3 Ways to 'Up Your Game' During Times of Uncertainty
It might seem like a stretch to those of us struggling through the day-to-day stresses of returning to work and school after the strange spring and summer of 2020, but this pandemic (although far longer than any of us could have imagined) is simply a moment in time. And whether we go back to what our normal was prior to March or not, we will adapt and find a new normal.
There are plenty of people out there who are doing their best to spin the whole work-from-home, Zoom call reality into something fabulous that we may never want leave behind. More power to them. But from our perspective, we know that it’s much less than ideal. There's no question that it allowed us to continue to move ahead while in lockdown, but there is ‘nothing’ that can substitute for face-to-face, in-the-same-room conversations. What this whole experience has proven is that people thrive on predictability; to one degree or another. Living in the unknown for an extended period of time takes a toll on us. It robs us of the feeling of control and undermines our confidence and trust in the people and systems that support us and our society.
Now, this may feel like an overwhelming negative, but just as ‘adversity reveals character’, uncertainty provides opportunities for those of us in leadership or management roles within our organizations to ‘up our game’. If you are leading a team, your job is to steer the ship. To provide a safe place for your people where they feel cared for and protected during any time of change, not just during a pandemic. They need you to not sugarcoat or sidestep the truth, but instead to show up with the facts and a plan. Think of this as a chance for you to forge more robust relationships with your team members that will impact and strengthen their willingness to follow your lead, now and in the future.
The following tactics are key to building team trust and reassurance:
1. Be intentional about the way you show up. Your team is watching and taking cues from you. The best way to manage is by strengthening trust, and the best ways to do that are to be calm, reliable, and transparent. It’s okay to admit you don’t have a crystal ball, and that you are doing the best you can with the information that you have. And when you know more, you’ll adjust accordingly. It shows you’re human, vulnerable, and relatable. And that level of intimacy is what people are looking for when things are not familiar. It reassures them that we’re all in this together and that someone is looking out for them and being honest with them. That’s all any of us can hope for.
2. Do something. Anything you can do to support your group’s success is better than nothing. Waiting around for the final answer leaves people hanging. So, revisit who you are as an organization, who you serve and why, then go with what you know and what is the most likely scenario. Place intelligent bets and work towards the future state in short sprints of 30, 60, or 90 days. Focus on what you can control. Do good work. And deliver value to your clients and stakeholders.
3. Keep communicating. And communicating. And communicating. Even if you don’t have clarity. Uncertain times require more communication, not less. During times of chaos, stress reduces our ability to process information by 80% and shortens our attention span to 12 minutes or less. So, the more often we reach out to our teams, the better. Just keep the messages short. Simple updates and check-ins asking how people are doing are perfectly acceptable. We don’t need to be organizing town halls and lengthy webinars. In fact, a lot of us are suffering from conference call fatigue, so if possible, divide those calls up into shorter segments on multiple days. (Remember? Shorter attention spans and lessened ability to process information.) And switch it up and keep it informal. Emails are fine, but a casual phone call or dropping by someone’s office while passing through is even better because it’s a 1:1 conversation. The less talking you do, and the more listening, the better.
If you do need to arrange a group meeting, make sure that trusted messengers are delivering the information and that you lead with empathy. Acknowledge that times are tough and could continue to be tough for some time, but then share the plan(s) you have in place and the data they’re based on. All people want to know is that they’re in good hands and that the people in charge ‘have’ a plan.
Companies sometimes succeed or fail based on managers’ ability to move the organization forward at times when the path ahead isn’t clear, so think of this as an opportunity to advance your leadership through service, rather than a setback.
“It matters not how large or small your faith may be;
what really counts is whom you trust during life’s uncertainties.”