Uncertainty is all around. Sometimes, it’s more apparent than not. We subconsciously disregard a good chunk of unknowns in our personal life, but in our businesses, anything uncertain tends to cause chaos. Where is my next customer? Am I going to be able to pay bills? Is the economic climate going to pick up? We ask all these questions (and much more). For example, many parts of Houston got destroyed by Hurricane Harvey and it’s 51 inches of rain. As a result, many businesses were underwater and would take months to repair their brick-and-mortar store front. Other business, such as real estate, had to navigate multiple properties being under several feet of water – and no longer sellable either at all or at the same price. Battling uncertainty in your company is a continual fight that you must endure if you want to success.
When you are battling uncertainty in your company, figure out what you know and don’t know. Why? You may be surprised of what you do know and don’t know. It also allows you to see areas of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. For example, let’s look at the Astros baseball team – also, the World Series Champions of 2017. They had great players, great coaches, and excelled in every practice and game. But there was no guarantee that they would beat the San Diego Dodgers. In fact, it could have very easily gone the other way as the Dodgers have great players, great coaches, and excelled in every practice and game. There’s a level of uncertainty that has influence over your future. If the Astros were not able to identify a huge external threat, then they could have been potentially blindsided.
Also, it is important to know what you can control and what you simply cannot control. Many times, we spend hours worrying about those things we cannot control. If you can’t control it, move on and spend your time solving those things you can control. I saw how uncertainty affected many companies with the most recent downturn in the oil and gas industry. Many companies where either affected directly or indirectly when oil prices plunged from $100/BBL down to below $30/BBL. This industry change caused a lot of companies to go into panic mode and uncertainty.
Once you have identified what you know and don’t know, conduct a SWOT Analysis. This is a snapshot of what is going on both internally and externally. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses addresses your internal company health. What are your core competencies? Are you maximizing their potential? In comparison, opportunities and threats addresses the external factors that have influence over your company – government, policy, economy, movements, etc.
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This is a great time to create plans for known threats and opportunities. The Harvard Business Review says that, “Uncertain times, when some things are on hold, provide a good opportunity for fix-ups and clean-ups. Uncertainty makes it tempting to let things deteriorate (maybe we won’t keep this office going or live in this place any longer).” First, fix the things you know are broken and improve on the things that could be better. Create an action plan that will address these known threats and opportunities.
In addition, times of uncertainty usually harbor very creative doomsday scenarios. Rumors spread quickly, and this season of uncertainty can cause strife among your team. Use this creative energy to find an opportunity that will make one thing certain. Ask your team to research, talk about, think of, and find opportunities to take. Sometimes, it begins will brainstorming where (not what) the opportunity lies. As a business leader/executive communication is a priority in times of uncertainty. You would be surprised how many times I have seen business leaders go silent in times of crisis. This is the worst thing you can do, and it only makes things worse in your company as a whole.
Typically, whenever an entrepreneur or CEO loses sight on what is going to happen, they become frantic and are not able to think clearly. As a result, that panic travels down the organization chart and no one can make a smart decision. In times of battling uncertainty in your company, address your company culture.
Address your challenges upfront. There will always be things you cannot tell your employees but share what you can. Get a feel for moral in the organization. If you have to make some difficult decisions do so and assure those staying this was the best for the company as a whole and benefits them directly.
After your employees are feeling certain that something is being done to make the uncertainty certain, engage your customers. Thank them for their loyalty and share your genuine appreciation for them. The last thing that you want to happen is for you to lose a big customer and for your employees to follow suit because they are uncertain of their employment.
Business Dictionary defines uncertainty as a “situation where the current state of knowledge is such that (1) the order or nature of things is unknown, (2) the consequences, extent, or magnitude of circumstances, conditions, or events is unpredictable, and (3) credible probabilities to possible outcomes cannot be assigned. Although too much uncertainty is undesirable, manageable uncertainty provides the freedom to make creative decisions.” In other words, uncertainty comes from what we don’t know. There is no way that we could ever know everything! But there’s an opportunity when looking at the certainty of uncertainty.
The good thing about uncertainty is that we are certain it will always be in our midst. If you know that there will always be uncertainty, then you can separate what you know and don’t know. Think about science – whether it’s how the world was created or how gravity works, etc. Scientists have created these theories will all the information that they have found and researched. Those theories hold true until more information comes along that proves otherwise. If we compared theories 300-400 years ago to now, we would be shocked that they thought that way. In the spirit of science, financial leaders must make decisions knowing what they know at the time and adapting as they get more information.
Ram Charan, author of The Attacker’s Advantage: Turning Uncertainty Into Breakthrough Opportunities, says that, “risk takers are catalysts, operating in offense mode… They’re doers who take risks based partly on fact and partly on their imagination about what could happen when those forces combine in what others might later call a convergence… The catalyst, in fact, is the one who often creates the convergence” (Fast Company). When you are leading through uncertainty, make a decision and avoid delaying for more information that you know is not going to be there. Take ownership of those decisions and charge forward. Remember, a fish rots from the head down. If you as the financial leader fail to lead confidently, then the company underneath you will begin to crumble.
It is also important to be a servant leader! A Harvard Business Review article says that, “when lives are on the line, servant-leadership is the only leadership model that truly inspires a team, because servant-leadership demonstrates that you, as the leader, put your people’s welfare ahead of your own.”
To prevent chaos, it’s important that you know how to overcome obstacles and consequently, be prepared to react to external factors. Click here to access our free External Analysis Whitepaper and gear your business up to navigate uncertainty.