EngagementCultureHelping your employees to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty – with Dave Ulrich

Helping your employees to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty – with Dave Ulrich

How can leaders aid their workforces during times of great upheaval? Michael Hocking, Deputy Editor, HRD Connect, and Dave Ulrich, best-selling author, professor and leadership expert, take on the challenges of engagement during times of uncertainty.

The times they are a’changing. It’s as true when Dylan wrote that lyric as it is now – our lives consist of a constant fluctuation, a tectonic shifting that never leaves us quite settled in one place – and it’s as true to our professional lives as it is our lives outside of work.

Despite the constancy of uncertainty present in every market, there are times when that consistent rumbling becomes a roar, and great upheavals turn markets and businesses on their heads. Whether it’s the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, or the looming uncertainty of Brexit, every once in a while a political or economic situation arises that causes panic among employees and leaders alike.

A study by CIPD in Autumn, 2018 revealed that, “Of the large proportion of employers who employ EU nationals, around half (48%) reported an increase in their EU workforce expressing insecurity about their jobs as a result of Brexit.”

The same study also revealed that this uncertainty was, “shared by UK citizens at more than a quarter (26%) of organisations.”, and while the publication of the EU Settlement Scheme had some reassuring impact, “only 28% of employers said it has helped their confidence in retaining EU nationals over the next two years”.[1]

As author and leadership expert Dave Ulrich recently wrote in an article for HRD Connect, one of the key challenges for business leaders today is “navigating paradox” – that is, having the ability to lead teams through problems that may not have a clear right or wrong answer, if any answer at all.

Uncertain and ambiguous times produce such paradoxes for business leaders – apparent catch-22’s with no discernible outcome, intensified by the needs of a raft of employees looking for guidance in a growing storm.

As Sona Sherratt, Professor of Practice – Leadership, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, recently reflected in an article on HRD Connect:

“Learning agility is frequently defined as the willingness and ability to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions.”

Sona Sherratt cites Bob Eichinger to give four key components of successful behaviour in these first-time scenarios:

  • Results agility – achieves results under difficult conditions; has authority and capability to stimulate others to perform,
  • Mental agility – reflects about challenging dilemmas in order to uncover solutions; comfortable with complexity and ambiguity,
  • People agility – has a high degree of self-awareness and self-management; able to flex to accommodate a diversity of behaviours and styles; resilient and constructive under pressure,
  • Change agility – enjoys experimenting with innovative concepts; welcomes new responsibility and unfamiliar challenges.

It is the fostering of these behaviours in employees that will allow them to navigate these times of ambiguity and uncertainty with assuredness and aplomb.

Dave Ulrich believes that a change in how we approach the concept of uncertainty is key to overcoming it.

What's Hot

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World 5 May 2022

8m

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for...

Attracting new talent is shooting up the priority list, but also proving more difficult than ever. A...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments 26 May 2022

8m

HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture ...

The process of redefining a company culture is a complex one. Culture contributes directly to the da...

View event
Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

Whitepaper | Talent Development Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

9m

Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. I...

View resource
HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce 5 May 2022

9m

HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging ...

We know hybrid working is here to stay, forcing many organisations to experiment with innovative and...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain 3 March 2022

9m

HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What...

We know the pandemic has caused many people to revaluate their careers and relationships with work a...

View event
Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

Leadership Development Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

1y Dave Ulrich

Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simpl...

HR thought leader Dave Ulrich outlines ways leaders can deal with complexity in an increasingly busy...

View article
HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making 5 May 2022

9m

HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Org...

Historically, HR hasn’t been as effective as it could be in sharing and communicating data with wide...

View event
Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

Digital HR Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

1y Leah Belsky

Digital transformation investment grows but critic...

Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of digital learning on a global scale. Coursera's latest report pr...

View article
Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

Employee Engagement Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

1y Alara Basul | Sponsored

Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successf...

Remote working has impacted the way we communicate as a workforce, but striking the right balance be...

View article
How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

Culture How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

1y Alara Basul | Sponsored

How to create a company culture capable of empower...

While new working patterns that emerged from the pandemic have earned a permanent spot in the w...

View article
WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid workplace

Leadership Learnings WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid workplace

1y Amy Kirkham

WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid wo...

Alison Noon-Jones, VP of People & Culture at Leidos UK & Europe, shares how crucial employee engagem...

View article
Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your leadership

Leadership Development Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your leadership

1y Terence Mauri

Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your...

HRD thought leader and Hack Future Lab founder Terence Mauri sets out why the biggest risk to leader...

View article

“When facing ambiguity, most people want to “solve” it and find clarity”, says Ulrich.

“This is a false hope. Often things are ambiguous because there is NO clarity or “right” answer.”

This may, initially, seem a little counterintuitive. How can a business run on uncertainty? Business is based on replication, on demonstrable patterns that be followed to assure success, right?

Not for people leaders with a complete perspective, both inside and outside of their function. Facing uncertainty head-on is not a refusal of such traditional business behaviours, it is a birds-eye view of them in their totality.

“Accepting the lack of a “right” answer does not mean giving up and being hopeless”, Ulrich continues.

“As one navigates the paradoxes, the ambiguity does not always go away, but rather than be stifled by seeking clarity; move forward by navigating paradoxes, learning at each step what works and what does not.”

Dave Ulrich recommends a few tips for succeeding in times of uncertainty and ambiguity:

  • “Look at options by seeing multiple sides, and ask, “What if…?” to get some options”,
  • “Think of the options as ‘guardrails’ I could follow”,
  • “See these guardrails as paradoxes through the haze of ambiguity – whether that’s long vs. short term; top/down vs. bottom/up; convergent vs. divergent; individual vs. team; and so on”,
  • Identify my (or my team’s) predisposition – which guardrail do we generally follow?
  • Force myself (or my team) to have capacity to navigate, or move between the guardrails and paradoxes.

By accepting paradox and losing the need for one, certain, ‘right’ answer, people leaders can help their employees to find the strength to cope with uncertainty – by embodying it within themselves.

How do you help your teams through times of uncertainty and ambiguity? Tweet us at @HRDCommunity and let us know.


[1] https://www.cipd.co.uk/news-views/brexit-hub/workforce-trends

Comments are closed.

What's Hot

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World 5 May 2022

8m

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for...

Attracting new talent is shooting up the priority list, but also proving more difficult than ever. A...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments 26 May 2022

8m

HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture ...

The process of redefining a company culture is a complex one. Culture contributes directly to the da...

View event
Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

Whitepaper | Talent Development Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

9m

Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. I...

View resource
HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce 5 May 2022

9m

HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging ...

We know hybrid working is here to stay, forcing many organisations to experiment with innovative and...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain 3 March 2022

9m

HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What...

We know the pandemic has caused many people to revaluate their careers and relationships with work a...

View event
Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

Leadership Development Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

1y Dave Ulrich

Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simpl...

HR thought leader Dave Ulrich outlines ways leaders can deal with complexity in an increasingly busy...

View article
HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making 5 May 2022

9m

HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Org...

Historically, HR hasn’t been as effective as it could be in sharing and communicating data with wide...

View event
Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

Digital HR Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

1y Leah Belsky

Digital transformation investment grows but critic...

Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of digital learning on a global scale. Coursera's latest report pr...

View article