As nation states and citizens rally together to strengthen the collective social response to COVID-19, uncertainty is the only current certainty for many business leaders. With supply chain disruption, changes to working arrangements, constantly-shifting state guidance and cashflow concerns, the months ahead will have major ramifications on the personal and professional lives of leaders’ employees, their customers and their wider supply chains.
All too often, leaders can be gripped by inertia when action is needed. And while leaders can only do so much in times such as these, there are some small, perfectly achievable actions that can have a hugely positive impact on the lives of those working to deliver in difficult conditions. In these complex, ever-changing times, leaders have an opportunity to reduce uncertainty by doing the following:
Leaders are vital in times of uncertainty and, with fast-moving situations calling for different messages from different departments and leaders at different times, it’s vital that all messaging is complementary. Avoid any risk of improvisation by ensuring your leaders know the facts and stick to them, avoiding any unhelpful conjecture.
Leaders also need to recognise the difficult conversations they’re having today, like around personnel topics dealing with salary reductions, furloughs and layoffs aren’t a one-time event. There will inevitably be more difficult decisions and communications to be made in the months to come. That’s why it’s imperative you prepare your teams by talking about what decisions you may need to take, and outlining the process for taking them, well in advance so that your team trust the actions you may have to take. Putting in place an employee representative body to crowd source solutions to the most challenging problems rather than thinking that just the senior leadership have all the answers could be a really practical and valuable step.
With teams often adapting to new ways of working and the future changing weekly, if not daily, it’s easier to focus individual and collective minds on short-term activities. Forget long-term forecasting. Instead, build momentum around achievable, meaningful contributions and savour success in the challenging present.
And don’t forget to frequently check in on your people. Just because you may be in contact more often as you work towards short-term goals, doesn’t mean you necessarily know how they’re feeling. Don’t make assumptions. Start each conversation in an open way and make time to listen; it’ll reveal to you that how people respond in the current environment can change on a day-to-day basis. You may find the same person who seemed to be holding up just fine yesterday is struggling today.
With teams needing firm direction more than ever, now’s not the time to risk crossed wires or the perception that management is afraid to get stuck in. Make sure there’s two-way communication with a focus group of frontline people where you can test policies and new ways of working before implementing them – and then show a willingness to muck in and get involved with the testing.
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Nothing creates more uncertainty than rumour, so it’s vital you’re able to get messages out quickly and consistently to everyone: employees, customers and those across your supply chain. While technology provides various options to connect disparate teams, the key is to create a cadence and rhythm that people can rely on regardless of the tool used.
In an evolving situation, you’ll need to be able to quickly adapt to any state and be willing and open to continue changing as required. Each week (or sooner), you’ll need to look back at what worked and what didn’t, being honest with feedback to ensure both individuals and the organisation can continue to improve. Role modelling will be vital to develop habits that will serve everyone well in the future.
However logical we may typically be as leaders, in uncertain times it’s difficult to think about what the future may hold and how it’ll impact us. That’s why these five simple steps are designed to help you move forward towards making things more manageable – for your organisation and your people.
While the coronavirus pandemic will continue to challenge us all, it will also unearth and illustrate the everyday heroism, ingenuity and stoicism of humanity, and the way we can adapt to challenge with a sense of purpose and optimism. We need to look not at the impossibility of managing uncertainty, but the steps we can take to reduce it and bring greater reassurance and clarity to the lives of those around us.
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