Marcus Crow

Marcus Crow

Having just been through a year of unpredictable events, where many found themselves so stunned they couldn’t react – what can HR do to train and develop the skills that get them conquering uncertainty?

When we look back at the year that was 2016, we will see it as one marked by uncertainty and unexpected change, with Brexit and Trump shocking even the wisest of pundits. In-house versions of these have hit Australian businesses hard and caught them by surprise. Here’s the only sure prediction: No matter how big your data, there’s not enough information in the world to remove unpredictability.

On the personal, professional level, many of us are questioning where our organisations or careers are headed and/or we are not sure how we will go about getting there. We read about the rise of automation, or the next “Uber of” ready to disrupt our industry and we are rapidly (or maybe slowly) realising that staying put might be foolish.

This is the definition of uncertainty, and it’s everywhere.

The question we have to ask is how do we best manage uncertainty when – not if – it arrives?

Building Professional Fitness

For leaders and HR professionals, managing uncertainty is about relationships and connections. It’s about our fitness to handle pressure, conflict and ambiguity. Like physical exercise, business fitness improves after each workout – an approach we need to embrace.

Put your team in a room and place the real problems on the table in front of everyone. Switch off the screens; talk and listen. Discuss the un-discussable, name the elephants and don’t be afraid when it gets heated. The goal is to increase the maximum temperature your team can handle; increase the weight they can lift.

When a team does this, it becomes more powerful as its professional fitness goes up. Everybody can lift more. The team can always become stronger. The people in it will know they can express vulnerability, disclose freely and experiment bravely. They will feel a genuine cohesion and alignment that no amount of paintball can ever deliver. The fit team powerfully marshals their intellect and energy on the business challenges at hand.

Professional fitness means your organisation can work faster through the volatility, complexity and ambiguity we are all confronting right now.

Navigating Through Complexity

Complicated problems have known solutions; an answer exists somewhere. A foreign city is an impossible maze – and then you find a map.

On the other hand truly complex problems are those without known solutions. There is no map for a foreign planet and no expertise for a brand new problem.

Instead we must channel our inner cartographer and draw the map as we go. To do this we must encourage those around us to constantly experiment in small chunks, learning steps along the way.

In times of uncertainty, solutions emerge from action. Doing trumps thinking, as it’s only through trial and error we can begin to draw a new map, section by section.

Final Thoughts

As we saw in 2016 – and likely experienced too – complex issues surfaced which we couldn’t have possibly predicted. Likewise, we cannot know what 2017 will bring.

Ultimately our task is to improvise in the moment and find a way to move forwards together. In this, talking is a form of action. We put in the time to sit with the knotty challenge in front of us and fashion the next step we can agree (or not agree) to take together. And after that’s done, we have another look and take another step.

Teams in possession of these kinds of experiences will have the agility and robustness to navigate future challenges we cannot avoid but must work through.

There’ll be plenty more of these in 2017; may your capacity to be effective amidst uncertainty rise to meet them.


This article first appeared on HRM on 11th January 2017 here