Several years ago, I was on a cross-country flight. The pilot came on and told us that we were going to encounter some turbulence. He explained that we were going through a patch of rough air that was akin to being on top of pot of boiling water. He went on to say that he and the copilot were committed to finding calmer air space. As I recall, he explained that the bumpiness would last about 15 minutes. During that time, we could expect the ride to be quite bumpy. Having a clear picture of what was happening, why, and how long it would last certainly helped relieve the collective passenger anxiety.
My sense is that currently there is collective management and employee anxiety. During this time of unprecedented VUCA, the most important task of leadership is to provide clear communication and a sense of direction. When I worked at Wilson Learning Corporation several years ago, we used the term "wrong-way video" to describe training videos that illustrated unacceptable leadership behaviors. We had an example of wrong-way leadership a couple of weeks ago. As reported in the November 19, 2008 edition of the Wall Street Journal article, Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson were on Capitol Hill testifying about sudden changes to TARP (Troubled Asset Relief program). Representative Spencer Bachus (R, Alabama) was quoted as saying "Changing too quickly, without adequately explaining why you've changed or what you're doing next, risks sending mixed signals to a marketplace that is in dire need of certainty and a sense of direction."
Just as the passengers on my flight were in high need of certainty and sense of direction, so too are today's employees. All too often, I have worked with executives who do not want to release communication messages until they are polished, clear, and certain. In this environment, it is important to communicate both what is known, not known, and steps being taken to reduce the gaps. Let employees know that you know that market conditions are volatile and changing. Also let them know that you are doing everything you can to provide certainty. And, this is the time to demonstrate empathy. Saying something like, "I know that you and your families are concerned about your future. We are also concerned. We are doing everything we possibly can to manage expenses, drive revenue, and optimize productivity. Any ideas and suggestions that you have are welcome at this time. We will be providing weekly updates and expect all managers to share and discuss in your weekly staff meetings." It is up to all layers of management to help employees make sense of VUCA.