Managing when the future is unclear

By Lisa Lai

It’s one of the few facts in business everyone agrees on: Without a clear and compelling strategy, your business will fail. From MBA programs, to business book jackets, to the last keynote you attended, you’ve heard it repeated again and again.  Despite this, we frequently find ourselves managing in situations of strategic ambiguity—when it isn’t clear where you’re going or how you’ll get there. Why does this happen? Market conditions shift rapidly.

The best managers find ways to provide steady, realistic direction and to lead with excellence, even when the strategy isn’t clear. Push your leaders for clarity, yes. In the meantime, be productive. There are three things you can do today that will put you in a better position to manage strategic ambiguity: Take pragmatic action, cultivate emotional steadiness, and tap into others’ expertise

Take Pragmatic Action

I’m a proponent of practical approaches to dealing with uncertainty. Doing something, anything, in support of your company’s success makes you and your team feel better than doing nothing.

Get back to basics. Deliver value. 

First, focus on what you can control. You owe it to the organization and to your team to deliver value every day

Place intelligent bets. What’s likely?

When the strategy is uncertain, the best managers acknowledge what’s unknown, but also look ahead to what is known and what is likely to happen.

Operate in sprints: Embrace short-term strategies.

Once you’ve focused your team on delivering value and started to explore what’s possible, you’re prepared to move forward with a discrete set of priorities

Cultivate Emotional Steadiness

Strategic ambiguity pushes you out of your comfort zone. When there’s clear, unwavering direction, you can focus on defined targets and deliver results

Be proactive. Learn more.

One of the reasons I suggest pragmatic action is because doing something concrete helps you move beyond your raw emotions

Acknowledge and navigate emotions.

Emotional steadiness requires that you be intentional about the way you show up in the workplace. Your role is to be calm, transparent, and steady, all while painting a vision for the future.

Keep team communication open.

Strategic uncertainty can cause managers to communicate with team members less frequently and less openly. “If I don’t have clarity to provide, why not wait?” the thinking goes

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