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In today’s economy, victory goes not to the certain, but to those brave enough to leap even though they don’t know where they’re going to land. Success requires the courage to suspend expectations of security. To let go, for a moment, the burning need to know how the story will end. Leaders can earn their stripes helping their teams through these tough times – navigating uncertainty and coming out stronger on the other side.   

Manage the Stress of Uncertainty

Here are four ways to help your teams traverse choppy waters.

  1. Get Flexible – A flexible decision-making structure goes a long way. Under a dynamic management approach, consulting firm McKinsey & Company points out “a company’s organizational, cultural, and political norms have a major influence on the ease of transition.” Instead of relying on a rigid chain of command, be willing to act based on the information at hand, and make sure team members feel they have enough authority to act in the moment without the need to backstop constantly. “Much of the art of decision-making under uncertainty is getting the timing right,” the consulting firm advises. “If you delay too much, opportunity costs may rise, investment costs may escalate, and losses can accumulate.”
  2. Communicate – Just as communication among leaders is key, so, too, is consistent communication with staff. In times of change, rumors and anxiety shared around the water cooler can escalate to company-wide tension. “These experiences are very real and can’t be ignored, denied, or repressed,” says Rich Fernandez in Harvard Business Review.  He recommends listening to start, allowing employees to talk about their concerns and suggest what the company might do to respond.
  3. Engage – Engaging employees in an open dialogue can lend a sense of agency. People aren’t necessarily afraid of change in and of itself; they do fear change they’re not involved in. Hearing from all voices can also surface solutions during times of change. Team members might redesign or streamline policies and procedures, float new workflow ideas, or search for cost savings. Ask staff to imagine how they and the company could be stronger for facing new challenges. Urge them to focus on what they can control. Uncertainty should never be an excuse for failing to move forward.
  4. Support – Employees may resist change for fear their skills may be inadequate to take on new roles. Make sure skill-training is built into the transition. Offer resources they might need on the job. This might mean more time, feedback or equipment to complete new tasks. Designated mentors can also answer questions and field ideas.

As your team steps into new territory, acknowledge the emotions that arise while offering them a pragmatic way forward. Uncertainty is never easy, but an approachable leader can see organizations through even the most difficult of times.  

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