Some principles for managing through uncertainty

Employees want flexibility from their leaders, but also constancy.

by Simon Whitehead
Last Updated: 18 Jun 2021

As we are finding out now, the waves of the pandemic give us little certainty, no play book and no clear way to plan ahead. This presents unique challenges for business managers as they handle extraordinary opportunities and challenges from week to week. 

How could we have known where we would be now when we were heading into lockdown over a year ago? How do we keep our employees mentally healthy, motivated and ready to deliver? What is it that customers need as lives and businesses change so dynamically and quickly? How do we manage the desire for change and renewal? And how do we bring our natural sense of optimism and drive to these challenges in a pragmatic and sensible way?

It’s more apparent today that a key driver of current behaviour is that we all want to break free from Covid and make some sort of change. Adapting the business to accommodate this desire for change is vital, and managers need to look for new opportunities across their businesses, realign resources and give employees the space for a new challenge. 

Finding ways to bring people back together, to reconnect and, if possible, to do that face to face are also key elements of this. Providing change through flexible and agile working and recognising that the world of work and traditional office environments has accelerated dramatically since early 2020 allows for further realignment. 

But even amongst the uncertainty, employees also want and deserve a clear vision, a solid strategy and a plan that they understand will need to be adapted. They want strong and regular communication about that vision, transparency about what’s going well and what needs to be fixed, and they want to see progress with considered actions that align with that longer term plan. They know things will change but they want decisions to be taken quickly and for management teams to be prepared to think again. 

People want to have trust in a competent and pragmatic senior team, to be a constant for them and to get them through to the brighter days ahead. And as we move through uncertain times, people want considerate and caring leaders who are interested in their lives and sympathetic to their pressures. 

This is a time to double down and lead with optimism. Stay focused on what can be achieved but think boldly about the recovery ahead. Create clear plans that give people new opportunity through action. Take care of customers and suppliers alike. 

Make the most of the technologies that are keeping our industries moving but reconnect people face to face and give them the joy of reuniting with friends and colleagues. And above all, recognise and be grateful for those around you who are trying their utmost to do the right thing for the success of the business and its people.  

Simon Whitehead is CEO, UK at Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Image courtesy of the author

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