05 Feb The Basics of Management in an Era of Change and Uncertainty
“The greatest battle is between the madness of desire and the reality of uncertainty.”- Saim .A. Cheeda
Imagine you are the captain of a ship caught in a storm. Strong waves and heavy winds are making the ship rock to and fro, endangering its voyage. Your plan for a safe voyage is now ruined and you must change your strategies in order to protect your crew and ship. This is similar to the situation manager’s face in today’s world of constant change and uncertainty.
In this volatile world of business, not only do managers need to survive change, they are expected to turn it into an advantage and thrive in the new environment. It is time for innovative managerial approaches. Agility, speed, and adaptability are the most valued qualities in today’s managers. But with increasing demand for speeding up work, there are a few risks every manager has to face. The challenge for today’s managers is to adapt to change without putting their companies at risk.
“Embrace relational uncertainty. It’s called romance. Embrace spiritual uncertainty. It’s called mystery. Embrace occupational uncertainty. It’s called destiny. Embrace emotional uncertainty. It’s called joy. Embrace intellectual uncertainty. It’s called revelation.”- Mark Batterson
Let me narrate a short tale I came across recently. A businessman goes to visit his mentor, who’s a veteran in the world of commerce, delivering speeches on large platforms, and advising large and small companies. This businessman often gave advice to his potential clients regarding digital marketing, business coaching, and other strategies. While engaging with his clients, he was often faced with uncertainty. It bothered him how he was unable to predict future changes, and how the future always managed to overshadow him.
He was in much need of good advice. He told his mentor about his clients who wanted him to bring certainty and stability to their digital marketing strategies. The internet is an ever-changing place, and full of people who pretend to be something they are not. In such an environment, his clients were not certain about how to establish communication with their customer base. Ironically, the businessman himself was uncertain about what to do. So he asked his mentor for advice, and to provide him with a course of action.
The wise mentor replied that it is not the businessman who is uncertain. It is an ever-changing environment. He said that since the businessman was certain about the uncertainty of the business world that was an asset in itself.
The moral of the above story is that the first step to tackling uncertainty is accepting that the environment is, in fact, uncertain. Once you accept the fact that the future is uncertain, you can plan accordingly. Remember, as a manager, you’re the person your entire team looks up to. So you should never reveal how uncertainty is tightening its grip on you. But a clear line of communication should be maintained. Team members need to know about the uncertain times that lie ahead, and they need to be sure that the captain of their ship, in this case, the manager, will never abandon them.
Abandon the cargo-cult way of thinking
“Uncertainty is a quality to be cherished, therefore – if not for it, who would dare to undertake anything?”― Auguste de Villiers de L’Isle-Adam
During the Second World War, the pacific islands were turned into battlegrounds. Supplies for the soldiers and other military equipment were airdropped in the jungle. The soldiers shared these supplies with the indigenous people who guided them through the jungle. The locals were tribal people and they had never before seen such things.
After the war was over, the soldiers left. But the indigenous people wanted those airdrops again. So they built dummy airfields with fake runaways and lit signal fires, copying the soldiers. They thought that by doing this, the airdrops would start arriving again, and they can enjoy all the luxurious items in the drops. Of course, the war was over and no airdrop ever arrived. This cult was known as the cargo-cult.
The cargo-cult way of thinking is that, if you imitate what another person is doing, it will yield the same results. This applies to business as well. Suppose, you as a manager notice your competitor doing certain things that are bringing them huge success, so you decide to mimic them. But just because it worked out for their company doesn’t necessarily mean it will work out for you. The cargo-cult way of thinking is problematic because it is largely based on assumptions.
During times of uncertainty, a manager may be tempted to follow the example of others. While doing so, a certain bias may creep in the decision-making process. I’ve seen this many times in all these years working as a business leader. A manager would often take an instance where a particular thing worked out for one individual or company, and use that example to justify his decision. Counterexamples are often conveniently ignored. This is not the correct approach. While making a decision, especially during uncertain times, a manager must consider all the options, and instances of failure as well as success.
Personal Development of Employees
“Leadership is the ability to facilitate movement in the needed direction and have people feel good about it.”- Tom Smith
In today’s volatile world of business, agile learning is encouraged. Unlike in earlier days, when people were hired just to follow orders without asking questions, today’s work culture encourages innovation and learning. Employees are given preference when they can bring something special to the table. In this environment, managers must encourage fresh ideas.
Today’s commercial world is all about employees helping the organization evolve, and in the process, evolve themselves. What managers need to do in such a scenario is to decide when to pay close attention to an employee, and when to leave them to their work. An employee is more likely to try new things when they are left alone. When supported by the management, the employee pursues his passion with renewed zeal. But a good manager knows when to reign in their employee, in case they start to travel off-track and lose the sense of company objectives.
At the same time, empathy is a great quality every manager must have in an era of change. Employee morale is often overlooked, and this can prove to be a critical mistake. A study has shown that empathetic leaders are by far the more successful ones. An empathetic and sensitive manager can successfully manage people hailing from different cultural backgrounds. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella agrees that empathy is important in a world where the rapid development of technology is disturbing conventional ideas and notions. When employees in an organization are faced with the unknown, often there are emotional reactions. Managers should be empathetic enough to understand the emotional condition of their employees.
Change is the only constant in today’s world of business. It requires leaders to adapt and emerge out of their comfort zone. With each passing day, the business scenario is witnessing a rapid change. Managers need to embrace these changes and lead by example in order to allow the company to thrive.