As the late John Finley, English historian and mathematician tells us: “Maturity of mind is the capacity to endure uncertainty”. This capacity to not get derailed or immobilized by the uncertainties and rapid, often chaotic changes we all face in our personal and professional lives, is a personal asset that is remarkable and rare among individuals.
Inability to handle change is one of the primary causes for executive derailment, tightly followed by inability to work well in a team and a deficit in interpersonal skills. Too often have I seen highly competent and successful leaders, individuals with high IQ and strong knowledge in their area of expertise, get on the wrong path because they stubbornly refused to adapt to the changing demands of the moment.
Further, it is often during times of uncertainty and chaotic change that our behavior speaks louder about who we really are as a person. Having been personally involved in numerous management changes, mergers and acquisitions, I have seen two types of individuals who surface in these unsettling and uncertain conditions: those who manifest their shadow, their dark side, and those who help themselves and others around them to ride out the storm. The latter inevitably shine brighter and emerge as leaders, rising above the crowd.
As all project managers know, the uncertainty of major ventures or projects which go awry can have nefarious consequences that filter down to the rest of the organization, affecting everyone, from the mail clerk to the CEO – a careless acquisition, not paying attention to the rampant overhead of certain pet projects and not foreseeing changing trends, to name just a few. Developing competence in managing uncertainties is crucial and understanding four major types of uncertainties:
- Variation: despite detailed and well conceived project plans, the project schedules and budgets end up at odds with actual costs and timescales.
- Foreseen Uncertainty: the team isolates identifiable and predictable influences that may or may not occur.
- Unforeseen Uncertainty: some major factors cannot be predicted.
- Chaos: where even the basic structure of the project plan is uncertain.
Companies that spend some time at the outset of a project to create an “uncertainty profile”, that is, ascertain what kind of uncertainty is likely to dominate their project, will be better able to quickly adapt to it and choose the right management strategy. The article reveals numerous tools and techniques for managing each type of uncertainty such as using decision-tree techniques and sharing risk lists with all stakeholders. In turbulent, uncertain times, the only sure advantage is the capacity for reinventing your business model before it’s too late.
As the leader, you need to “filter out the filterers”, that is you need to find those individuals in the organization who are plugged tightly into the future and understand well the implications for your company’s business model – and allow these people to give voice to their opinions, without being censored by the watchdogs of the status quo who isolate you from potential distasteful news. As the author aptly puts it: “You should be wary of anyone who has a vested interest in your continued ignorance…”
Corporate uncertainty is not going away. Successful individuals within those companies are those that are agile and can adapt. So what are some strategies that you can use to make yourself change-proof and to cope with organizational uncertainty and the personal upheaval that it causes? Here are some suggestions for leaders and constituents:
- If you are in charge of leading others, watch for signs of a lethargic culture of complacency which can easily happen when times are good. Do your best to turn things around now so that you have a high performance culture instead. Managing the talent in your organization well; communicating frequently and with heart. Bring in an expert on merging cultures and communication if you foresee a culture clash .
- As the leader, practice empathy by allowing individuals to express their doubts and misgivings without being defensive. People need an outlet. Make it safe for them to speak.
- Draw up a plan to make yourself incredibly valuable to your organization. Increasing your value to the company is a sound strategy even when there are no fears of impending change. It’s just a smart thing to do.
- Raise your visibility by volunteering to work on committees, give presentations, or start a worthwhile project that will attract positive attention by everyone. We often hear this but we don’t do it because we are too busy already with our own jobs or lack the motivation.
- Be aware of your comportment during times of stressful company announcements. Do you walk out of the meeting immediately sharing your interpretations of all the possible negative aspects of the situation? Or do you give the company leaders the benefit of the doubt – adopting a positive wait and see approach?
- No matter how unsettling the uncertainty is, don’t abandon your commitment to your job – don’t quit before you have quit. Do whatever it takes to recreate your commitment. It will be a source of strength and dignity.
- Be aware that one of the key emotional intelligence competencies today is being able to manage change. With some effort, coaching and the right mind-set, we can all be change savvy.
- Above all, don’t let uncertainty and job frustrations drain your energy away from the personal goals and aspirations that you had planned for yourself.
“What every man needs, regardless of his job or the kind of work he is doing, is a vision of what his place is and may be. He needs an objective and a purpose. He needs a feeling and a belief that he has some worthwhile thing to do. What this is no one can tell him. It must be his own creation.” (Joseph M. Dodge, Sitterson Professor, Florida State University.)