How To Manage People in Uncertain Times


…The 7 Key Steps

It’s difficult when you don’t know how changes might impact on people, or even what the changes might be. What is certain is that in times of change people feel insecure with substantial reason. It’s our job as managers to have a constructive discussion about the options and the way forward even when we don’t know what the changes will be; far better than sticking our heads in the sand.

Sometimes decisions can be made now, or best left till later, and some actions could be taken now that you could help with. Just don’t leave people to go round in circles in their heads and become demotivated.

This guide will give you the 7 key steps to help your team deal with uncertain change.

1      Don’t try to guess and don’t assume anything.

It’s dangerous in every area. Anticipated changes may well turn out to be different to the ones you all expected. Assumptions about other people’s agendas, hopes, career plans are just that – assumptions.

2      Don’t make promises not in your gift to give.

Always a good rule, never mind just in uncertain times. Promises of promotion or salary or security are rarely in our sole gift.

3      Ask questions first.

For example: How do you feel? Or …..what do you think about….? What is important to you now?

It’s good to talk, even though some people will find it very difficult to talk about feelings. Be familiar with change curve (see our resource “The Change Curve”). It can be reassuring for all of us to know that feelings or fears are not abnormal in any way. Besides where one employee might be anxious, another might be relaxed.

4      Identify what is important to the employee

For example: What are your goals? Where do you want to be?

They might not have given this any thought before or they might have thought one thing was important to them but by talking they actually find it’s another.

5      Have an adult conversation.

Your aim is to clarify their thoughts and what should or could be done now or in the future, not to provide therapy or sympathy. By all means be empathetic but be careful with giving advice beyond the scope of your management responsibilities.

5      What are your options?

Have a balanced and considered conversation around their personal options. For example: So if you do this now what are the pros and cons? If you make that step now what might happen in the future?

6      What will you do?

Don’t push people into making decisions. Remember the future is uncertain so any decisions and actions have to be thought through. What matters for now is what could they do to maintain a good level of performance AND still feel in control of their own destiny? What actions now will help keep options open?

7      What can I do to help you?

There is very little that you can do to make the future certain so concentrate on what you can do for now to help them feel in control and keep up a reasonable level of motivation. It would be natural to lose motivation and perhaps even become quite negative but that won’t help people be in the right place, mentally and work wise,  when the future becomes certain.

They may only need you to be the voice of calm and reason. They may only need reassurance that you will be there for them when decisions have to be made.

But if you never talked with them calmly when everything was up in the air they will not have the confidence in you when they really need it.

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In our video How To Cope With Change When The Future Is Uncertain you will see what a good conversation between a manager and employee could look like. As managers we often have a clearer sight into the future but that can be dangerous unless we have the ultimate power over decisions. Usually we don’t have the power, so it’s best to keep the frame of any discussions wide and help people decide for themselves how they can make the most of opportunities if they arise or prepare for change.

In our e-learning module Managing Change we combine two videos along with some interactive exercises to help you get results.

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