Cliches aside, the only thing you can be certain about in 2017 (or indeed anytime in the foreseeable future) is uncertainty. You only have to look at where we are now compared to where we were this time last year to see how predicting anything is dangerous. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to mention the “B” word or the “T” word). Dealing with an uncertain world is a capability all managers and leaders should develop.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) have recently identified wide-ranging factors that (they feel) will “reshape how we live and work” between now and 2030.
So how do we prepare to set out into such an uncertain future?
From our experience, it’s amazing how many employees in organisations are still being fed with the reassurances that this “change thing” is just a passing phase. They are being led to believe that we’ll soon be able to return to some sort of steady-state nirvana where everything settles down. It seems that managers and leaders still lack the ability (or will) to engage in meaningful conversations with their teams about that fact that change is here to stay… and that we need to get better at dealing with it.
Uncertainty or Safety?
In our change workshops, one of the first things we do before we even talk about tools for dealing with an uncertain world is to acknowledge the extent to which the world is changing and why. We emphasise that the key role of managers and leaders is not to try to deny UNCERTAINTY (as certainty is impossible), but to create SAFETY. So what’s the difference? Let’s start with some definitions:
Uncertainty: a sense of not knowing what is around the corner, how changes we are making will land, how external and internal events will impact us, what further changes will be required.
Safety: a sense of feeling safe means you do not anticipate either harm or hurt, emotionally or physically. This does not mean wrapping employees in cotton wool, it means helping them feel that the organisation is values and respects them.
Creating a sense of safety
Creating a sense of safety when when uncertainty is rife requires the following:
- No secrets – Hiding realities and trying to manage others’ emotions is a poor strategy for dealing with change. Finding ways to share and discuss external changes helps employees to feel informed and valued. Put simply… straightforward communication, no spin, sharing what you can.
- Build trust – Demonstrating genuine empathy with employees affected by change does not mean that you can’t make tough decisions that might affect them. Appreciating that everyone will deal with change in their own way and at their own pace allows you to give them space and time to deal with it in their own way. Put simply… show compassion – convey that you genuinely care about your people.
- Clarity of intent – Having consistent values and principles regarding how you deal with your people and showing that you are committed to doing the right thing (rather than the easy thing / what will suit you personally) is critical. Put simply… be consistent, help people feel that you and your organisation will “do the right thing” by people and treat them ethically.
- Authenticity – Being authentic and genuine to your own values is critical to helping people feel safe in volatile times. It can be hard to reconcile your personal differences with the organisation’s strategic decisions. However, getting your own commitment to the change straight before trying to help others is essential. Put simply… “fit your own oxygen mask first before trying to assist others”.
So rather than wasting time on trying to create any certainty in an uncertain world, focus your efforts on helping your team to feel safe. That way, you will get their best contributions and better prepare them of the inevitable volatility and uncertainty ahead.