In Times of Uncertainty
Managers must deal with challenges on a daily basis. The best managers are consummate problem solvers. In “normal times,” most rely on proven processes that have already been established to guide them. But what happens when norms are upended by extreme uncertainty? How can leaders handle uncertainty?
What guidelines are there to help managers react to and weather a crisis? How do top leaders manage and survive through times of extreme uncertainty?
It seems as if major crises are increasing these days. Consider recent news of cyber breaches, safety breakdowns, natural disasters, financial shenanigans, and shady business practices. And then came COVID-19 which threw the whole world into crisis mode.
When a crisis comes, new managers tell us that traditional management planning cycles are often inadequate – too bulky and too slow and too rigid. To react effectively to such an uncertain environment, managers typically need a new operating model to overcome hurdles such as a bias toward optimism, constantly shifting (and perhaps incorrect) input, inability to make timely decisions, and organizational burnout. Leaders need to be able to switch from normal management mode to crisis mode.
An Operating Model to Handle Uncertain Times
- Create New Procedures that Are Equal to the Challenge
First, new procedures are needed. No longer can managers carry on as before with standard pre-scheduled planning meetings. To handle uncertain times, a centralized team of managers need to design a totally new approach.Rather than creating a plan and sticking to it, leaders must respond continuously to changing circumstances. They need to meet as frequently as those circumstances change in order to diagnose what’s going on, consider the current situation’s implications for their business, understand how it might evolve, and take appropriate steps to react to it.
- Improve Decision Making Clarity and Capabilities
Second, a heavy dose of agility is required. Making decisions in the midst of uncertainty necessarily involves risk, and some missteps will occur.But the key is to regularly revisit proposed solutions, question assumptions, pivot as necessary, and seek expert advice in order to make decisions in as informed a way as possible. There will always be a degree of ambiguity in the decision making. It is the organizations that learn how to be resilient and decisive that will survive.
Back to “Normal”
At some point the crisis will abate and management development needs to be less about putting out fires and more about important and less urgent tasks. At this stage decisions can slowly return to the relevant business units and gradually away from the centralized decision-making group formed during crisis mode. Slowly the priorities of the successful organization will turn toward uncovering new opportunities.
The Bottom Line
The organizations that survive extreme uncertainty have leaders and managers who can operate according to a model that is tailored to the times. Can your leaders handle uncertainty effectively? Are they ready to adapt to uncertain and threatening situations and switch to crisis mode?
To learn more about getting aligned, download 7 Immediate Management Actions to Create Alignment with Goals