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9 Steps for Leading Through Uncertain Times

May 11, 2020
If you have a plan, communicate it, and move confidently toward new objectives, you can thrive in the new business environment.

There is one thing about business that does not change: Business will always change, through new technologies, losses of key employees, new regulations, or even a business takeover. No matter what the change is, the last thing your team wants to hear from you is: “Ok, now what do we do?”

An effective leader must lead through any change, and do so with confidence, to inspire others to be confident as well. The transition should be as smooth as possible, and done in a way that looks as if the change was expected.

Employees and contractors may feel unsure and fearful about any new direction or forced change, and they'll draw cues as to how to act and feel will directly from their leader. It is important that you have a solid action plan for dealing with such a scenario. Here are nine tips to help you lead your team through uncertain times:

1. Know that the path is not linear. Dealing with change is more than announcing a goal and moving toward it. Employees' and leaders' feelings may change, and that's normal. Recognizing and addressing concerns is a healthy way to deal with them, and it's expected in a situation that may feel traumatic at times.

2. Identify leaders and stakeholders early. As changes begin it is important to identify who in your team shows leadership qualities. They may be seen as stakeholders in the process and support your leadership efforts. These individuals will help to instill confidence and keep the team moving together toward the stated goals.

3. Construct a solid plan. Even small changes need a plan that addresses changes in processes, products, and expectations of the people involved. If a change is drastic, you may have to construct an entirely new business plan. Creating a plan and sharing it with the team will help give them a feeling of stability as they move together in a new business environment.

4. Identify goals clearly. Failing to communicate defined goals is one of the worst errors leaders can make. If employees don’t have a firm sense of what they are moving toward, they may end up just moving. Clearly define objectives and how you will support the team in meeting them. Your stakeholders will be vital here as they lead by example in making decisions to support accomplishing these goals.

5. Define and redefine the change as necessary. During a time of uncertainly, rumors abound. When your team doesn’t know some detail, they will speculate. This may lead to confusion, worry, and defections. Be upfront and communicate with your team any information you have, as you get it. Knowing what is going on will instill confidence, even if the information is not all that good.

6. Don’t discount the past. Change may mean setting aside old ways, and projects that once were vital are discarded. Some team members may feel slighted, or that their contributions have been worthless. An effective team leader will highlight such projects and complement past accomplishments, while leading the team into the new direction.

7. Don’t hide the challenges. Sometimes even an effectively created plan will falter. Don’t hide challenges when they occur; share them with the team. They may have valuable input and will feel more invested by helping to overcome obstacles as you bring them into the discussion.

8. Carefully listen to all concerns. Many leaders fail to truly listen to their teams. They may take a “this is the way it is now …deal with it” approach. This can lower morale and make team members feel defeated in an already scary situation. Instead, make yourself available to your team. Sometimes, just venting about the changing environment will help someone deal with what is going on. And other times, their insights could help you do your job, too.

9. Clearly state new or adjusted performance objectives. Of all the things that affect the changing workplace, uncertainty among team members can be the greatest obstacle. Clearly state any changes in performance objectives and reviews. Employees will want to know exactly how and when they will be reviewed and what the criteria will be. This will allow them to focus on their own objectives and give them confidence as they navigate the changing environment.

Change can be scary, full of surprises, and challenging. But, if you have an action plan, communicate effectively with your team, and move with confidence toward new objectives, you and your team can thrive in the new business environment.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works Inc., a talent development firm that helps businesses establish customer service strategies and trains people to live up to promises. For more information, visit