How to deal with uncertainty in business

Everyone experiences uncertainty at some time. In business, it can arise around an acquisition, new ownership, a major shift in strategy or a new leader. The more the uncertainty, the higher the levels of stress and fear experienced by people in the organization or department. The longer the uncertainty pervades, the harder it becomes to resolve and the more productivity slows. People speculate about what is likely to happen, many times without facts. The stress and fear escalate. The reality is, there is always some uncertainty, but once it reaches a certain level, it kills the culture and productivity of an organization. So, what to do?

People are important. They need to know it

It is natural to be uncomfortable with change, especially change on a large scale. Many times leaders get so caught up in figuring out what needs to be done that they forget to engage and reassure the people. It is not an intentional slight. But for the people in the organization, not being asked to participate in the change can be terrifying. They feel their perspectives are not valued and they are not important to the organization. This is the time more than ever that leaders need to engage people in dialogue and be visible to the organization. Make sure that people know their contributions are valued.

Make decisions and act quickly

It is important to quickly make decisions whether in times of uncertainty or not. Information is never perfect and it is important to make decisions and move forward. If you need to course correct, you can. High performing organizations have forward momentum. They know how to make decisions quickly and it becomes a competitive advantage. In times of uncertainty, they outpace their competitors. The absence of a decision is still a decision. It is the decision to make no changes. The quicker you and your organization make decisions, the more certainty your people will have.

Silence is a vacuum. It will suck the oxygen out of the organization

Sometimes during times of uncertainty, there is a lot that is not known. Silence is not an option. People will invent their own realities, and at some point perception becomes reality. It is important that there is a clear and consistent message being shared by leaders. Share what you can. Be forthright about what you know and what is still being determined. Whatever you do, don’t tap dance around the question. Communication should happen frequently. For you, it may seem like too much. For your people, it may not be enough.

Stop Chicken Littles in their tracks

Chicken Littles find their platform when a vacuum is present. Their voice is loud and their reach can be extensive. While you are communicating broadly, it is important to identify the loud voices and negative messages. The point is not to punish. Rather, by understanding where the fear is coming from, you can proactively address the concerns of the people. If you are actively listening to the concerns and providing real issues, Chicken Little will not gain momentum. But make no mistake, momentum will be the deciding factor. You get to choose the momentum that wins – yours or Chicken Little’s.

You are being watched by your people. Your tone and demeanor matters

As a leader, your words and actions are setting the stage for the culture of the organization. It informs how people should behave. As a leader, if you reassure your people, focus on the things you know and have an optimistic outlook, your people will likely share the outlook. In contrast, if you show up stressed and use negative commentary to describe the current uncertainty, your people will too. Take time to clear your head, replenish your energy and your positive outlook. Your organization depends on it.

Take the reins and make the uncertain certain

As a leader, you get to choose the focus and direction your organization takes during uncertain times. It is not the time to be a victim and drift along with the currents. Take the reins and lead your organization. Reassure your people, make decisions, communicate and show up with a positive mindset. It will make all the difference in how well your organization survives or thrives during uncertain times.

This Tip of the Week is by Heidi Pozzo, a strategy and performance consultant. To contact her, visit or call (360) 355-7862.

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