Management challenge #21 - when managing in an environment of constant change and uncertainty

Bruce Tulgan

In the course of my work, I’ve come to know more than my share of what I call “change masters,” that is, leaders and managers with great track records of successfully leading direct-reports through minefields of change (in some cases literally). From these change masters I’ve learned what I call the three pillars of leading people through change:

  1. Remind people constantly of whatever is constant. What is never going to change around here?
  2. Engage in regular contingency planning with your people. What is likely to change? Exactly what will we do if that happens? Coach your people through practice runs of regularly recurring scenarios. What if “that” happens again? Exactly what will we do if “that” happens again?
  3. When the unforeseen occurs, adapt and improvise. What else can you do?

What are your constants? What do you know for sure is not going to change any time soon? It’s different in every organization and every team. Do you have rules, regulations, and procedures that can serve as “rules of engagement” for your direct-reports? Standard operating procedures? In a high-change environment, one of the biggest favors you can do for your direct-reports is to remind them regularly about all those things that are not going to change.

Once you know what is not going to change, then pretty much everything else is on the table. Of course, the toughest change to deal with is change that comes as if without warning. Unforeseen changes leave everybody scrambling to adapt and improvise. How many of these unforeseen changes should have been foreseeable? That’s what contingency planning is for: Trying to anticipate and prepare for changes in advance to deal with any number of scenarios that may (or may not) happen (“contingencies”). If you are managing under conditions of great uncertainty or intense change, start building in regular contingency planning as part of your ongoing one-on-one dialogues: Talk about impending changes of which either of you are aware, for which you need to start preparing. Brainstorm risk factors of change. What are the forces likely to drive change that would directly affect you in the short term? Brainstorm foreseeable changes that could occur. What are the most likely contingencies? Start working together on step by step planning for the most likely contingencies:

If A happens, you do 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

If C happens, you do 6, 7, 8, 9

If E happens, you do 11, 12, 13

Focus in particular on regularly recurring scenarios. “That” happens a lot. When “that” happens again, exactly what should we do? Use what you know about regularly recurring scenarios to do practice runs through the scenario whenever possible. That’s especially a good idea if you are managing a team who work together interdependently. Think of it as similar to practicing sports drills. Imagine you are a baseball team. Get together for infielding practice. Have your infielders practice turning double plays. If you have the opportunity, run through entire “scrimmage” games even.

ABOUT THE AUTHORBruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), , and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at brucet@rainmakerthinking.com, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.


Building a High Performing Team

Drake Editorial

According to the CEB Corporate Leadership Council, engaged teams grow profits three times faster than disengaged ones.  High performance teams and TRUST are vital to an organisation’s success. 


Read More


Six strategies to hire right the first time

Drake Editorial Team

he skill of a person drives the will of a person. A person who has all of the skills but lacks the will to push and perform at peak levels is just not the right fit...

Read More


6 leadership styles and how to choose yours

Drake Editorial Team

All leaders must understand this simple truth: Style does matter. It’s not about matching your belt to your shoes, or accessorizing appropriately for the occasion, but rather — understanding the way you go about leading.

Read More


Why Should a Candidate Choose Your Organisation?

Drake International

Recruiting and attracting a workforce has changed dramatically, especially in the last 18 months; it is no longer a simple case of “if you have a job, you will fill the position”. With borders closed, job security low, immigration stunted  - many industries are now seeing the flow on impact of COVID as we face a skilled worker shortage, with quality and skilled candidates being in high demand.

Read more


How To Set New Year Goals and Stay On Track

Drake Editorial

The final month of the year offers an opportunity to reflect upon the year, including the challenges and achievements, and to ponder on the opportunities for the next 12 months. It is a time for setting goals and establishing New Year's Resolutions; and to drive performance and fulfillment in the new year. This article explores the concept of a New Year's Resolution, how to stay on track with your goals, and suggests strategies that you can implement to ensure you achieve your New Year's Resolution.

Read more


Create the Conditions to Ensure Team Success

Roger K. Allen

Much writing on leadership focuses on the capabilities and behaviours of effective leaders of large divisions or enterprises. We read about such important characteristics as transparency, vision, authenticity, and...

Read more