6 Strategies to Lead Your Business Through Uncertainty

Today, we find ourselves fighting against shifting sands. Game changers like 9/11 and now, Covid-19, have brought to the surface the need for resiliency and nimbleness in organizations that are necessary to survive. Those who act in haste and fail to plan ahead suffer immensely.

David Gouthro

David Gouthro

Master Shift Disturber, Keynote Speaker & Facilitator, David Gouthro says, “Being mindful and being aware, not sticking your blinders on and head in the sand is absolutely critical.”

We have seen how Covid-19 has accelerated change in all realms and dictated how we do business and live our lives. SMEs considered to be the major drivers of global economic growth were hit hard. According to a research study by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) among the 5,800 small businesses surveyed between March 28 and April 4, 2020, 43% had temporarily closed due to the crisis. Impacts also varied across industries and there was a notable decline in employment exceeding 50% in the retail, arts and entertainment, personal services, food services and hospitality businesses.

“When all of a sudden that stability and predictability go down, it can create a lot of anxiety,” Gouthro describes its debilitating impact. 

Our VUCA World

Our work culture and environment speak volumes. How do we make this conducive to productivity despite the VUCA world we are in? 

Our VUCA WorldVUCA is a military term that has found its way into the business lexicon to describe the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous environment. It was developed by the US Army War College to describe the radical shifting sands and unfamiliar security environment that emerged from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As I wrote in 6 Reasons Why You Need a Business Coach, one cannot do it alone. In today’s shifting sands of circumstances, we need experts on the outside–Experts who have a distance from our business to point out what they see outside, looking in. This  “guide” can help us realize new ways to effectively maneuver through our changing environment to come out strong, resilient and competitive.

Gouthro points out 6 ways to maneuver through the VUCA challenges that are impacting and reshaping our business today.

Encourage a culture of nimbleness in your organization.

One cannot expect an organization to be more nimble than the senior leader, especially if there’s always a resistance to change. The key to unlocking nimbleness is to trust people. “The mistakes that you don’t allow in an organization quite often send a very strong cultural message about what’s acceptable around here,” says Gouthro. As I outlined in my LinkedIn article, Succeeding Through Failure, mistakes are where the learnings reside. 

Aside from the formal corporate values, every organization has a set of unspoken policies and rules set of values that come out. There is wisdom in shoving aside those unspoken values that tend to resist propositions to make changes and be nimble for the organization to thrive and for customers to be happy.

Communication must be intentional and filled with context and clarity.

Clear communication with a strong context is essential

There’s so much value lost when employees don’t raise questions. When the message is unclear, an employee’s fear of being judged and facing negative consequences can force them to blindly move forward, hoping to get it right. “Just know that the pain of asking you again what you need me to do is much less than the pain of what’s going to come my way if I do it wrong. So, that’s the price I’m willing to pay,” Gouthro explains.

There are situations when employees don’t agree with new decisions made by the management. They may follow them but with murmurings that resound resistance across the organization. In passing down new initiatives to employees, managers and supervisors must not forget to provide the context behind them to eliminate that resistance.

Leaders must make informed decisions.

 People say that “It’s tough to speak truth to power.” However, to help one make informed decisions, we need to find a way to get to what people are saying and more importantly what they are not saying. 

There are tools you can use where you can gather information in a way that they won’t feel judged. In his practice, Gouthro uses the “Thought Exchange” tool where you throw in a question to the group like “What are the things I could do differently to better live out our corporate values?” and everyone gives their unfiltered and unbiased answers anonymously. 

“Having unguarded conversations with trusted individuals is also a good practice.” 

“Everything in life can be described in a 2×2 matrix,” says Gouthro. He advises CSuite execs to try the Johari window. This is where you and your team can outline things that you know about yourself that others know about you; things you know about yourself that others don’t know about you. And on the flip side, there are things that others know about you that you know about you but there are things that others know about you that you don’t know about you. And that’s really where the learning block is – you’ll discover many things and decide what to do about them.


Take in David’s full interview with Marc

Execute plans according to strategic intent and with awareness of changing circumstances.

“It doesn’t matter how good the plans are. If you have an organization where people just get locked into that, and stop thinking and looking outside, you’ll end up being a victim of the environment that you’re in,” asserts Gouthro.

The strategic intent and thrust of the organization are tempered by an awareness of what is changing in the environment and marketplace and weighed against the current circumstances and the available capabilities and resources. The buy-in is on the destination (objectives) and thrust. Not so much on the specific plans and projects that can suddenly become obsolete.

Organizations must be flexible to try new strategies and methods.

Gouthro explains that organizational adaptability is key. 

Gone are the days when you’ve got to follow only a certain path in order to get to a certain point. The pandemic caused huge disruptions and methods that used to work, are now ineffective and useless. Today, flexibility is essential if one wants to stay in the game.

In a survey by Oberlo, more than half of companies surveyed say they have increased their client interactions over the internet to adapt to the new way of doing business. Additionally, 36% of personal businesses who use online tools are now also doing all their sales online.  How have you adapted?

Use the trim tab factor in reducing friction to new initiatives.

To change directions, force must be reduced to create stabilityIf one wants to reduce friction and push back with new initiatives, they could try being a trim tab. The trim tab is used on boats and ships to reduce force and pressure on the rudder. It stabilizes the ship, making it easier for the ship to change direction. 

For organizations, certain people can act as trim tabs. For example, managers need to model and be consistent with the kind of behaviour they want to see in their organization. They need to include other parts of their “ship.” Being open to and understanding where the pressure of any change lies, allows them to adjust the trim and continually reduce the pressure.

There are some helpful tips that can get you going in this direction:

  • Practice flexibility by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
  • Go into new territories that are “not your people” or don’t feel like “your place.” 
  • Be aware of how you respond when in these environments.
  • Take the Improv training which builds in you the skills you need to be able to face any challenges that may come your way.

Your confidence rests in your ability and makes you more response-able in these VUCA times.

Next Steps

You can’t read the label from inside the bottle. Having a business coach whether one-to-one or one-to-organization provides you with the ability to realize and act on the problems hindering you and your organization from moving forward in this VUCA world.

If you want to explore this path further, connect with David at: www.davidgouthro.com

 You can also book a free exploratory 30-minute call with me: http://meetme.so/MarcHaine

Stephen Covey says “Every human has four endowments – self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.”

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