Uncertainty is the new normal. How can business navigate future changes?

Tuesday 20 December 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, Mark BW McDermott reflects on the dramatic changes of the last twelve months. Unsurprisingly, people within your organisation are likely to feel insecure. How can businesses help to manage the uncertainty and navigate through the next turbulent few years?

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”

Helen Keller

Uncertainty is the new normal
Over the past twelve months, many of the previous certainties have been turned on their head. Britain has decided to exit the European Union, Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States and even the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. The shifts these events represent to the established order will have affected how businesses operate within an ambiguous environment, and to question exactly what the future holds. 


So how can businesses operate successfully in this volatile environment?
Without doubt, this uncertainty can affect the morale and confidence of your teams. Will the cost of living rise and will people have less money in their pockets? How will our schools, hospitals and social care fare over the next few years? And will the structure of your organisation’s workforce change dramatically in the near future?

Whilst most businesses cannot influence the external factors they may face, they can focus on how to future-proof their business through creating a stable working environment. Your executive team will be aware of this need, lead from the front, engender good collaborative practices, encourage effective social networks, and provide certainty to the workforce in an uncertain world. Working for a common goal, that is clearly communicated can improve morale, ensure people are engaged and clear on what lies ahead so that the organisation can achieve its objectives.

Is your executive team doing their job?
In difficult times, it is very easy for the most senior team to get paralysed into inaction. A 2011 McKinsey & Co article “Three steps to building a better top team” identifies three critical priorities when constructing and developing an effective executive management team that can help get through tough times:-

  1. Get the right people on the team
    This might require the CEO to make difficult choices about who should and should not be on the team to take the business forward.
  2. Stick to the essential tasks
    Be clear about which tasks can be effectively achieved by other people in the business and which activities can only be undertaken by an individual in the executive team. This keeps everyone on track, ensures that executives are not weighed down by more routine activities and that they keep an eye on achieving the longer-term objectives.
  3. Focus on team interaction and processes
    A key aspect of the executive team’s role is to ensure effective cooperation and collaboration in teams throughout the organisation. This can help solve many problems before they become an issue and help teams better achieve their goals.

Engender a collaborative culture
Getting teams to work effectively is particularly challenging for large, dispersed organisations. Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams illustrates the importance of HR in providing training in skills that relate to collaborative behaviour and their role in supporting information community networks with the organisation. The research also reinforced the importance of having a culture of coaching, where it is normal from day one for everyone throughout the organisation to support the development of their colleagues.

Of course, it’s down to the front-line teams to deliver on the business objectives, so the above tips are just as important to your managers and team leaders to ensure them and their people are on board, clear about expectations and performance standards so they are engaged. Why? Because an engaged workforce is more likely to deliver your brands experience to your customers as they endeavour to be agile and give great customer service.

There is little doubt that 2017 is going to present its own set of unique challenges. However, executive teams that are willing to face the uncertainty head-on, lead by example and focus on developing the team building skills of their people will be best placed to confront any challenge that the future holds.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy Christmas and Peaceful 2017.

Further reading
Three steps to building a better top team

http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/three-steps-to-building-a-better-top-team
Eight ways to build a collaborative team
https://hbr.org/2007/11/eight-ways-to-build-collaborative-teams

This post was written by

Mark BW McDermott

Account Director

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