Uncertainty is not easy for employees and it’s a big challenge for leaders. Like moving through molasses, everything is harder. Decisions are put off, resources are hoarded, and personal agendas often dominate. It’s during times of uncertainty that call on everyone, especially those in management, to step forward firmly.
Clients who are successful managers figure out how to provide steady, realistic direction even when the strategy isn’t clear. They understand that they will aim for clarity, but when the future looks fuzzy – they will be productive.
There are things we can all do right now that can provide a good foundation for managing strategic ambiguity:
Take Practical Action
I am a big fan of the practical. Action – doing something, anything, in support of your organization’s success makes everyone feel better than doing nothing.
How can you get that feeling of empowerment? The first thing to do is to focus on what you CAN control. Deliver value every day. What do your clients (internal and external) need from you? How can you perform better, faster, or smarter to deliver on the promise of excellent service? What matters to the mission or vision of the workplace? How can you and your team contribute to that? Where uncertainty comes, above all else – do good work.
- Make smart bets. When the strategy is uncertain, figure out what is not known. Then look ahead to what is known and what is likely to happen. What do you/what does your boss think will happen and is there something you can do today to prepare yourself, your team, and even your clients for change?
- Opt for short-term strategies. Think of it as a strategic sprint. What can you/your team do in the next 30, 60, or 90 days that will produce benefits no matter what direction the future takes?
- Develop Emotional Equilibrium. Ambiguity pushes most of us out of our comfort zone. How can you get your emotions under better control? To create emotional stability
requires that you be intentional about the way you show up in the workplace. It might feel like playing a part in a play, but the role of a professional is to be calm, transparent, and steady. For managers, it includes focusing the team on future goals and objectives. I encourage clients to think about “the worst that could happen” and then move on to the more likely outcome. There is a good chance that the reality will not be as bad as what you think, especially when your emotions are heightened. And you now have some idea of what you can do if your worst fears come to fruition. Remember that your colleagues (and employees) are watching and taking their cues from you.
- Learn more. Be proactive and use your internal network to ask others you think are wise in your workplace for their insight.
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Uncertainty can mean that managers communicate less frequently but when things are unclear, managers need to communicate even more than normal. Let colleagues know that you understand how difficult things are right now. Keeping the lines of communication open will keep people engaged and aligned until a clearer direction emerges.
The ability to not just hold on but actually thrive during periods of uncertainty separates the true professionals from the rest of the pack. You do not have to allow a lack of clarity at your workplace to mess with your confidence or performance. Even in the most ambiguous and challenging situations, you are still YOU – with all of your talent and potential. It just takes a bit of professional discipline to put yourself in a position to succeed. You can commit to taking practical action while demonstrating emotional steadiness and drawing on the expertise of others.