Dealing with uncertainty
A solution in the detail of our work.
By: Jennekin Dicks 3 minute read
By: Jennekin Dicks 3 minute read
Ever been the new person in the office and felt the unsettling lurk of the I DON’T KNOW WHAT I DON’T KNOW monster in your thinking? Or maybe you feel it as a leader when there is so much detail you know you need to be across to direct your people well?
Uncertainty is not comfortable. Especially when you know it's not feasible to keep bugging people for information or updates.
And yet staying in uncertainty can easily generate hesitation or avoidance in people's actions, which means they could end up both wasting time and creating unnecessary complications for themselves and others.
I remember the first time I tried to specifically help reduce uncertainty inside a business. I was working in a professional design practice where supportive systemic controls were low. My colleagues and I were therefore more inclined to follow our own noses in our project processes - not a terrible choice, but overall a disjointed approach across teams and really not fun for the new-starters. At the same time, our busy bosses were more inclined to drop in haphazardly to add their expertise and instruction. Half the time, the left hand didn't know with certainty what the right hand was doing or needed to be doing, and vice versa. Not fun for anyone and definitely not good for the business.
Of course we 'solved' the problem by simply working harder to fix the coordination and knowledge mistakes that inevitably crept into the process, so for the most part, our clients were none the wiser. We also burned through our profitability, meaning extra hours never turned into paid hours and requests for pay increases made for some deeply uncomfortable conversations once a year.
And don't even get me started on the countless opportunities lost for increased mentorship and learning as a definitively embedded part of our work.
I wanted to help, so I developed a visual solution that would support our project teams in seeing ahead in the project process and in connecting easily to key information sets, processes and templates - all elements we either already had or could easily develop. What I was trying to do, was to create a regular and consistent connection to the broader knowledge base in the business, in the everyday of our work.
I also visually designed the solution to make it easy for our business leaders to see, at a glance, where any one team was up to in the detail of their project. The idea was that this could then spark key conversations with added expertise about what might have been missed or what might be needed around the next corner.
What could this achieve? Systemically supported collaboration, giving it 'legs' and momentum beyond the energy and availability of any one leader in any one moment.
My boss at the time raised a dubious eyebrow and declared it a waste of time. A 'checklist of checklists' he called it. He had totally missed the point…
Which I’m quite grateful for now actually, as I ended up building a whole new career on figuring out why people would either resist or participate in supportive systems as an embedded part of their work.
Systemically supported collaboration
Fast forward 12 years. A design practice owner was telling me about the effect my now infinitely more refined Project Support Plan (PSP), was having on their operations.
He said that the way it visually mapped out the key control/review/input processes for each architectural project, had markedly helped to lift the quality and efficiency of their people's work over the past year since implementing it, to the point where their clients were commenting on it.
He said that their young people and those new to the business had expressed how they appreciate being able to see so clearly ‘what’s next’, as well as being able to connect so easily with specific support information and processes available to them. It gave them a real sense of connection, learning and useful participation right from the start.
He also said that he and his business partner now routinely ‘take a glance’ at the individual PSP’s to quickly see where they need to maybe ask a few questions and offer insight and support to their project teams (or not, for that matter, which was also a huge win). He said it was making them far more effective in their oversight and giving them a sense of comfort in their risk management as business owners.
And he told me all of this with the biggest smile on his face. Which made me happy for days, because it is never just about a system or process making sense on paper - it is always about greater connection, greater flow together and greater joy in people's work.
Take THAT you lurking uncertainty monster.
The bigger picture
Now, this may have been a story about a very specific process solution, but what I am pointing to in a bigger sense, is that the future of work is truly in connective systems - whatever shape the tools we use within them might take. Practical connectivity in systems won't eliminate all uncertainty, but it tells people on a daily basis that supports and flows are in place that will help them figure it out together. So uncertainty stops being a problem or a barrier, and ultimately stops being a disruptor.
That's when people continually learn and DO better together.
And that's when we all shine our brightest.
If you want to improve your supportive frameworks, engage your people and build better learning and collaboration flows in your business, please get in touch. It is without a doubt a worthwhile and unique journey in any organisation.