Negotiating the Maze of Uncertainty

By Peter Ward & Pedro Avery

This pandemic has clearly shown that if we thought we were in control, we are not — those whom we have entrusted to lead us, from schools to businesses or even nations are helpless. Our fragility as a society has been harshly exposed. Whether you believe this pandemic was due, inevitable, or just an off chance, our personal and collective values and beliefs are in danger of being rocked to the core.

If like many you believe that this particular pandemic won’t be the last one in the next 15–20 years, we are going to need to live with the extensional threat that future uncertainty brings. We will need to learn to live with and accept uncertainty. Indeed, maybe this will be the new normal. Given that as individuals, we may not be able to impact on society at a general level, where might we be able to make our impact? As business leaders, perhaps we can influence our organisations to deal with a ‘new normal’.

Organisations may come to accept that ‘uncertainty’ will prevail at all times. If so, there is a need for them to pre-plan for it and build systems for dealing with unknown external threats. How will they in the future deal with a crisis? What are the appropriate protocols for risk management? How should governance be applied in the future? How should investors interrogate risk? How can we deal with risks in supply chains, risks in the workforce, risks in our changing relationship with all aspects of the external world?

If it is not addressed, the threat of uncertainty can cause widespread fear, helplessness and anxiety in a workforce. What can we do to shift our reaction and learn to sit with it more effectively? Here are five steps we can all take.

1. You are not alone

2. Some things won’t change

3. Communicate regularly and fully

And fully? Many of us are inhibited by giving what might be seen as bad news. Still, if we are to be authentic, it will not do any harm in conveying areas where uncertainty or possible adverse outcomes are being faced. Appreciating the negative will give confidence in the more positive messages being delivered about the progress being made.

4. Share the pain and the gain

5. Visioning success

There may be harsh lessons in dealing with the present uncertainty, but this uncertainty may persist and become more frequent. We may have to condition ourselves to deal with a continuing VUCA* world. So, there is a sixth step we should take. Please write it down! Record the lessons we have learnt from this baptism of fire and store this to help build future resilience.

*VUCA: Volatility; Uncertainty; Comp

Chairman and Co-Founder of Telos Partners, an advisory business focused on long term business success. pward@telospartners.com

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