By Isabel Valle, Peak Performance Strategist and Leadership Coach
How comfortable do you feel being uncomfortable?
One of our most basic human needs is the need to feel safe. We crave certainty, stability and consistency, and yet, we have to live with constant uncertainty. Operating in a VUCA world, used to describe the rapidly transforming global business landscape, we are challenged by our ability to make sound decisions, lacking sufficient information, creating “best guesses” strategies knowing they may turn out badly, not fully understanding the constant changes and factors which could implicate our decision making and problem-solving abilities, and the overall success of our businesses.
The fact is that our brains are not hardwired to operate in today’s complex times. This is especially true when it comes to dealing with uncertainty. When faced with it, our brain’s automatic response is to proceed with overwhelming caution and fear to ensure our survival, pushing us to overreact. This strategy worked great eons ago, when cavemen were faced by constant threats, but that’s not the case today, and it creates challenges and obstacles in the world of business. On the bright side, if you know the right tricks, you can override your brain’s irrational tendencies and handle uncertainty effectively.
In the face of uncertainty, we have to get good at making sound decisions, even when our brain fights us against this. Successful people are able to override this mechanism and shift their thinking towards a rational direction, whilst applying strategies that we will cover in this article.
So fear not, here are some proven strategies that you can use to improve the quality of your decisions when uncertainty is clouding your judgment. What follows are six of the best strategies that successful people use to help their businesses with increasing levels of uncertainty:
1. Embrace uncertainty and accept what you cannot control
We all like to be in control. But this desire for control can backfire on us when we are overly focused on what we can’t control. A big part of dealing with uncertainty is accepting the current situation and where you and your business are right now. You need to embrace things that are outside of your control as they are and focus on things that are within your control. People who excel at managing uncertainty aren’t afraid to acknowledge what’s causing it. They live in the real world and don’t paint any situation as better or worse than it actually is, analysing facts for what they are. They know that the only thing they really are able to control is the process through which they reach their decisions. That’s the only rational way to handle the unknown, and the best way to keep your head on level ground. So we mustn’t be afraid to acknowledge what we don’t know, and move forward based on what we do know. We may make mistakes, but that’s a lot better than doing nothing about it. Experts at dealing with uncertainty know they aren’t always going to make the right decision, and that failures will allow them to learn from their mistakes and make better decisions in the future.
2. Assess your particular situation.
You need to get a clear understanding of where you and your business are right now. Make sure you have the up to date business and financial performance figures and that you understand your cash flow and forward sales position. Take stock of all aspects of your business and review your business plan often. While most business owners revise business plans once a year, the truth is there’s no limit to how many times you can revise it. It really pays off allocating some time and resources to sit with your key employees to revisit it, putting special attention to key indicators relating to the cash flow. This will help ensure your business goals are reached while working on combating the changes in consumer demands. More importantly, it will help your company to stay afloat in the event of a crisis. Frequently reviewing your business performance, making sure that all aspects of your business are working efficiently and effectively – including people, customer service, processes and procedures, sales and marketing, systems, etc – will help you be ready to deal with anything.
3. Keep abreast of changing trends in your industry.
Understand what is happening in the outside world, including customer trends, economic changes, competitor activity and all areas that may impact your business, so you can make more well-informed decisions. Gather information and facts from well-known sources. Keep yourself abreast of the latest economic forecasts, current trends, and the general state of the economy. Ask yourself and your team how you can make better, faster decisions, even when you have less certain data will also help you create a proactive attitude towards the unknown. You must also speak to others and reach out for help and support. In times of uncertainty it is good to speak to trusted contacts to share experiences, gain perspective and gain support. You may also want to seek support from outside and consult the experts. There are future events you can’t forecast even if you’ve been doing business for a long time. For this reason, it pays to lean on the expertise that experts and business advisors provide. While it looks like another expense for your business at the onset, you’ll be surprised how much money they can help you save.
4. Prepare for multiple outcomes.
One of the most effective ways to combat uncertainty is to consider a number of possible scenarios and prepare contingency plans for all of them. As you are dealing with uncertainty about the future, you need to be prepared and plan for different possibilities or outcomes. You will need to think through the key risks that may impact your business, using up to date information, and where you assess the risk to be too high, look at spreading the risk, by making assumptions and preparing a flexible plan. Keep revising the plan regularly as things change. Considering multiple options rather than concentrating on one right guess will be more beneficial to your business. When you proactively think through a variety of possible scenarios and work on strategies for all of them, you’ll be better prepared and armed in the event that any of those occur. So instead of trying to make the one right guess as to what will most likely happen, make multiple guesses. This is the way any truly innovative process works, and innovation is a good analogy for prediction. Staying on top of uncertainty is as much about planning for failure as it is about hoping for the best. Once you have a good contingency plan in place, there’s no place for what ifs, stress and worry.
5. Look for unexpected opportunities and possibilities.
Instead of expecting the future to deliver something specific, you need to focus instead of what you will do to create the outcome you want. Your actions and intentions are within your control. Uncertainty can create lots of opportunities as other businesses become anxious, indecisive and complacent. Know that new, unexpected opportunities will arise with the changes that are happening, so make sure you are being creative, thinking outside of the box and looking for opportunities. Managing uncertainty requires a strong approach to creating mindset changes. Research into high performing teams globally reveals a common characteristic in that they welcome and are highly resilient to change. How you and your team view change is key here, specifically viewing it as an opportunity rather than a threat.
6. Take decisions and take action.
Uncertainty can lead to indecision and inaction. Successful businesses will assess the situation, plan, keep focused, make decisions and take action to stay ahead. Your business must remain agile and flexible, so you can take on a proactive approach and make changes quickly, reacting accordingly. Staying as you are and doing everything in the same way will lead to you losing your way and slipping behind your competitors. There’s no substitute for awareness, listening, and identifying events as soon as they happen. Some decisions can make or break your company. You must focus only on what matters. When it comes down to it, almost every decision contains at least a small factor of uncertainty—it’s an inevitable part of doing business. Learning to properly balance the many decisions on your plate, however, allows you to focus your energy on the things that matter and to make more informed choices. It also removes the unnecessary pressure and distraction caused by a myriad of small worries.
“As you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life. It means fear is no longer a dominant factor in what you do and no longer prevents you from taking action to initiate change.”
– Eckhart Tolle
Uncertainty is inevitable, regardless of the industry where your business belongs. The ability to strategically manage uncertainty is one of the most important skills you can cultivate in an increasingly volatile business environment. Try the strategies above, and your ability to handle uncertainty will take a huge step in the right direction.
Over to you now. How do your uncertainty skills measure up? What do you do when faced with uncertainty? Which strategy from above are you most likely to implement and why?
Here’s to your success!
Isabel is an experienced ICF Coach with over 20 years of international work experience holding senior positions within the hospitality industry in countries around the world, as well as Executive and Leadership coaching, mentoring and training. Isabel specializes in high performance strategy, leadership development and building organizational culture. More available on www.isabelvalle.com