Many people are worried about the sustainability of their employer’s business or their job security in these times, and are looking to their team leaders for guidance.

A renewed round of Eskom load shedding, a second wave of COVID-19 infections and a continued economic downturn—uncertainty continues to shape reality for South African businesses and their employees in the early months of 2021. Business leaders need to focus more than ever on engaging employees and building organisational trust to steer through these difficult times.

Forward-thinking business leaders are thus planning for the unexpected and trying to help their people develop the resilience to cope with rapid change and poor visibility into the future.

Here are five ideas about how team leaders and senior executives can prepare themselves and their teams for continued turbulence in the months to come:

  1. Recognise that you, too, may struggle with uncertainty and ambiguity 

To manage and lead teams or an organisation during uncertain times, managers should focus on self-care. Be aware of your own stress levels and take the time to focus on your own mental and physical health. Also, seek out external support when you need it, whether from a therapist, a mentor or a senior colleague.

Techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness can help you to cope better with the responsibilities and uncertainties a leadership role throws at you. CBT is about recognising problematic thoughts and reframing them in a more positive way. Mindfulness is about grounding yourself in the moment rather than getting swept away with regrets about the past or anxieties about the future.

  1. Lead by example 

Leaders—from team leads up to the C-suite—can provide employees with role models for coping with uncertainty. They can inspire their teams by projecting the right level of confidence, willingness to be adaptable, and resilience in the face of obstacles. When sacrifices (like salary cuts or retrenchments) need to be made for the health of the business, executives should share the pain. They can also provide an example of the behaviours and attitudes that will help the organisation to navigate uncertain times.

“For organisations to succeed, senior leaders need to practice what they preach. Executives who fail to lead by example will leave workers confused about how they should act. When leaders model appropriate behaviours, their employees know exactly what’s expected of them. This allows them to focus on their work rather than spending time and energy second-guessing company policies,” writes HR expert, Kimberly Cassady.

  1. Be empathetic

Business leaders that can put themselves in the shoes of their employees and understand their perspectives will be best equipped to help them manage change and uncertainty. This is a time to listen to their perspectives—especially at a time of anxiety, fear and even loss and grief. Each person may be facing a range of personal pressures, in addition to those at the workplace.

Paul Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, quoted in HBR says: “Look at the situation from their shoes and think about what you yourself would want to hear. You’d most likely want reassurance that eventually this is going to end, of course…and that leadership isn’t hoarding information or waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

  1. Communicate early and often

Constant communication should be at the centre of any organisation’s strategy to deal with uncertainty. Transparency builds employees’ confidence in the leadership and the business—people appreciate knowing what’s going on, how it might affect them and how the business is dealing with unforeseen challenges that arise.

“Many companies are sharing information that was once considered confidential with their employees, from business financials to data around diversity and inclusion. Communicating with transparency shows employees you value them and want to keep them updated on what’s happening across the organisation,” writes Cassidy.

Performance consultant, Jennise Chaffold, concurs: “Remaining transparent will help reduce rumours that can create worry and distraction. Employees are more likely to stay engaged and positive during the transition when they’re not trying to guess what’ll happen next.” Truthfulness—as far as possible within restrictions like stock exchange regulations—builds trust and helps reduce anxiety. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t yet have all the answers, either.

  1. Adapt the plan, but stay true to the mission and your values 

The coronavirus crisis has forced organisations to rapidly reinvent their business models and ways of working. As we enter another uncertain year, businesses will need to continue showing similar levels of flexibility to cope with a shifting landscape of threats and opportunities. Leaders will need to constantly readjust budgets, goals and plans in response to the outside world.

Yet, at the same time, it’s important not to lose sight of your north star—the purpose, values and mission of the company that will outlive the present pandemic or any future crisis. A strong sense of who the organisation is, its purpose and how it does things will help keep people motivated throughout turbulent times. Don’t compromise on core values for short-term wins.

Projecting confidence and strength 

Argenti says: “Uncertainty triggers fear. People are freaking out and wondering, ‘What does this mean for my company, my job, and my future?’ Your role as a manager is to project confidence and strength.” That’s not always easy, but self-care, transparency, empathy and constant communication are good starting points for an approach to managing uncertain times.

References:

https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/mind/stress/these-home-cognitive-behavioral-therapy-tips-can-help-ease-your-anxieties

https://www.memory.ai/timely-blog/managing-uncertainty

https://www.cornerstoneondemand.com/rework/6-ways-support-your-workforce-through-times-uncertainty

https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-talk-to-your-team-when-the-future-is-uncertain

https://www.insperity.com/blog/downsizing-workforce-6-ways-keep-remaining-employees-motivated/

https://hbr.org/2020/03/youre-not-powerless-in-the-face-of-uncertainty

[Photo from Pixabay at Pexels]