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What is Certain During These Uncertain Times?

I was speaking with a colleague recently who said, “If I hear or read ‘these uncertain times’ once more, I’m going to scream!” And now, everywhere I turn, I’m aware of these words as well – in the news, business articles, podcasts, and advertising.

While there’s no argument that the uncertainty is real, perhaps it’s time to shift the focus of our attention and conversations to what is certain. Perhaps it would help to find the solid ground we can stand firmly upon. Perhaps we can venture into the unknown more boldly from a place of confidence.

Leaders are in a powerful position to take the ‘un’ out of ‘uncertainty’. They can help employees find the stability and security required to navigate the ambiguity that will likely be with us for some time. This may be as simple as shifting the focus to what is certain and can be counted on. Here’s a starter list.

We are all human first. 

The current crisis has been a great equalizer. Regardless where one might fall on Maslow’s hierarchy, we were all brought back to basics as we collectively scrambled to find toilet paper. It’s hard to progress up the pyramid while facing job insecurity, grocery shortages and caring for children and others.

Making a human connection has never been more essential. And leaders are doing it in myriad of ways:

  • Simply being more intentional and checking in on ‘how you’re doing…. really’ at the beginning of each video/call before jumping into the business at hand.
  • Embracing the chaos of working from home by occasionally welcoming the children, dogs, and other new ‘co-workers’ into the picture.
  • Flexing meetings and milestones to allow employees to work when they are able – around other pressing responsibilities in their lives.
  • Ensuring that teams interface as frequently and effectively as appropriate to keep personal connections strong.
  • Demonstrating their own humanity by sharing their struggles and foibles.

Values are a guidepost.  

This is the time when your mission statements, values and guiding principles are put to the test. The true commitment to trust, respect, reciprocity and any other language on those posters around the business is being revealed right now. And the extent to which words and actions align will define your leadership (and your organization’s future.)

Assuming that your organization will remain true to its values, let employees know. People must be reminded of the commitments and beliefs that undergird the business – both through words and deeds. Openly discussing the values is important; but openly living them resonates even more deeply with employees.

For instance, if generous communication is something you and the organization hold dear, how transparent are you being right now? How proactively is information shared? If your organization stands behind ‘commitment to customers,’ is that translating to strategies that connect with and honor those relationships? If innovation is a key value, now is the time to enable experimentation, risk-taking and greater boldness.

When employees understand – really understand – that the values are inviolate, this offers an island of security and certainty in the otherwise swirling storm that is business today.

Development is non-negotiable.

There’s little that’s more certain than the reality when things return to ‘business as abnormal’, the demands will be extraordinary. Learning and development will be necessary to build future capacity. But it’s also a powerful strategy to help address and alleviate many of the challenges facing the workforce now.

  • Stress: People can regulate their nervous systems (and address stress and anxiety) by giving something complete focus and allowing it to absorb one’s total attention – something for which development is uniquely suited.
  • Excess bandwidth: Those who are no longer able to have physical contact with customers and coworkers may find themselves with some extra time and energy on their hands. Learning can leverage both constructively. In fact, recent research suggests that 75% of employees have the same amount or more time for development now.
  • Need for connection: Working remotely can leave some people feeling adrift, unanchored to the organization and colleagues. Depending upon the form it takes, learning can allow for the exchange of ideas and support that bridges this gap.

Now may be the time to take the ‘un’ out of ‘uncertainty’ – to pivot from focusing toward helping people direct their attention to what’s definite, assured, clear and undeniable. No doubt the unknowns will persist; but, with a sense of certainty, employees will be able to navigate them with greater confidence and grace.


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