ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY? TIME TO THRIVE!
Managing a team in times of huge insecurity requires flexibility and grit. How can managers help staff and businesses thrive amid uncertainty?
remember when everyone had a fiveyear plan for their career? These days, only optimists take lunch to work. The rest are fully aware that a freak bout of restructuring could wipe out your whole department by mid-morning.
We are living in uneasy times, where the local economy is lurching from one crisis to another and business is changing at the speed of light. Volatile currency and commodity prices are making it difficult to forecast the next five minutes, and teenagers in hoodies are casually designing apps that could completely destroy your company’s reason for existence. Meanwhile, it feels as if the very fabric of the world economy could be unravelling as what many might call the most boring people on earth (central bankers) are taking massive bets, and international tensions continue to confound. Also: Donald Trump.
The rate of change and the opaque business outlook can be paralysing. Constant job insecurity and dangers from all sides can also have a profound impact on morale and productivity.
How to deal with uncertainty:
Accept the new normal An unassailable obstacle to success in uncertain times is the expectation that somehow things will “go back” to the way they were, says Judy Goodwin, a change consultant and coach in Cape Town.
Consequently, the biggest threat to your company is not a competitor’s innovation or a new trend away from your business. It’s your denial about the competitor innovation or the new trend. “Accept that the situation has been irreversibly changed,” says Goodwin.
Encourage and reward your team for bringing bad news early, and create an atmosphere where difficulties and change are accepted as a way of life, and seen as challenges to overcome. Defeatism is deadly. Make sure you have all possible information to solve problems and take action as soon as possible.
We are living in uneasy times, where the local economy is lurching from one crisis to another and business is changing at the speed of light.
Ride the wave Take advantage of the opportunities offered by times of great uncertainty. Your team should have the ability to adapt continuously and learn quickly to maximise fleeting windows of opportunity as they become available,” says Goodwin. The writer and intellectual Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls this quality being antifragile: “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
For example, if your business is smaller than that of your competitor, chances are that you could move faster in adopting a new technology. Capitalise on your competitive advantages as part of adopting to new circumstances.
Replace expectations with plans Clearly, blindly sticking to a strategy based on a detailed discounted-cash-flow analysis for the next 15 years is lunacy. No matter how good your analysis, the future cannot be predicted in such detail. However, this is no excuse not to get a firmer handle on the different ways the current situation can play out. Make sure you thoroughly understand your market, make the most of clear trends and focus on your clients’ needs and how you can solve their most distressing problems. And always be prepared for the worst, and have a plan B(C, D and E to Z) in place. Even if everything works out, having backup strategies will bring considerable comfort.
Make peace with chaos Understand that you most probably will be caught out by some unforeseen event. Make a list of all the things you can control (top of the list: your reaction to events), and let go of things you can’t. Recognise that often success has a lot to do with randomness and luck. Also, know that if you make a change in one part of your business, it may have unforeseen effects on other parts.
Stay honest Remain open and give your team reasons to trust you. Don’t hide bad news, but remain inspirational – help your co-workers to see the big picture.
Make huge amounts of hay when the sun shines Now, more than ever before, managers need to
celebrate all successes and make the most of good times – also by sacrificing some profitability to help them get through the difficult years.
Be receptive Managers will get more information if they stop “listening to respond”, and change their perspective to try and understand alternative positions, says Goodwin. “You may not agree with what your colleagues are saying, but focus on understanding why they are.”
Hire people who can deal with uncertainty and complexity Increasingly, a high threshold for ambiguity is becoming a hot skill to have. “Navigating complexity is not about reducing risk or predicting the future. It is about building capacity within; the leaders, the people and the organisation,” says Goodwin.
Increasingly, a high threshold for ambiguity is becoming a hot skill to have.