Living with Uncertainty

Look around you. What can you see?

Well, actually that is the point: you can’t see it. Uncertainty, that is. It is all around us.

Whether it be due to the current political and economic environment or changes afoot in your company, or maybe even at home. Children growing up – what will their future hold? How will we deal with them going to school or off to uni, and how will they cope?

The last two and half years of my life have brought tremendous change and the one thing that kept me awake in the early days of things changing around me was the question, “What will happen next? How will it all work out?” I wanted the answer. I wanted a crystal ball. I wanted to know everything would be ok.

The problem with these questions is that once the brain gets to work on them it can create many answers, often ranging from the fantastical through to downright scary. And of course, all of them are not real or true: they are just made up in my own inner world of thoughts, hopes and fears.

Paying too much attention to them is dangerous. If you do spend time believing everything you think, you begin to act out those thoughts, finding clues in things around you that confirm that your inner world of thoughts is actually REAL.

Worrying doesn’t help

In reality, if I have learnt one thing over the last two years of turmoil in my own life, it is that I just don’t know what will happen next… and how it will affect me.

Once I discovered that all my worrying, questioning and thinking was, in effect, not having much, if any, bearing on things, it gave me a kind of peace and confidence that it would all be ok.

Now, you need to make a distinction here between thinking that prepares you for what is coming and thinking that is just a waste of effort. Sometimes, thinking things through, getting ready, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s is prudent and sensible. However, with all that thinking you still have to acknowledge that it is all done with good intentions and even then… you still don’t know what will happen. And that’s ok.

Preparing for Brexit

Many of the businesses we work with have been making plans for Brexit; thinking about the impact and perhaps already making changes. Some people are very worried about the repercussions of how it will all work out. That, of course, is very sensible and for all of us business owners it makes sense to be prepared. However, the world is crying out for certainty. The media wants and demands that politicians tell us what is the plan, what will happen?

The hindsight bias kicks in as well, with lots of clever people on TV and radio telling us “I can’t believe the government didn’t see that coming”. We are, of course, all prone to knowing more after the act, or looking at things differently once more information comes to light.

We can and should prepare for Brexit in our businesses as much as we think is right and necessary… but then we have to sit back, wait and see, and get comfortable with the uncertainty. There’s nothing else we can do.

Accepting uncertainty

Do you know for a fact what you will be doing on this very same date next year?

Of course, you don’t (unless you have a wedding or something already planned in). But, if you are normal, you accept that you don’t know and you get on with life. We’re all constantly making the best decisions possible with all the information we have to hand.

An exercise that a few of our clients have found useful is to think of all the concerns that you have currently. Write them down, make a list.

Once you have done this, go through the list and pick out the top three things that really require your attention. Separate out the stuff that is just not important enough to really concern you.

Now you have a list of important issues ask the yourself the following questions:

  1. What is really at the crux of the issue?
  2. Why is it bothering you?
  3. What are the consequences of doing nothing?
  4. What would be an ideal solution?
  5. Who could help you?
  6. What are the main chunks of the problem that you need to think through?
  7. Under each chunk, what could you do to move towards your ideal solution?
  8. What could you do within the next 24 hours to help you move towards your ideal solution?
  9. Now you have got a plan, what help will worrying about it further bring?

Ok, so now you have the bare bones of an action plan.

Then, get on with it… take action.

You can actually take action in the knowledge that you are doing the very best you can based on the knowledge you have. That’s it. The future will still be uncertain, we can’t change that, but we can still move forward.

We’re all in the same boat

Brexits, kids, relationships, jobs, the economy, parents, football teams, exam results etc etc… The list is endless and none of us know how things will work out.

At my friends Sarah & Alex’s house hangs a sign that always makes me smile. It says:

“Don’t take life too seriously. None of us gets out alive anyway.”

I suppose there is some certainty in that.

The real question for us all to think about is a yes or no one and simply put is:

Am I doing my best with the information and knowledge I currently have?

If the answer is yes, then get comfortable with uncertainty, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be ok. You’ll adapt and make it work. Whatever “it” is…

The Purpose Principle

I was recently visiting a former client’s office: a company I have not worked with for quite some time but where we still have a good relationship and keep each other informed of what’s going on in our respective businesses.

It was great to catch up with people and see some old friends.

The business in question operates in a very competitive market place and as such, over the last five years or so, has managed its people very closely. So I was surprised to hear that they have decided to remove all local management teams. They now have a matrix structure right across the European business.

“How’s that working?” I asked of a few people that I bumped into. Time and again the answer came back: “It doesn’t work, we get no direction, we get conflicting information on what the priorities are and I don’t know who my boss is any more!”

One particular person went even further and said, “Everybody is miserable!”

It raised the question for me: “Why are you here then… Why are you doing it if it makes you miserable?”

Finding our own purpose

Clearly there are many reasons as to why we do the jobs we do or have the careers that we have, but how many people actually stop and ask, “Why am I doing this? What is the purpose for me being in this job?”

Getting to the bottom of our own purpose is enlightening and helps keep us going when times get tough. There can be no right or wrong answer here either.

So, on a personal level: “Why?”

Is it just a job, a task…? For the money, it pays the bills?

There is nothing wrong with this answer. We all need money and have bills to pay. If that is the case then let’s be clear about it: let’s value the money that the job brings and let’s make decisions about how much we are prepared to put up with or give in line with what we earn.

We also need to acknowledge that you could in theory earn money somewhere else. So, does it really matter what the business does as long as it pays well enough?

Developing your career

It could be more than that though. It could be about having a career in a specific industry: working your way through several experiences within that industry and perhaps working your way towards a particular role that you have always wanted to do. Ambition starts to come into play here. Long term goals, stepping stones and learning as you move towards the desired role can all be important.

This can be really exciting because, if you love the industry you are in, you will regularly feel the buzz that it brings you. It might also give you options to move around the different companies that occupy different parts of that industry. So, if it gets a bit miserable at one company or the culture doesn’t work for you, then have obvious places to look within the industry for a fresh challenge.

Passion for your work

For some people, though, it is not about the money or a career within an industry, it is about a vocation or a calling – a passion for doing something that you believe in. Coincidentally, I met a friend on the same day who told me that she had just been interviewed for a new job with an online pharmacy business. Her current role is focused on customer experience within casinos.

She said, “I could really get out of bed in a morning believing that I am helping someone get the medicines they need rather than encouraging someone to gamble.”

The bottom line here for her is that there is a clear connection to an organisation’s purpose and a belief in what they are doing.

Short-term goals and long-term purpose

For the old clients I visited the lack of local management is resulting in people that have lost sight of the bigger picture and purpose as well as the short-term goals that gave them their energy and helped them feel like there were moving the business forwards. They just don’t know how the dots join up anymore.

For some of them it all feels a bit vague.

If individuals feel lost, then of course teams can feel lost, not understanding what their focus should be, what they are having an impact on or even what they are supposed to be delivering.

Finding your purpose

Whether you are doing the work you are doing because it is a job, a career or because it is a vocation doesn’t really matter; each of these reasons have their own purpose for the individual for that moment in their life.

However, if you are leading a team or running a business ask yourself these simple questions:

  1. What is our purpose as a business? Why are we doing this?
  2. Do our people understand the purpose of the business?
  3. Does the businesses purpose align to the personal reasons people have for being here?

In my experience when you ask people “why are you here?” they don’t always know the answer straight away.

For many, it is not something they think about that often. Digging down and discovering our own purpose (whatever it is) can only be beneficial for everyone. It will ultimately allow people to make better decisions and be more resilient when times get tough.

If leaders can articulate the businesses purpose clearly and often, then even teams that are managed remotely and with a light touch can engage with the organisation’s Purpose Principal.

Why do some people want change to be gift wrapped?

If you have experienced change in the workplace, you have probably met some people who will only get on board when all the Is have been dotted and the Ts crossed.

In this podcast, Richard and Paul explore why this happens, and if you find yourself or those around you in this situation, how you can deal with it.

 

There are some people who only want to engage with any change at the last possible moment. It is like they only get involved when someone else has gift-wrapped the change plan, so they don’t have to take any ownership moving forward.

As frustrating as this can be for a leader, it can help to understand why it happens – which can then give you the tools to tackle it and get people to engage.

Refusal to get on board with change is often related to our natural avoidance of uncertainty. As humans, we like to know exactly what lies ahead and will avoid engaging with something which contains elements of doubt.

It’s simply not possible to create a gift-wrapped change that will suit everyone. People create a story in their own heads to fill in the gaps and uncertainties so, in a large group, everyone may have a different expectation of the change which often doesn’t match up with what is really happening.

Uncertainty usually results in an emotional reaction, as we discussed in our previous podcast. When our expectations of certainty clash with the reality that change means uncertainty, our natural instinct is to see it as a threat.

As leaders, we need to look at ways to tackle that emotional reaction and get people to respond more rationally.

Richard and Paul revisit the ICE strategy: giving Information to reassure people about what we know and being honest about what we don’t; presenting Choices to help people gain more control over what lies ahead, which drives the shift from emotional to rational; and helping people to Engage so they become part of the decisions and solutions needed to shape the change.

By using this approach, you can encourage people to let go of their need for gift-wrapped change and to accept uncertainty as a natural part of the process of change.

Why having purpose behind change is fundamental to success

Imagine setting off on a journey.

You leave your home and you know you want to get to a city further away – but you haven’t decided why you want to go or what you’ll do when you get there.

Along the way, you stop off at another town. You look around and find somewhere to eat, then you start exploring the landmarks, enjoying the views and finding some hidden gems. Before you know it, you’ve forgotten all about going to the city and you’re staying in the town – or heading back home.

By contrast, if you set off with a purpose in mind, you are far more likely to stick to your journey and to reach your destination without being distracted by something else before you arrive.

How does this apply in business?

Whenever we’re called in to support an organisation facing change, one of the first questions we ask is, “Why?”

“Why?” is always the starting point for successful change. Without knowing your Why, you can’t hope to get the How, When, Who of Where right.

Having purpose behind change is absolutely fundamental to success. Understanding why change is needed gives you the best possible chance of staying on course to achieve your aims.

Think about it: if you don’t know why you need to make change, it affects everything else in the process.

You will struggle to set the most appropriate end goal if you can’t articulate the reasons for setting it in the first place.

Your method of achieving your goal may be flawed if you don’t fully understand why the change is needed.

You can’t possibly convince your team of the merits of what’s ahead if you’re unsure of them yourself..

How do you establish the purpose of change?

Recognising that change is needed is only the first part of the story. It’s surprising how many people fail to look at the bigger picture at this early stage, ploughing on with the change regardless and soon losing sight of what they wanted to achieve in the first place.

We recommend starting out with a thorough examination of your project. Try answering these questions:

  • What aspect of your business needs to change?
  • What is it that’s not working at present?
  • What does future success look like?

In combination, the answers to these questions will give you your purpose of change.

Getting your team to buy in to change

Once you’ve established your purpose, getting your team to buy in to change is vital – and helping them to understand the purpose of change will be the most important factor in your success.

We frequently come across managers who think that, by simply telling their team what is going to happen, they are saving them from the extra burden of needing to understand why. Their intentions are good, but all that happens is that team members feel dictated to, rather than buying into what lies ahead. The change process is inevitably less successful.

People change faster when they have purpose. Explaining why your organisation needs to change will engage people more quickly with the new ways of working. If we believe in the why, we can accept the smaller process changes as being justified.

Share the purpose of change with your team and you might be surprised by their enthusiasm. If they can see the end goal, as well as what future success will mean to them, they are far more likely to play an active role in achieving it. Not only will they be more willing to follow instructions, but they may also chime in with their own contributions and help to add a new dimension to the project.

What next?

Once you have established your purpose and got your team to buy in, turn your thoughts to the routes to success. In most cases, there will be several ways in which you could implement change, with variation in cost, timescale, effort and so on. As above, your team may also bring forward new suggestions you hadn’t even considered.

Analyse them all in relation to the success you need to achieve before choosing the way forward.

By establishing the purpose of change, you can transform the entire project and hugely escalate your chances of success.

 

Planning workplace change and want to ensure you have the best possible chance of success? Contact us to find out how we can help.

Why do some people think that if they ignore change it will go away?

 

Some people don’t like change but ignoring it won’t make life any easier.

In our podcast, Rob and Rich discuss how it’s possible to deal with change in a positive way.

When it comes to change, it’s common for people to pretend it’s not happening and carry on regardless. In the podcast, Rob and Rich discuss how change can be uncomfortable and disconcerting but it’s often the uncertainty of the situation that is the route of the problem.

Asking ourselves if we see change as a negative or as an opportunity can help. Rob explains if you find yourself in a position where change is afoot, the best approach is to try to separate fact from fiction. We should aim to discover the facts to achieve greater understanding and certainty. Getting the right information and clarification in a proactive way is important. After all, uncertainty really means that we have questions on our minds which need to be answered.

Rob and Rich go onto explore the role leaders have to play in an organisation. Many people are naturally unsettled by change and it’s possible to support them by asking the right questions. Consideration needs to be given to communicating the right information in the right way and repeating it a number of times if necessary.

The pair conclude their discussion by looking at how we can try to achieve a mind shift when the issue of change arises. Essentially, the key is to embrace the opportunities change can bring rather than focusing on the negative aspects.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.

Why is thinking so important to business?

 

Thinking underpins everything we do, driving the actions we take which deliver the results we get, yet most people just take thinking for granted.

Ricky and Richard explore how Thinking can have an impact on driving better results, showing how taking control of your thinking can deliver different results.

 

It’s fair to say many of us take the power of thinking for granted. In the podcast, Ricky and Richard discuss how thinking fundamentally affects our actions or inactions. The challenge arises when our thinking isn’t getting the results we would like to see. This could be evidence the team or business isn’t heading in quite the right direction.

Ricky and Richard consider how we need to ask ourselves questions. Are the actions we are taking, as a result of our thinking, working in reality? It’s all too easy to get caught in a loop where we keep doing the same things but somehow expect the results to change. As the pair explain, if we want to see a change in the outcome, we need to change the quality of our thinking.

We also need to ask questions of ourselves that help us to think differently. After all, our subconscious and the long-standing habits we have formed over many years will be having an impact. To drive a different set of results, we need to be asking ourselves a new set of questions and trying to create some new habits. Even if a business has the same products or processes as before, by challenging people’s thinking it’s possible to come up with a new way of doing things and get better results.

Ricky and Richard wrap up their discussion by exploring how in a work environment, the natural focus is often on the output. Thinking is essentially an input and by examining our thinking and collaborating with others, we can increase our chances of success.

The Thinking Focus: The Question Is podcast series is available to download on ITunes.