If the past three years have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty in business is a certainty. An unforeseen pandemic completely changed the world of work. Social unrest forced organizations to rapidly make systemic changes to the employee experience. Fundamental shifts in what people are looking for from an employer resulted in a dramatic change in talent strategy.
And now, as another year gets going, we’re facing even more uncertainty. From layoffs, pressures of inflation, and fear of a recession, many businesses and consumers are finding themselves in a ‘wait and see’ phase – making it more difficult than usual to predict what’s ahead.
While dealing with uncertainty is expected for leaders, it can massively impact productivity, progress, and engagement for employees. Here are three things we know about change that will help leaders weather a potentially tumultuous year, and help to reduce the negative impacts uncertainty can have on employees:
1. Building organizational resilience is a must for both the unknown and known challenges
This is something our colleague, Paul Thallner talks about in his book, Reinventing Resilience. In it, he describes how being resilient is always a necessity for organizations, but there are three different scenarios where organizational resilience comes into play:
The first is within day-to-day work needed to keep a business running. This is largely predictable, but the volume of work plays a large role in creating pressures on systems and individuals. Resilience is required to keep things going, despite the work being a continuous journey rather than a destination.
The second scenario is when an organization goes through self-induced change – or when an organization deliberately decides to do something differently (e.g., new strategy, layoffs, reorganizations, etc.). Amidst strategy pivots and workforce reductions, strengthening resilience can help to put pressure on both individuals who resist change and status quo thinking.
And lastly, the third scenario is when there is unplanned or unknown change. The pandemic is a prime example of this, but organizations face this on a smaller scale all the time – natural disasters, economic turbulence, supply chain disruptions, and more. Even the departure of a key leader can throw an organization into chaos.
So, by building organizational resilience, it will give leaders and employees the courage and confidence needed to grow through challenges (versus simply surviving them). This is key – especially during times of even more change.
2. Listen and communicate, even when you don’t have all the answers
With any type of change or uncertainty, the worst thing an organization can do is stay silent, especially in this ‘wait and see’ economy. Organizations should revisit their listening and engagement strategy to understand employees’ concerns and put a plan in place to address the top issues. Remember, there is no such thing as overcommunication during difficult times, especially in hybrid work environments where communications can easily be dispersed.
Recently, we helped a client establish a monthly ‘all people manager’ forum, which operates as a two-way flow of information. While business updates are shared, the main focus of the meeting is sourcing (and addressing) ‘on-the-ground’ feedback, questions and concerns managers have sourced through formal and informal channels with their employees. Anecdotally, employee feedback and trust in leadership has increased due to these forums.
3. Identify and leverage the trusted voices in your organization – it’s not always the leaders who hold influence
Within every organization there are individuals across different roles and levels who are viewed as influencers and trusted by their peers. Now is the time to identify and activate these individuals as ‘champions’ of the organization, brand, and culture. Leveraging champions as the voice of the brand/company can add one more tether to the organization and build colleagues’ trust in the long-term outlook.
Looking to bolster weak in-office participation in the new hybrid world, one client recently established a working group of influential employees. The working group came together to talk about the barriers and benefits of in-office participation. As a result of recommendations from the group, the company established new working norms (e.g., enforcing protected collaboration and commute times against meetings for in-office days) and in-person perks (including leader facetime). They also re-framed messaging away from ‘fixed office days’ to giving employees the flexibility to ‘skip the office’ 2-3 days a week. These employee-driven changes resulted in an increase in office attendance and a positive shift in perception of location flexibility.
Building resilience, transparent communication and activating your organization’s influencers are key steps you can take to overcome uncertainty and reduce the negative impacts it can have on employees. So, remember that while you can’t control everything that happens this year, there is a lot that can be done to keep employee engagement, productivity, and morale high.