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 next weeks and months will have major ramifications on the personal and professional lives of leaders’ employees, their customers and their wider supply chains. This applies just as much to the financial services sector and although many are comparing it to the financial crisis in 2008, the current circumstances are still being described as unprecedented.
So, although many of your leaders have a mental model of uncertainty, there is a risk of inertia – when what is really needed is action. And while leaders may not feel that they can control 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, financial services leaders have an opportunity to reduce uncertainty by doing the following:
Get seniors on script
Everyone knows that 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. What you can’t control is how your leaders are feeling but you can reduce any risk of improvisation by ensuring your leaders know the facts and stick to them, avoiding any unhelpful conjecture.
Work to agreed short-term goals and prioritise regularly
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 planning. Instead, build momentum around achievable, meaningful contributions. This might mean you need to be creative either by taking a large theme and breaking it down into chunks or getting a list of new tasks that now need to be delivered due to the changing circumstances. Lots of small achievements that you can announce and celebrate will make the team feel more in control and that progress is being made. And it’s more agile too.
The PRA and FCA have made it clear that operational resilience is as important as financial resilience. Over the last 18 months, there have been a series of public papers (including the December 2019 consultation papers) that re-iterate the importance of prioritising the most important services that you offer to customers. Organise your teams to ensure these services are resilient so that your customers are not impacted in any way.
Roll your sleeves up
With teams needing firm direction more than ever, you might need to get closer to what is happening in your teams on the ground. Now’s not the time to risk crossed wires or the perception that management is afraid to get stuck in. Under the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SMCR), some leaders will have specific accountabilities and will need to be closer to the detail to provide coaching and direction where necessary. 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. You will need to show the behaviours that you want to see.
Strengthen your communications infrastructure
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.
Accept and absorb, then learn and reflect
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.
Grip the simple things
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 will 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. Don’t get distracted by what you can’t control. 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.
Claire Logan is a people and talent expert and Adam Stringer is a business resilience expert at PA Consulting