The current climate of uncertainty and ambiguity can be a challenge for any organization. Leaders should be prepared to help their employees navigate the current conditions while preserving performance and morale. As change becomes inevitable, leaders must focus on fostering resilience and adaptability and providing support throughout the transition. With the appropriate management techniques, businesses can survive and thrive in times of uncertainty.
As a leader, your role is to provide direction and support to the people you lead. Navigating through this unclear terrain can be daunting and feeling overwhelmed is natural. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your people transition through these trying times with resilience and courage. Here are five ways to lead your people through uncertainty.
Understand the Brain
The first and most important way a leader can lead others through uncertainty is to understand how the brain works and be patient in the employee’s adaptation process. The most important job of your brain is to stay alive. This is why people resist change and are often uncomfortable in situations where the future isn’t predictable. The brain interprets this as a threat. Your brain will react the same way a human brain reacted 10,000 years ago when it sensed a wild animal lurking in the bushes. It’s important to understand that the core function of our brain has been wired for safety and to avoid uncertainty. Our brain is encoded to avoid unpredictable situations. It makes complete sense that people have become more protection oriented and averse to diverse ideas over the past few years. Let’s be honest, we have all experienced threats we’ve not experienced in our lifetime. In the workplace, organizations find that they must continually change and evolve to stay competitive and innovative. This creates a natural tension that will be an ongoing challenge for managers and leaders.
Acknowledge the Challenge
Don’t hide from the fact that uncertainty and change will happen. Don’t shield your people from the discussions. The most brain-friendly thing you can do is to acknowledge it with your people. Be open and upfront that it is a challenge. Set the expectation that a part of our job in the 21st century is to embrace change and live with the fact that we can’t predict the future. In fact, the first step to leveraging change for a positive outcome is acknowledging it as a challenge. Next, we can put behaviors and plans together to harness them for a positive outcome.
Communicate Clearly and Transparently
Our brains want to have answers to crucial safety and stability questions. If it doesn’t have them, it will fill the information gap with a negative scenario. As a leader, don’t let this happen by ignoring or avoiding the elephants in the room or key situations on the horizon. A great example of this is an organization that I work with. Moving into this year, they knew that the economic headwinds will be fierce as interest and unemployment rates rise. Instead of remaining mysterious about the challenge or avoiding the subject with employees (as many companies do), the senior management team has communicated to all employees the challenge and the plan to weather the storm. They have asked them to help with the process so the company better positioned in future years. This has helped employees feel more secure and confident in their job.
Develop a Support System
It’s important to understand that uncertainty can create stress, confusion, and fear among employees and, if not appropriately addressed, will impact productivity and morale. Therefore, it’s up to the leader to foster an environment of support by providing resources, tools, and guidance that allows their team to thrive in any situation. In addition, leaders should focus on building trust with their team so they feel comfortable speaking up about their needs and concerns. This includes creating open communication channels where employees feel secure in expressing themselves without repercussions or judgment. One very helpful way to support employees and build greater competence is to provide professional development opportunities or training programs that focus on teaming, trust building, effective communication, and emotional intelligence.
Studies have found that companies that prioritize adaptability are better equipped to weather tumultuous situations and thrive during periods of economic turbulence. Leadership teams can start by developing clear goals for their organization or department and then actively reward those who help to realize these objectives. Acknowledge and appreciate employees publically who demonstrate resilience and determination. Celebrate successes, big or small, to show employees that their hard work is valued.
One technology company I have worked started rewarding individuals who demonstrate flexible thinking and creative problem-solving skills. They understand that the brain functions best when it embraces change and chooses to perceive it as an opportunity for growth rather than as a threat and something to be avoided.
Leading people through uncertainty isn’t an easy job. However, understanding the brain and acknowledging the challenge can help you and your employees implement effective strategies for adaptation and support. Additionally, rewarding those who can quickly adapt to change helps to create a culture of acceptance and trust. By implementing these strategies, leaders can be well-equipped to handle difficult situations and help their employees thrive.