises.

9. Practice Value-Based Decision Making

We may often be uncertain around what decision(s) are most effective. However, as leaders, it’s our responsibility to be certain of the values behind the decisions we make. Core values are not “cute words” to simply promote a brand. They are the fundamental pillars upon which we trust for our decisions—internally, externally, in times of certainty and in times of uncertainty.

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