Five Ways To Manage in Times of Uncertainty

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Despite the recent Wall Street rally, an economic “Perfect Storm” continues to brew worldwide. Several factors are further contributing to the uncertainty, which arguably affects all industries and all geographies.

First is the complete absence of leadership to drive us out of the mayhem. No matter where you look – the US, Europe, Japan, Middle East, China or India – we see leadership that is unable to take timely and tough decisions to solve the problems looming ahead.

Second, the global business environment is undergoing a sea change. Competition has further intensified with the emergence of emerging multinationals from the West focused on emerging markets are being challenged by local companies there – and even in their own backyard!

Third, there is a complete transformation of the consumer into one with dramatically different expectations and influences. With an overpowering influence exerted by digital and social channels, everything from brand preferences to buying patterns is witnessing a seismic shift. We are seeing a shift from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends. It doesn't matter if 100,000 people like ‘x’. If the three people closest to the customer like ‘y’, then ‘y’ it will be.

And finally, there is an imperceptible, but definite change in the hearts and minds of employees. With Gen Y comprising an increasing percentage of the workforce, young men and women who have been mentored by parents as empowered individuals are suffocating under rigid command and control structures at work.

With all these changes, if you are feeling a little out of touch with the new reality, you are certainly not alone. While Perfect Storms are tough to navigate, they are not impossible. Here are five strategies that organizations and individuals can employ can use to steer through the storm. ?

1. Don’t Hit The Brakes; Accelerate: During the recent Indian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton noted that the Indian track was very interesting because it had many curves, which allow drivers to overtake one another. On a straightaway, it is difficult to pass. But at the curve, skilled drivers make their moves. The current global uncertainties, like the track, present huge opportunities in the form of a curve, or bend. And if we modify our strategies correctly we can convert a threat into a massive opportunity. So take the driver’s seat. Adapt, transform, unleash the creative potential within and accelerate.

2. Create Dissatisfaction: We need to create dissatisfaction in our organizations. We cannot expect a team or company to start thinking about change without stirring discontentment with status quo. We must create a vision which is so compelling that people will jump out of their beds and want to come to work to achieve that vision. If you have the dissatisfaction with today and the vision for tomorrow, then you can connect the two with small catalysts.

3. Celebrate the Employee: Give your people the responsibility for change, instead of telling them what to do. Ask questions rather than provide answers. Our people are the only solution. And yet they are the ones who are being treated as the problem, the dispensable resource. So, find new ways to rejuvenate your people, focus on their skills development, engage them and get them back into the center of innovation.

4. Focus on the “Big Leap”: Now is the time to take the leap into the never seen, never heard before - both in experience and functionality.

John Sculley, ex-CEO of Apple , once described how Steve Jobs did not believe in consumer research. The reason was simple; he was going to create a product so new and innovative that the consumers would have no reference to react in foresight. Sculley quoted Jobs as saying: “How can I possibly ask somebody what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphic based computer is? No one has ever seen one before.” Jobs believed that showing someone a calculator, for example, would not give them any indication as to where the computer was going to go because it was just too big a leap. The rules of the game were made very simple with that one maverick thought – a thought that is even more relevant in today’s environment!

The winners of the new decade will be products and services that take their customers on a big leap forward – the way Steve Jobs and Apple did repeatedly. Modify your team’s KRAs to emphasize innovation and recognize and investigate every new idea.

5. Watch the “Cone of Uncertainty”: If you’ve ever followed hurricane forecasting on the weather channel, you’ve likely heard the concept “Cone of Uncertainty.” This is a cone-like shape that reflects the range of paths that a hurricane is likely to take.

Technology used to forecast storm systems has advanced considerably in recent years. A recent post ‘Predicting Irene’ on IEEE Spectrum’s blog Tech Talk, noted that the 48-hour forecast of a hurricane’s track today is as accurate as the 24-hour forecast was 10 years ago. Researchers also can now more reliably predict hurricane intensity, thereby enabling weather forecasters to forewarn citizens and save lives.

Now, here’s a crucial question in the economic high winds swirling around us: have you seen a comparable improvement in your market intelligence data? Are you studying the cone of uncertainty surrounding market forecasts on your business every day? Gone are the days when ‘annual plans’ were written in stone and followed like the Bible. Today, we need plans and blueprints that are stable enough to have a macro vision, and yet open to transform per changing intelligence.

At the end of the day, uncertainties have a single over-arching antidote – to think, act and create something decidedly different. New markets, new products, new organizational and team structures, new approaches and most importantly new ideas are extremely powerful and may be the only way we can outmaneuver the storm ahead!

Vineet Nayar is Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of HCL Technologies Ltd . (HCLT), a $3.9 billion global information technology services company and author of the highly acclaimed management book “Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down” . He is also an acknowledged management visionary and a radical thinker who architected the company’s “Employees First, Customers Second (EFCS)” strategy, which transformed HCL’s business, through its inverted organizational structure which has helped create transparency and accountability within the organization and encourage a value-driven culture since its conception in 2005.

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