Creating a framework in uncertainty
Uncertainty is not the same as chaos and being out of control although often people get caught up in feeling both of those. The following extract from my book Leading through uncertainty explains the value of creating a framework to provide stability to enable people to feel more secure.
Most if not all of the CEOs I interviewed for my book referenced creating certainty amidst uncertainty by being clear what was certain and what was not and operating according to the things you can influence and letting go of those you cannot.
A framework enables teams to operate effectively together in times of uncertainty. Having clear boundaries and guidelines enables them to be agile and flexible, whilst providing safety and security for everyone. Uncertainty requires a new set of skills and a framework within which to flex and operate. In the absence of a defined vision, guidelines, boundaries and roles, teams encounter disconnection, disengagement, disagreements and confusion. Differences of opinion may lead to chaos, prevarication and lengthy meetings that go round and round with no clear outcome and no shared responsibility for success.
A framework during uncertainty helps leaders and teams lead with more ease and flow. It requires a presence and willingness from each person to act in service of the whole, as well as an ability to self-manage in moments of discomfort. The desire for self-protection is in direct response to the vulnerability and discomfort of uncertainty. A loose framework that can be evolved by the group enables leadership to flow more easily and reduces the insecurity of not knowing.
Clarity, security and stability
The framework provides a level of clarity in the uncertainty, something that a team can hold onto, knowing the shared boundaries within which they can operate. This provides security and stability for people to hang onto, reduces the vulnerability of being out of the comfort zone and supports dialogue and conversation. There are many different ways of providing a framework – through values, guidelines of how the team work and clear expectations. The more clarity that you can provide in times of uncertainty, the more people can relax within what is unknown, as they have something to hang on to.
In an interview with Sondra Scott, President of Verisk Maplecroft in 2017, she explained how she how she identifies the highest priority for her team to focus on. “It helps us have a framework that keeps people grounded. The framework provides the certainty within which we can flex. It’s really hard to be flexible if you don’t know what the boundaries are within which you are flexing. You need to be able to pivot quickly so if you already understand the implications, you can act more quickly and be more flexible and agile.”
She went on to explain: “People associate uncertainty with fear and see it as a bad thing. You can get paralysed if you don’t conquer the fear. The best way to conquer that fear is to dissect it, understand it and identify the worst-case scenario. Then you can start to take action to protect yourself and reduce the risks. It becomes easier to lead once you have the scenarios mapped out because you know the worst-case scenario is avoidable.”
Personal and organisational values
However you build a framework, it sets the guidelines for how we work and what we do. Another key component of any framework is your personal values that can guide you on how to operate. For example, when applying for a new role, you can decide if the company is a good fit for you. Notice what language is used in the job description, as well as the interview and every interaction you have. If you have a value around collaboration and much of the conversation is around personal gain, there may be a mismatch. Your values set the tone for the team or organisation you lead as well as your own decisions and should be demonstrable in every day actions.
Organisations often define a set of company values that provide a framework for how people work. One of the challenges with this is that the reality does not always match the words that have been written. If you define values as a team or organisation, it is important to live and breathe them, otherwise trust is broken and the words are meaningless. For example, if the organisation has a value around innovation, there needs to be space for people to make mistakes and learn through trial and error.
Buy my book Leading through uncertainty
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