When faced with any level of unpredictability during a project or process, a common response is to freeze. This experience is often referred to as decision paralysis. An opposite but just as damaging response is making rash or uninformed decisions.

Either of these can derail projects, erode team morale, and lead to unsuccessful outcomes. Fortunately, there are some simple techniques you can utilize to lead your team through change effectively.

Take, for example, the staffing shortages in healthcare. Healthcare organizations have fewer team members, more work per individual, and many patients waiting. Yet the same number of decisions – if not more – need to be made to account for lack of personnel. How leaders respond to the shifting environment and uncertainty is likely to trickle down the expanse of the organization. If decision makers freeze, they can exacerbate the problem as employees experience high levels of burnout and the level of patient care deteriorates. While uninformed, knee-jerk reactions, even if they provide a form of temporary relief, are often not sufficient or sustainable solutions.

The strategies below can help position you to get over the “uncertainty” hump and identify opportunities to make forward progress. Rest assured, it is possible to persist and make headway again. By focusing on incremental progress, you’ll allow yourself and your team to stay successful and pivot quickly when needed.

5 Strategies for Decision Making in Uncertainty

1.  Focus on the next right thing to do

It’s okay to make progress without knowing the full picture of the future. Turn your focus to what is possible with the resources you have at your disposal. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Also, keep in mind that small things sometimes garner big results. Is there a relatively simple automation that can be put in place to ease the workload? Would purposeful recognition of your employees’ hard work be meaningful? This is the time to aim for the next best step.

2.  Use a whiteboard

Have a good old fashioned brainstorming session and spend some time mapping out what you know on paper or on a whiteboard. (Or use a virtual tool like Miro.)

The intent here is to identify short-term goals or initiatives based on what you know to be true at this time. Once again, don’t get hung up on the uncertainty of the future. Don’t be afraid to turn things upside down and sideways. The best innovations often flow out of necessity.

3.  Ensure visibility of requests coming in

Do you have a good understanding of what’s coming in? Additionally, are the leaders of different workstreams aligned? Eliminate silos, make room for transparency, and encourage input from your team.

You may also want to consult with trusted outside sources who have experienced similar challenges dealing with uncertainty. Their insights may save you time and frustration as you are leading people through change.

4.  Take time to review

As you decide on the next right thing, make sure you define how to measure the impact of initiatives and at what interval. Then, take time to pause to review the work done. Is it meeting expectations? What still needs attention?

5.  Overcommunicate

As business management consultants, one of the hallmarks of our interaction with clients is constant alignment, because successful communication has such a positive impact on a project. Sometimes a quick touch-base is all that’s required, other times, a more extensive conversation to level-set on expectations and goals is needed.

Committing to frequent communication doesn’t have to be redundant or overly time consuming. What’s important is making sure you allow opportunity for feedback to identify misalignments and reevaluate goals.

Finding Solutions During Uncertain Times

As you lead through change, keep thinking: what are some short-term tasks your team can do to capitalize on the information you have now? Consider how you could be more successful in the immediate future. Then, once you receive more data, you can act appropriately and quickly.

No matter what the reason for change in your organization, you may find yourself leading teams through uncertainty. We’ve experienced global pandemics, recessions, layoffs, and proposed regulatory changes, just to name a few. These cause disruptions to companies of all sizes across the nation and world. As you navigate times of uncertainty, gather more relevant and constructive info to help move things forward with each decision and milestone.

Looking for solutions and next steps for how to navigate uncertainty in decision making? Consider engaging a management consulting firm with expertise in how to lead through uncertainty and manage change. InfoWorks delivers customized business transformation services to companies in a variety of industries, including healthcare, retail, finance, nonprofit, and manufacturing.

About Kristin Bollinger

Ms. Bollinger is a business consultant who holds a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and a bachelor’s degree in Communication of Science & Technology. She is a PMP-certified project manager and a Prosci-certified change practitioner. Her strengths include executive communication, leading cross-functional teams, and excellent project organization skills in a fast-paced environment​

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