Leading and Managing through Uncertainty and Change
As the UK continues to reel from the political and economic instability resulting from the Brexit vote, strong leadership is now required from the UK’s business leaders. With unprecedented levels of uncertainty and change, leaders will need to focus even more on their core skills and competencies to demonstrate their ability to lead and manage through major change. According to HR experts, executives will look to implement change management principles and become more visible, honing their skills in building effective working relationships, negotiating and influencing, creating and communicating a revised vision and strategy, making sound leadership judgements, creating a culture of innovation and growth, developing resilience.
Leaders will be faced with the need to make increasingly tough decisions around key challenges, from the potential relocation of offices and teams in to continental Europe, to the renegotiation of trade and partnership agreements, as well as employment contracts. HR will need to assist in reassuring employees and dealing with a potential rise in levels of conflict and unconscious bias. Successful leaders will need to be able to demonstrate authentic, collaborative leadership, leading from the front and by example, in order to drive through necessary changes with a workforce which may be divided and certainly anxious.
Organizations most likely to succeed in this uncertain future will need to be agile, able to overcome resistance to the high levels of uncertainty and change, ready to seize new opportunities, adopt new and improved ideas, as well as creating and embedding different values, attitudes, norms, and behaviours. In the short term leaders will need to increase their levels of communication to allay fears and anxiety by addressing the associated shock, resistance, confusion and possible associated stress; their aim will be to move team members along the change curve towards the more desired reactions of problem solving, acceptance, openness and learning in order to avoid disengagement and a fall in productivity.
During times of uncertainty and change, those leaders and organizations who succeed tend to be able to embrace change as an opportunity to create a new vision and strategy, improve processes, seek new markets, identify areas for greater profitability, viewing change as an opportunity to learn and evolve. Such leaders and companies will often buck the trend and witness increased productivity, improved employee engagement, with a renewed sense of pride and ownership. However, the upcoming months look as if they will be testing even the most robust organizations and leaders.
One of the ways to address the fear of an uncertain future and the potential negative effects of change is to greatly increase levels of communication, with regular updates on progress, whilst at the same time obtaining feedback from team members. Once facts are established, information gathered and options explored, as with the need for the UK’s political leaders, business leaders will need to show authority and confidence in defining new directions with specific goals in order to continue to motivate and inspire their teams, build organizational unity and a united culture with values such as honesty and trust being clearly demonstrated. Leaders should try to demonstrate enthusiasm and positivity to address the uncertainty and change, adapting their leadership style to become more ‘commanding’ and ‘pacesetting’ in Daniel Goleman’s terms, in order to allay fear, give strong direction, to drive and implement necessary changes, motivate teams and create some short term stability. Younger team members in particular are now asking to be led.
HR and management should be accessible in order to answer queries, and elicit input and feedback. As with any change, such as an organizational restructure, managers should try to explain options and empower team members to problem solve. Individuals working internationally or in virtual teams may require more clarity on their roles and responsibilities. In order to keep teams engaged, short term tactics and objectives should be set, creating a sense of urgency as well as asking for patience until the future becomes clearer.
Despite the false promises of the leave campaign, part of their motto of ‘taking back control’ could be adopted by business leaders as they are forced to become even more proactive, seize the initiative, and be highly innovative in order to survive the economic and political uncertainty and try to embrace the further upcoming changes.