So my first advice is that if you can’t handle uncertainty, don’t even start down that road. On the other hand, entrepreneurs have a reputation for being one of the happiest and healthiest career paths around.
Your team members, despite what you may think is reasonable, often suffer more than you as a founder from uncertainty in the workplace. However, I’m convinced that you can mitigate many of these anxieties by your actions, so I was pleased to see similar insights in a new book, Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done.
Authors Adrian Gostick and Chestor Elton, with their deep backgrounds as executive coaches and organizational consultants, recommend some simple methods, consistent with my own beliefs, to reduce the pain of uncertainty, and increase productivity, in your teams and employees:
1. Make it okay for them to not have all the answers.
As a leader or manager, it’s important that you acknowledge as a role model that you nor anyone has all the answers. You must clearly delineate between issues where answers are known, such as process problems, versus market challenges, where forces are unpredictable.
One approach I suggest is to encourage structured debates on issues, first admitting that your ideas may be wrong, and encouraging their input, without penalty if they don’t have answers, or their suggestions don’t work. This leads to a minimal anxiety environment.
2. Loosen your grip during ambiguous situations.
Many of us have a tendency to micromanage and become more controlling during high-visibility uncertain challenges. This typically causes more anxiety and stress for all, and reduces thinking outside the box, creative efforts, and the risk taking necessary to get to the best solution. Listen first.
It’s also critical that you stay positive during stressful and uncertain situations. Your positivity will keep the stress level down, and the productivity level up for everyone on the team, including yourself. You will be the role model, and people will follow your lead.
3. Ensure everyone knows what’s expected of them.
Anxiety will be ratcheted up when team members see constantly changing or non-specific targets, or no guidance on how to achieve their goals. When times are uncertain, measurement timeframes should be short. Good job descriptions are a start, but regular feedback and active listening are a must.
As a general rule, if an employee is asking questions about minutia, it’s fair to assume that they are unfamiliar with the process, and they need more training or coaching. Don’t assume that what is common sense to you is equally obvious to all team members.
4. Keep people focused on what can be controlled.
When team members concentrate their thoughts on what they can’t control, such as an economic downturn, anxiety grows. Don’t use unreachable targets to push teams to their limits. Help team members realize what they cannot change, and restructure their to-do lists to other valuable contributions.
Help your team to recognize that sometimes, all they can really control is their effort and attitude. When you put your energy into the things that you can control, you’ll be much less stressed, and much more productive, as a manager or an employee.
5. Show a bias to action and how to accept risk.
It’s always necessary to make decisions and move forward, even in the face of uncertainty. Analysis paralysis and perfectionism have no place in today’s rapidly changing environments. Make every forward movement a learning moment, no matter what the outcome. Show humility and own your mistakes.
6. Don’t be afraid to deliver fair, tough coaching.
The best constructive feedback includes specific ideas for improvement, instead of generalities, along with meaningful praise in the right measure. Constructive feedback minimizes uncertainty by clarifying expectations, and builds confidence that one can improve and be recognized.
Overall, it’s important to remember that business uncertainties lead to the opportunities for you to win competitively, and succeed in the long run. Your challenge is to resolve these challenges more quickly and more effectively for your customers.
To do this, you need a team that is excited and motivated by the challenges. Make it a win-win situation for them and for your business.