Three simple ways to move your team from avoiding to embracing uncertainty

Managing uncertainty is describing how we avoid or, on the contrary, we embrace the uncertainty the future brings. 

In a culture that embraces uncertainty, people are pragmatic. They don’t need much regulation and they can easily accept changes or new unstructured situations. On the other hand, in a culture where people avoid uncertainty, they are more emotional and they try to reduce the anxiety generated by uncertainty through planning and rigid rules – which many times don’t even function properly. People of such cultures hardly accept new ideas and behaviors, stability being the most important to them, as well as having rules, that are giving them an actual emotional relief. 

On a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is for total embracement of uncertainty and 100 is for total avoidance of it, we score 90! Oh dear, this is not at all helpful these days when the world is quickly and continuously changing! 

This time around, I will showcase my examples based on questions. Let’s start: 

Question #1. Do you use forecasting as a tool for driving your business in the desired direction? 

If you do, that’s great! It means you have the ability to build data-driven strategies, therefore you really increase your chances of also being right about them. In opposition, for many Romanian companies, forecasting becomes a very difficult task.  

Therefore, don’t assume that people forecast. When asking them to do a forecast, first they will try to avoid doing it. As a leader or as a business advisor, you need to teach them and stay closely to them the first few rounds of forecasting, trying to share same principles across the team. As a next step, the team will forecast in a very conservative manner, “not to disappoint if it doesn’t materialize”. Give them comfort that “nothing bad will happen”. You want to make them reach that point where they forecast in a realistic-optimistic manner and they use the forecast to drive their actions and achieve performance. Don’t expect everybody to act this way, there will probably be only around 10-20% of them developing this mindset. 

Question #2. Analysis paralysis, this is something we are very “good” at. How often do you find yourself in this picture? 

Being a collectivist culture, we need to ask everyone about their opinion and, by being a feminine culture, we don’t like to impose a decision on others. And, last but not the least, being very analytical by nature, we like to have data, many data. A decision killing cocktail!  

In order to move away from the blockage, you need to split the issue in smaller pieces easier to be analyzed and manage the conversation so that you keep these pieces separated during the decision process. When thinking about the future, we tend to see it darker that it really turns out to be. Try to shed some light over it. Have one on one discussions. Most of the times, people know what is the right thing to do, but they get stuck thinking that they need to keep the apparent team’s harmony by avoiding taking decisions. When possible, try to remain accountable for the decision taken, this will give some comfort to the team. 

Question #3. How many procedures do you have? And, do you really need them all? 

Wanting to be sure that we don’t do mistakes in new situations, we tend to write too many procedures, which become irrelevant either due to poor communication, or to the fact that they become outdated quickly, as the business also changes. 

My advice? Have more guidelines and less heavy procedures. It proves to be very useful to have subject matter experts respected by the team. We are not very keen to read long documents and most of the times we pick up the phone or send a WhatsApp message to that person we know can help us really fast. You will benefit more by having skilled and trained employees then by overcomplicating already complicated procedures. 

When I look around, I see a world that is very different from the world that was one year ago. Also, I guess that the world today is also very different than the one we’ll live in a year from now. “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes”, Benjamin Franklin said. I would add “change” to the list. This makes dealing with uncertainty a key success factor for any person, team or company. It is a handicap that we score so low as a nation, but nevertheless, it is a skill that can and should be learned by anyone who is performance driven. 

Reference: “The Psychology of the Romanian People”, by Prof Daniel David