One of the most important things a leader must do in times of uncertainty is to communicate. For many, uncertainty about the future increases fear. Silence from leadership can be deafening and only breeds suspicion. Fear and suspicion – not the sort of fuel you'd want to have to drive your team's actions during such times.
Low EQ managers have a tendency during such times to focus on processes and tasks that need done to get the team out of uncertainty. They work on plans, even get excited about them and all through this period, fail to realize that their lack of communication could be causing staff to lose the plot. Working with a team recently who had just underone a significant organizational re-sizing exercise, I asked one of the managers "on a scale of 1 to 10, what is the level of your team's morale?" I was staggered by her response – "That's a great question. Not something I've ever thought to ask. Been too busy to think about that." Guess what her team's moral is like? How productive do you think they are?
Another reason I often hear from managers who fail to communicate effectively during such times is that they themselves are uncertain about the future. So the rumour mills run hot, staff are distracted, do not feel their managers care or are in tune with what's really going on, morale declines, attrition rises. Invariably, customers and other stakeholders sense this too and this affects their decisions. The uncertainty is exacerbated. Sadly, what the team fears most eventuate.
High-EQ managers, on the other hand, have a pulse on the team's emotions. And they know their role during times of uncertainty is to create certainty. And they do this through effective and timely communications.
Here are six tips for communicating to create assurance:
Strategy 1 – Establish a dialogue early and follow-up frequently
Open-ness and honesty fosters trust. Say "At this stage, we do not know what the future holds, but we are working with urgency on getting to clarity on this and will keep you informed every step of the way."
Give your team clear avenues of dialogue to allow them to air their grievances and have personal questions asked by people who can communicate based on fact rather than hear-say eg establish a blog, appoint change champions empowered to address these concerns or simply have an open -door policy for your staff.
By doing this, what your team gets is that their leader understands, empathises and cares. That's reassuring. That creates stricty.
Strategy 2 – Communicate your plan for the plan
If you are not clear about the future or do not have yet have a concrete plan, communicate your plan for the plan . Do not wait for clarity. It could be too late. Heed the words of Churchill – " when the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber ".
Remember, caring and communicating is important. Much more important is wherever your staff feel cared for and what they hear . What you do or do not say "speaks" to them. Be sensitive and empathise with what they might be hearing or interpreting and how this makes them feel.
Strategy 3 – Use face-to-face communications
Use town hall meetings, coffee sessions or take a few minutes from staff meetings to give your team an update. The mistake most leaders make is to strictly sole on emailed or written communication during times of uncertainty. As much as 93% of communication is non-verbal. It's not just what you say – how you say it determines how effective your communication is. Your team draws confidence from your presence, sincerity and energy. Project reconciliation and yet confidence and optimism through your posture, gestures and eye contact with your team.
Strategy 4 – Direct your team's focus on things they have total control over
You have little control over the economy, what your competitors do, what senior holdersholders decide, the weather, etc. Fretting over things you have no control over is counter-productive. Instead, direct your team's energies on the opportunities presented by the situation and things that they have over control. Doing their best with the job at hand and ensuring success will often give the team the best chance to realize the most positive result. Activities that "sharpen the saw" like training, team building, undertaking continuous improvement projects or just taking time out to reflect are all constructive. " It's not what happens, it's what you do with what happens that determinates where you end up! "
Strategy 5 – Help your team draw strength from their history
Share stories, examples and anecdotes of successes arising from previous occasions of uncertainty. All of us have them. Think of an experience or time in the past where there has been tremendous uncertainty. Think of how you felt at the time. Reflect on how you've become stronger, more positive or simply just survived through that experience. Draw strength from such experiences.
Returning from my business trip to Shanghai last week, I was moved by the positive energy of the people there. 20 years ago, Shanghai was but a city with third world infrastructure, its economy shackled by the country's closed-door policies. Today, it's a gleaming metropolis which people by and large enjoy significantly higher standards of living. Speaking to the taxi drivers there, I could not but admire the sense of pride they had in what they'd helped achieve. For them, the "certainty" of their previous history represented mediocrity. The uncertainties about about two decades of breakneck growth on the other hand have spoken in tremendous prosperity and opportunity. Their "bringing it on" energy was palable. They draw strength from the belief that the worst that could happen was that things would revert to where they had been in the past and that they had lived through those years anyhow!
Strategy 6 – Communicate your optimistic vision of the future, express faith in your team's ability to get there .
Teams draw certainy from leaders who have clarity of direction and who are confident in the team's ability and potential to get there. Paint a vivid picture of what the future potentially holds and what it means for each individual and stakeholder- for the organization, your customers and staff.
In summary, in times of uncertainty, create assurance through regular and effective dialogue with your team. Be open and honest about what you know to be real and generate optimism and faith in the future and through your belief in your team's potential.