5 Ways Managers Can Help Employees Navigate Through Uncertainty
We are presently experiencing times of tremendous change with regards to workplace dynamics, ideas, strategies, and functions. All of this is rapidly evolving, and global influences have become more and more prominent.
Chances are high that today employees are spending a lot of time informally discussing the uncertainty they see around them or how it is affecting them. Add to this the fact that they may be contemplating outcomes of the company and making judgments about their workplace based on what they see or hear. It is even scarier to imagine that they may be influencing each other in a big way even if they don’t have a full picture. There is no control over the flow of this communication, especially on online mediums.
But uncertainty has always been part of the mix, whether it’s a company changing hands, realignment of company goals, reorganisation of teams, or like the present, a pandemic.
However cliche it may sound, change is in fact, the only constant with varying speeds. It’s a time requiring us to think differently about how we lead others. We must revisit ways to strengthen our workplace culture, engage more authentically with employees and neutralise the impact of uncertainty with clients.
While key people from the management teams are busy evaluating the current situation and relooking at future goals, many teams are feeling confused. Some companies are conducting activities for employees to ease this. However, confusion cannot be dealt with employee engagement, it needs a different approach. In our experience, we have learned that in order to successfully manage change and uncertainty, we must engage employees by empowering them to be part of the solution, rather than giving them reasons to say that they are part of the problem. If uncertainty is not addressed, it can lead to unwanted assumptions and gossip which eventually lead to poor morale and productivity.
Here are a few ways to help your team navigate uncertainty:
1. Engage in open dialogue:
Openness and honesty foster trust. Some ways to say this could be; “at this point, nobody knows what the future holds, but we are working on a plan and will keep you informed at every stage of the way.” Or you could say, “We have been working from home for several months now, and we can assure you that we are working on as stable a plan as possible to keep you safe as we get back to work. We promise to be transparent at every stage.” Remember that we are proposing dialogue and not a monologue. So let this be two-way communication.
Allow teams to express how they are feeling. Engage in active listening which means going a level deeper, looking to understand and absorb what seems relevant. In case of a disagreement, best to state your understanding and respectfully disagree if need be.
The idea is to give your team clear avenues of dialogue to allow them to air their concerns. Some communication tools you can use are using blogs, appointing change champions specifically to address these concerns, or simply encourage one-on-ones with staff.
By doing this, what your team gets is that their leader understands, empathises, and cares. That’s reassuring and creates a sense of security. It’s okay not to have all the answers.
2. Help them understand their emotions:
Managing teams is a unique skill. It demands that the manager not just manages processes but also understands emotions at play. Every team leader is responsible for creating and maintaining a work environment where people feel safe, motivated and are accountable.
Employees want to manage work-life, grow, gain experience and most importantly feel satisfied in the process. Prioritise near term goals in one-on-one discussions. Find out what employees envision for themselves; and if they are getting the right exposure and training for it. Look for personal situations or team conflicts that may be occupying their mind space and hampering their performance. Share with them possible coping mechanisms if you find them struggling or direct them to an appropriate person. Checking in frequently with employees will ensure you have a better rapport and they have better access to you.
Develop mentoring programs to help them get the most. It is important to be proactive and decisive especially in times of uncertainty and crisis. It is pointless to wait for problems to spread. As a leader, you must anticipate issues and prevent matters from blowing out of proportion.
3. Identify and use informal communication channels:
Communication channels like taking the help of influencers in the form of popular employees to spread messages, or allowing information flow at the employee level rather than top-down communication, and empowering more employees to voice their opinions through moderated platforms. Informal communication is far more relatable and is more natural. It encourages people to interact freely where a diverse range of topics can be discussed, often extending outside work duties as well. This fosters a good easy work culture as well.
4. Monitor and control the flow of information:
How much information is too much? And how insular and closed-door can you be? A balance should be struck and this requires constant monitoring. While formal communication is top-down, allowing very little room for manoeuvring, informal communication can be very free-flowing and can backfire causing false information and rumours to be spread as well. It is important to be responsible for communication. For example, no matter what, if you don’t have the green signal to share information about layoffs or pay-cuts, you cannot say anything. You can’t even give a hint to the employee. The best thing to do, in this situation, is to maintain kindness while explicitly acknowledging a high level of uncertainty does in fact exists.
One way for leaders to assess whether real, productive, rewarding interactions continue to happen is to continuously measure them. This means tracking patterns of digital communication along with physical contact and exposure and trying to balance them in order to maximise information flow and minimise damage through false communication.
In specific reference to situations like the pandemic, it shows that such interaction between people promotes a better frame of mind. Also having a specific person to turn to in a time of need or crisis is especially helpful. Promoting regular human connection when physical contact must be minimised can go a long way toward maintaining the social support any organisation requires.
5. Acknowledge the elephant in the room:
Instead of attempting to downplay the situation, it is important to accept the challenges and plan to relook at organisational goals which should be communicated effectively to the employees. Reduce the time of planning and increase the frequency of goal-evaluation through communication. Encourage employees and managers to be adaptable and be there to support and guide them along the way.
Be sure to also communicate these changes, and plans or way forward to other people involved including vendors and customers. For example, if you have new rules about travelling for work, establish it well and make alternatives like hosting virtual meetings when necessary.
Be realistic about your sales targets or keep clients abreast of the situation so they can rework their expectations. Making adjustments isn’t always easy—and it might take some time. But by acknowledging the situation and providing a clear plan with support will help employees adjust and deal with the uncertainty better.
As managers and team leaders, you are going to play the most critical role in navigating your team during the current times. It is therefore important that you understand the challenges you will face while leading a team. Listen and pay careful attention to all that is taking place – inside and outside you. On the inside, if you are feeling anxious or confused, the team will sense it and you will see its ripple effect adversely. You must deal with your own emotions before dealing with the emotions of others. On the outside, collective knowledge that comes from all sections of your office and their managers will offer greater insights. This will help you anticipate the unexpected and prepare you to handle anxiety from employees so that engagement can remain strong.
At the end of the day, you are teaching people how to succeed in a crisis and should lead by example. Consider your employees’ perspective; what would you want to hear if you were in their shoes? Also, we reiterate here to use inspiring positive language. The best way to create a sense of belonging, ownership and responsibility in your team is to be inclusive. It’s always better together.
At Yellow Spark, we help our clients to coach and develop managers that are strong inside out which helps the organisation navigate through challenging situations. To know what we can do for you, write to us – firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.