UNCERTAINTY IS THE ENEMY

In this time, uncertainty is everywhere.  People are worried about their health, their families, their homes, how they will educate their children, their jobs, and the list goes on.  As we continue in this new world of “social distancing” it is important not to lose our human connection.  In fact, I prefer the term “distant socialising” which carries with it an underlying message of connection rather than disconnection.  

As we all must find new ways to manage, new ways to work and new ways to communicate, I want to encourage everyone to stay connected.

Looking across most industries, we are all facing challenges.  Revenues have declined, sales pipelines have disappeared and many businesses will simply not survive.  With all of this in mind, we must get creative about how we look after one another.

I had a chat with the owner of one of my local restaurants over the weekend and he said his main concern was taking care of his staff.  He is doing all he can to make sure that with all of the other uncertainty that they are facing, anxiety over losing their jobs isn’t a factor.

I have talked to quite a few people over the past few weeks who are really scared of losing their jobs.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that more people are in fear of losing their job than they are of actually contracting the virus!  In many cases, this added anxiety has completely taken over their every thought.  As we see a rise in this particular type of anxiety, we all must take whatever measures we can to try to eliminate as much worry as possible.

OUR BRAINS AND ANXIETY

What is anxiety and why are we so effected?

In short, Anxiety is worrying about what “might” happen.  It is often rooted in uncertainty and comes from our brains natural need to find patterns in everything and to have predictability in our daily lives.  In fact, many of the networks in our brains are devoted to threat detection.  You may have heard the term “FIGHT or FLIGHT”, there are also two other responses often left off of this list, FREEZE or FLOCK. This is our brains primitive reaction to threatening situations.  When we find ourselves in a threat situation, we, by default exhibit one of these behaviours.  

Understanding why this happens is key to managing our anxiety.  When we find ourselves in a threat state, the chemistry in our brains actually changes.  Stress creates excess cortisol, and excess cortisol can impact our ability to think clearly.  Among the systems in our brains are the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the limbic system.  In short, the PFC is the part of our brains that is responsible for our reasoning and decision making and our limbic system is our emotional centre.  When we are suffering from anxiety, or in a threat state (and depending on the severity of the threat) the excess cortisol overwhelms the PFC and it can go “offline” allowing the limbic system to take control.  When our limbic system is in charge, we often make decisions that take us down a path that we would otherwise never go.  As a practical example, people panic buy toilet rolls and dried spaghetti (even though spaghetti isn’t on their normal weekly shop) for instance.  

So, what is going on in our world as more and more people are suffering from multiple levels anxiety coming from various new threats in their individual environments?  Rational thinking is crippled and limbic decisions begin to rule the world.  Now, both Mum and Dad may be a bit more short tempered than normal because they don’t know what is happening at work and not only is this “work from home” mandate is an unknown for them, or even worse, they are worried about the security of their jobs.  The kids may be more emotional than normal because they  don’t know what is next or when they will see their friends again. 

TAKE CARE OF YOUR TEAMS

I was in London a few months ago to see Simon Sinek.  I asked him, as a consultant who moves from organisation to organisation, how do I inspire people when they aren’t my team.  His response has had more of an impact on me than any other piece of business I have ever received.  I will never forget what he said to me.  He said, “Bret, What do you mean?  They are all your team!”  and then wrote in the cover of my book “Take care of YOUR team” 

So, remembering these words, I have put together a quick three step easy to remember strategy to help you take C.A.R.E. of your teams during this time.

C- Create a plan

Our world changes every day.  As we see more and more restrictions being placed on where we can and can’t go, what businesses can and cannot remain open and are faced with many other challenges, what the plan?  Business planning can be difficult at the best of times but throw in the variable of uncertainty and it becomes exceedingly difficult.  It’s time like these however, that we have to consider a new plan and be willing to be creative when it comes to our business and our people.  Simon Sinek tells a great story in his latest book, The Infinite Game, about Victorinox, the company that makes Swiss Army Knives.  The majority of Victorinox revenue prior to September 11, 2001 came through the production and sale of their super cool Swiss Army Knives (95% of revenue came from knives and 80% from Swiss Army Knives).  After the events of September 11th however, pocketknives were banned on all commercial flights and their sales plummeted.  All of a sudden, the cool little corporate give away, the previously sought after gift for graduates and retirees was no longer so cool or sought after.  What was Victorinox’s response?  Change the business… find creative ways to embrace this new challenge and find certainty in a then uncertain world.  They shifted their focus and re-immerged as a travel accessory company.  They didn’t lay anyone off and today their revenues are almost twice what they were prior to 9/11.  Today, knives only account for 35% of their overall revenue.  My favourite part of this story is the quote from Carl Elsener, the CEO of Victorinox.  He said, “… we don’t think in quarters, we think in generations.”  Elsner and his team created a plan.

A – Acknowledge the change

Business as usual is really no longer an option.  Our ability to meet business plans, objectives and targets has changed.  As we all work to keep some level of normalcy within our families and to help them understand what is going on, our priorities will change.  Business leaders must openly and honestly acknowledge that the landscape has changed and should work to reduce anxiety among their teams.  Helping everyone to refocus and to understand that our working lives have changed is key in our new business world.

  1. Send a weekly status email to the group with links to interesting articles or mindfulness tools that they can begin using immediately.
  2. Post regular information to your corporate website or internal portal that lets everyone know that, as an organisation, you realise that the landscape has changed.
  3. Create an internal WhatsApp group or slack channel where the organisation can communicate everyone at once, and everyone can feel free to contribute.  

R- Relay information

Communicate, communicate, communicate!  As leaders, it has never been more important than it is now to keep your teams informed.  Reach out way more than you normally would or than you think is necessary.  In addition to all of the other uncertainties that they may be dealing with, don’t let them be anxious over their career.  Let them know that you have a plan in place, and, if you haven’t yet figured out your plan, let them know that too.   Let them know that we are all in this together, and most importantly,  if at all possible, let them know that their jobs are safe.

  1. Schedule a weekly team video meeting to help everyone feel connected.  
  2. Reach out to your team members individually and check in to see how they are feeling about working at home.  
  3. Help them feel secure about their shifting workload

E – Engage with our teams 

We are all in the same boat.  We are all facing the same challenges.  We are all feeling threatened and anxious about the uncertainty we are facing.  With this in mind, be different!  Help your teams to feel supported by, and secure in your organisation.  Pay attention, not only to mental health issues that may begin to surface but be mindful of how your teams may be feeling in themselves.   Engage with everyone and work hard to remove as much uncertainty as you possibly van.  Be the organisation that puts the welfare of your people first.   Like Victorinox, this will pay huge dividends in the future!

  1. Create internal communication plans that ensures that your staff knows how much you value them and that you will stand by them.
  2. Provide opportunities for new thought. Create an employee recognition plan for original or innovative ideas that help the business during this time.
  3. Recognise that we will all come out of this eventually, and what you do as an organisation, when times are tough, will follow you into the future.  Be a people led company and let the world now about it!

BE THE VOICE OF CERTAINTY 

We can all be the voice of certainty.  We can all be a catalyst if connection.  Don’t lose the human aspect of our culture while we are being forced to remain at a distance.  Check in on your teams frequently, communicate with your teams thoroughly, and value your teams completely!   As much as possible, create a culture of certainty. 

And finally, instead of social distancing, choose distance socialising

and take C.A.R.E. of your team!!!

Uncertainty is the Enemy!

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