Brexit - The New and the Next: How to Manage a Culture of Uncertainty

As the EU Referendum gets closer, it seems that the UK is still in a state of high uncertainty about the outcome.  We increasingly live in uncertain times.  There is a surge in generational change, fuelled by new digital technology and communication modes.  Financial transactions are increasingly virtual.  Work is no longer uni-focused, but rather multi-focused.  Our lives are full of possibilities, but also full of uncertainties.  

As a rule we don't like uncertainty.  Psychological studies in the 90's showed that people would prefer to get an electrical shock that they were able to predict, than one that was unpredictable.  Their anxiety increased also in periods of unpredictability.   From an organisational perspective, uncertainty breeds doubt and a lack of engagement and empowerment amongst work colleagues.

But we can't fix uncertainty.  Indeed some would vigorously argue that it is at the root of our ability to wonder, create and innovate.  So as organisational leaders how do you support people through uncertainty?  

Here are a few of the lessons we have learnt from working with our clients: 

1) Don't pretend it's certain - Although people may crave certainty, if you don't know, don't say you do.  Give people what facts are available, but also what are the values and views of the leaders.

2) Keep information flowing - even no change in the facts, helps colleagues understand where things are up to.  It also combats conspiracy theories, or fantasies of the future.

3) Make a virtue of uncertainty - in some situations, a solution is not straightforward, or known by leaders, instead it needs the collective insight of many (and not the usual suspects)

4) Get people involved in problem-solving - in a highly uncertain scenario, leaders need multiple perspectives and a high degree of creativity and lateral thinking.  Get as many people on board with problem-solving

5) Make uncertainty an ok state - working in open, inclusive and creative ways with uncertainty, helps people use more of their brains and faculties.  Researchers on ageing have proven that it is in doing novel activities, that we keep our brains active.  So it is for organisational thinking and habits.  

Brexit or not, uncertainty does not need to case a black cloud over a team or organisation.  If managed well, it can conversely spark a conversation, an idea, or a movement that would never have been heard previously.