The Dangers of “Wait and See”

It seems that the new American sport is second guessing how Congress will handle the Sequester and our budget dilemma. The truth is that we all hate the anxiety of waiting for a decision that weighs heavily on our future. It’s important for business leaders to remember that the same anxiety is playing out on a smaller stage with their employees. A colleague of mine, Grant Tate, wrote a blog titled “Eye Rolling Epidemic” that recounts how easy it is for managers to duck responsibility for employee engagement.  It is estimated that, on average, only 70% of employees are engaged with their employer. I’ll wager that anyone with a car or appliance that was performing at 30% less performance would fix it.

I can recall leading a program bid that our company desperately needed to win. We were locked in a heated competition with an archrival that involved a protracted negotiation and creative counterproposals. While I was pleased with how the competition was progressing and confident that we would win, my fellow employees were worried sick. Careful analysis of every facial expression and email proliferated rumors and hand wringing. I found that I could never spend too much time with coworkers sharing my perspective on what was going on and how we were going to win. We eventually did win. But I think the factory floor workers were every bit as exhausted from the negotiation as the sales staff.

In time of uncertainty, it’s best for leaders to share the basis of their decision process with the entire organization. Tactics I recommend are:

  • Don’t sugarcoat. Give a balanced view of opportunities and threats
  • Let people know what strategic options are being considered
  • Let the organization know where they can give input and how they can support the planning process
  • Reinforce both organizational and individual strengths and capabilities
  • Identify the critical measures for the organization and frequently update on progress

If you have your own ideas on how you’ve led teams through uncertainty, please feel free to share!