How to Manage Through Uncertainty

If you look around the workplace today, whether your company is thriving or fighting to stay alive, it’s not uncommon to see and feel uncertainty. The instability of the marketplace, vying for top talent, and engagement are all very real concerns for both organizations and their employees. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our behavior is affected by what happens around us.

While some industries are experiencing long-awaited growth, other industries are tightening their belts and holding their collective breath until their business stabilizes and opportunities begin to open up again. For leaders in these organizations, their jobs become even tougher. Even strong leaders who have effective engagement and operations that run as they should are challenged during times of uncertainty. Visibility, advancement, and stability—some of the important motivators during more normal operations—are now unavailable. Business as usual becomes far from usual and leaders must adapt to the change or they run the risk of further damage to the organization. There are two things leaders can and should do during uncertain times.

First, and probably most critical, is to talk to your people. There is nothing that raises concern more than silence. While you may not have all the answers to their questions, it’s critical to get out and talk to your team. Ask them how they are feeling, what they are hearing and listen to what concerns they have. Tell them what you know and tell them what you don’t know. Keep in mind that in the absence of direct communication, rumor and speculation will fill the void. Having open lines of communication will help employees feel more at ease and attend to the work that needs to be done.

To that end, the second thing leaders must do is redirect their employees’ focus to what is within their control. Now more than ever, employees need to come into contact with positive reinforcement for the work they are doing. Increasing reinforcement for staying on task, supporting others, speaking positively, avoiding the rumor mill and demonstrating the company values are all things that should be reinforced during challenging times. It is also important to take the time to celebrate small victories.

If you can redirect a little time each day to getting out of your office, asking questions and listening to your team, and finding ways to increase reinforcement for your direct reports’ valued behaviors, you will have greater influence in a situation that at times feels out of your control. Look for how your people respond to your efforts to engage, and I predict that will encourage you to keep it up!

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Posted by David Uhl

As senior vice president with more than 25 years of consulting experience, David is a seasoned executive coach, change leader and valued partner who leads his clients in applying behavioral science technology to accelerate and sustain organizational change and performance improvement. Known for his flexibility and adaptability, David has built longstanding relationships with those he serves across every organizational level. In his personal time, David is a ‘retired youth sports coach’ who enjoys watching his three teenage children compete in football and lacrosse; and rooting for his beloved Browns and Longhorns.