Uncertain Times

“What am I supposed to tell them?” is something I’m being asked a fair bit by managers at the moment. People want to know what’s going on. Us humans need more certainty in troubled times. And there’s the rub: because something of which we can be pretty certain is that times are going to pretty tough for the foreseeable future. Indeed, times will be both tough and er, uncertain. People want to know what’s happening, but even the elected leaders of powerful nations often don’t seem know what’s going on and can seem lost for words, let alone solutions. So what can a manager tell their team? Here are some thoughts:

Don’t tell them, “It’s all going to be OK”. Although, if you can prove it is going to be OK, I suspect the next meetings of DAVOS, the G20, the ECB and various national banks might well want to hear from you.

Do tell them what you know is going well. The team/department/organisation is ending the year in a better position than last year. Debt has been reduced. Customer loyalty is up. You’re out-performing competitors. If you can’t think of anything, ask around for examples of what’s going well and keep looking until you find something.

Don’t keep on about how awful things are. There is a certain wisdom behind the old war-time maxim of ‘keep calm and carry on’. What else are we supposed to do? OK, some are finding expression in ways that are well-documented, be it protest or on the wrong side of the law, but the majority of us are doing our best to carry on. The bad news is everywhere; we don’t need to be the doom-monger who keeps repeating it ad nauseam.

Do ask senior managers how things are going. Hopefully they’ll be communicating clearly, consistently and frequently with everyone anyway. Hopefully. But if they’re not, and/or if there are rumours flying around, you need to step up and ask. At times like these, the people running organisations may be so busy dealing with the unexpected and with crises that they may not be fully aware of the rumours that need to be refuted or the anxiety that silence can create. Be a constructive conduit, and ask what news you can update people with.

Don’t neglect the basics. Sometimes the collective uncertainty, lack of engagement, or just plain anxiety can lead to a drop in standards – don’t let this happen. Celebrate small wins and praise people when the job gets done on time, on budget.

Do talk to people about how they’re doing. You may not be able to promise a pay rise, hand out a bonus or even reassure your team that their jobs are secure, but you can talk with them one on one about how they’re doing. Give feedback about development points and sincere praise for what they’re doing well. Do this little and often – many commentators recommend fortnightly, it may be weekly for some at the moment.

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