Seeking Certainty in an Uncertain World

Seeking Certainty in an Uncertain World
Obsessing about managing uncertainties may lead to endless loops of scenario planning that leads to feeling out of control, decreased mental health, and reduced effectiveness. 

Inflation? Recession? COVID variants?  Hybrid work? Political upheavals?  Natural disasters? Technology/AI disruptions?  Social trends and injustices?

These contextual trends are only a few of the uncertainties that persist in personal and professional lives.  For senior HR professionals to create value, they need to respond to these contextual changes to turn uncertainties from threats to opportunities.

Many (including my colleagues and I) have explored how to harness uncertainty by taming apprehensions, focusing on the future, experimenting, being nimble and agile, and surrounding oneself with creative people. While these behaviors are important and help remove anxiety of uncertainty, business and HR leaders (and individuals) can create value not only focus on harnessing uncertainty but also on seeking more certainty.

Obsessing about managing uncertainties may lead to endless loops of scenario planning that leads to feeling out of control, decreased mental health, and reduced effectiveness.  And the uncertainties continue in spite of the planning. But shifting our thinking to focusing on certainty emphasizes what is likely known and actually achievable.

Business and HR leaders who focus on certainty emphasize what is within control regardless of the circumstances by clarifying principles or priorities for the organizations where work is done and for individuals doing the work.

Organizational Certainties

Organizations matter and shape how people inside (employees) and outside (customers, investors) think, act, and feel. Even in the uncertain context of today’s world, some organizational certainties, if acted on, lead to effectiveness.

  • Focus Outside-In: Organizations survive and thrive by being successful in their marketplace. Emphasizing internal governance (reporting relationships, policies, practices) has less relevance than ensuring that these internal actions create value for today’s and tomorrow’s customers. Leaders can be certain that if they deliver value for customers, their organization will more likely succeed.
  • Human Capability Matters: Organizations succeed (and compete) by having access to financial capital, differentiated strategies, and technological or operational excellence. Even more important though, successful organizations also require human capability, which consists of talent (people, individual competencies, workforce), organization (culture, organization capabilities, workplace), leadership (individual leaders and leadership systems), and HR (practices, departments, people). Business and HR leaders who upgrade human capability will be more certain to help their organizations succeed in changing markets.
  • Guide Decisions and Choices with Analytics: Good analytics (evidence, data, research) can improve how leaders allocate resources in order to achieve desired results. Analytics have evolved from benchmarking (how do we compare) to best practices (who is good and how can we emulate them) to predictive analytics (why are they good) to guidance (what can we specifically do to improve). With guidance data, leaders can be more certain about which human capability investments lead to desired outcomes for their specific organizations.

Personal Certainties

At a personal level, I know things about myself and can help others know things about themselves, that generate certainty even in a world of uncertainty.

  • Live My Values, Every Day, Through My Behaviors: When leaders respond to uncertainty based on personal values, they are predictable and authentic. Regardless of where or how leaders work, they bring values and character to their jobs that define their response. Most of those reading this post have done formal and informal value clarification exercises to determine their priority values and how to enact them in daily living.
  • Affirm Others: Regardless of uncertain circumstances, leaders can commit to affirming others by understanding their points of view, listening to their views, respecting how they may differ, and being grateful for their efforts. Leaders don’t have to agree with others to affirm them. But leaders can be certain that when they affirm others, they build positive relationships that lead to success.
  • Take Care of Myself So That I Can Care for Others:  If leaders are not aware of and take care of their personal physical, social, and emotional requirements, they wear out, get testy, and make bad choices. Leaders can be purposeful in pausing, taking time out, and attending to their personal needs so that they are certain to be in a position to care for others even in times of uncertainty.
  • Create Communities of Support:  In times of uncertainty, people can draw support from friends who may be work colleagues, or they may be part of family, social, hobby, or religious groups.  Leaders can encourage relationships that offer social certainty.

Summary: Seek certainty in times of uncertainty. Uncertainty exists and seems certain to increase in the world today where no one knows what is likely to happen. Rather than focusing solely on harnessing uncertainty, HR leaders can also emphasize and embrace certainties for their organization, for others, and for themselves that transcend uncertainty and lead to effectiveness.


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