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Living with uncertainty: post-crisis lessons for organizations

Many businesses and many careers have been rocked by recent crises. This impact creates insecurity and misgivings about our future. People management is affected by emotional reactions to this uncertainty. Just as with any major change, a crisis implies losses and gains. The losses are dramatic and obvious. Now is the time to focus on what we stand to gain in the process, what benefits we can draw from this experience, and what lessons will become useful to us thereafter.

First lesson: stimulus for growth and abandon routines

Individually and collectively human beings progress through contrasting difficulties and novel experiences. In stable situations, we have a tendency towards inertia in our behaviours and our thoughts. If there is no external stimulus forcing us to question our practices, beliefs, ideas, or ways of working, then we tend to replicate behaviours acquired in the past. It is a fact that progress for each individual and for organizations is often linked to the reinventing that accompanies any crisis we face. Therefore, anyone observing his life story–the first-hand field of experimentation we all have—will see that the leaps marking the course of their lives are often associated with crises. This is a neutral state that merely denotes quite a drastic modification of a previous situation. Obviously, we all grow when we rise to that kind of crisis.

Second lesson: crises demand leaders

Crises demand leaders, not just experts. To address crises requires a very solid knowledge base, rigorous advice, and exceptionally reliable data. But decisions are also needed, not just an expert’s opinion. Organizations and societies need to determine their own priorities. Therefore, deferring all responsibility to just experts is a way of exempting accountability from whoever has the highest level of decision-making powers. We need people to set the pace and the goals, because at the end of the day what frees us from stress in a crisis is to have a plan.

Third lesson: collaborative work development

Another particularly important lesson is that crises require collaborative attitudes. Overcoming crises is not due to the brilliance of a few, but to collective effort. This is well seen in the crisis unleashed by COVID19. We can have very precise opinions on the behaviours required for preventing the disease from spreading or re-growing, but if we ultimately do not embrace these behaviours in our day-to-day lives, the crisis will be prolonged. It's a matter of responsibility. The crisis calls for generosity from all of us, breaking down partisan barriers, without being individualistic, subjugating short-sighted interests to a broader and more sustainable purpose.

The goal is neither for us to merely become familiar with technology tools (video conferencing, etc.), nor to possess the technical resources for working remotely. In situations of this kind, we must develop an attitude of genuine collaboration and effectively coordinate all our work.

Fourth lesson: manage diversity

We live in a diverse society. Our own organizations also include quite varied ways of thinking and perspectives. In crisis situations, the leader is someone who is comfortable with diversity and does not want everyone to think the same, yet gets people who think differently to work in coordination around a shared mission: to agree on a goal, to generate enthusiasm among very different people. The leader does not use his energies just in the media, in procedures, he has other people for that. The leader does not get out of the crisis by running away from its negative consequences, but by envisioning a horizon, working for, and aspiring to a new, worthwhile scenario.

Fifth lesson: crisis communication

A certain degree of insecurity is healthy because an accepted uncertainty is better than fictitious security. Whoever pretends to reassure people by saying that everything is under control, ultimately feeds a narrative. Crises show that we are more vulnerable than we thought. They visibly expose right under our nose the essential vulnerability in individuals and organizations. Instilling or reassuring of security is not about making a naive, well-intentioned speech, stating that "Everything is going to be fine”. Actually, everything will be fine if we provide the means to make it so. It's not so much about fighting uncertainty, it's about learning to live in the midst of it. Rooted in deep-seated realism, the leader knows how to look ahead. If it's done right, he can dispel fear.



José Aguilar

José Aguilar López es Doctor en Filosofía (PhD) y Programa de desarrollo directivo (PDD) por el IESE. Socio Director de MindValue. Imparte seminarios y cursos numerosas Universidades y Escuelas de Negocios de Europa y América. En 2006 obtuvo, junto a Javier Fernández Aguado, el premio del Management Internacional Forum al mejor libro de Management del año, por la obra conjunta “La soledad del directivo” (Lid, Madrid, 2006).

Ha participado, en calidad de autor, coordinador o coautor en los trece libros. Es colaborador habitual en diarios, revistas de información económica, radio y TV.

José Aguilar is a Managing Partner of MindValue - a company specialized in professional services for C-level management - and the VP of the International Association of Management Studies (Asociación Internacional de Estudios sobre Management - ASIEMA). He is also a management coach and a senior member of the club, Top Ten Management Spain. He is recognized as one of the key Spanish experts in change management consultancy and training.

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