These days, it seems like we are always living in uncertain times. The biggest one in recent memory is obviously COVID, but ever since its peak, there have been constant shake-ups in the business world and in life in general. It doesn’t help that the uncertainty has been coming at up in extreme swings: Some of the lowest unemployment rates pre-COVID, to unprecedented layoffs in COVID, massive hiring after COVID’s peak, to now very large layoffs in certain sectors while others continue to boom.
And that’s just the big picture. Think about all the change and uncertainty that happens in the org or team that you are a part of. People hate uncertainty so much that they would rather know that bad news is coming than be uncertain if it will occur or not.
Don’t wait for (or count on) further guidance and training
During times of uncertainty, there is a greater need for good communication that connects with the team in a way that matters to them. The problem is that most companies don’t provide leaders with enough training. Studies show that the majority of managers wish they had more training when they first became people leaders and in general want more ongoing training. Strangely enough, many leaders can become resistant to new training programs, because they feel their experience in a role is enough.
Don’t wait for training, because it may not come. Be proactive instead. Look at the things that you do own, control, or influence and act on them today. Communicate more, anchor into the Why or purpose of the work, and celebrate the team. Pull in closer to your people with more frequent and less formal check-ins. If you know an impending time of uncertainty is ahead (company acquisition, re-org of the team, etc) get ahead by reading up on and studying the topic of change. Two books that we recommend on the topic are Leading Change and You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When it Matters Most.
Be aware of and acknowledge people’s emotions
There is a near certainty in uncertain times and that’s that your team is likely going to respond to the situation differently. As a leader, begin slowing down and listening to your team as they share their feelings, concerns, and any frustrations that they may have. The team will be more likely to trust in your direction during these difficult times if they feel validated and understood in their emotions and feelings.
It’s also good to be aware of how your own emotions translate over into your communications. Does your tone or delivery change as you get stressed out? Do you pass on that stressed-out feeling to your team? Having a good level of self-awareness is key in achieving balance here – You want to know yourself well enough to filter your communication when it gets challenging for you, but at the same time vulnerable enough to share your own concerns with the team as well. Putting those two things together makes you a stronger leader that others will see as more reliable.
Check the energy of the team
You can feel a good culture in a room. There is a certain element of positivity, interaction, and care & respect. Take a proverbial step back and assess the energy of the team. Do things feel like they normally do or is it more gloomy or solemn than usual? Seeing and understanding this dynamic change will help you see that you have more work ahead of you in helping the team navigate the uncertainty or if you are doing a good job.
Remember that is often very difficult to over-communicate during these times. In normal times, people will likely complain about being overcommunicated with, but these are not normal times. Even numerous change updates will help the team feel like they are looped in and aware.
Even if your organization has done a fantastic job in communicating information during uncertain times, these core principles will still serve you well and you reinforce and lead your team. Take the time to strengthen your own change management skills to keep people engaged well through the transition.
Make a better tomorrow.