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Embrace uncertainty to maintain your sanity

Embrace uncertainty to maintain your sanity

Some years back, I faced my first major crisis of managing uncertainty. I was an executive manager of Information Technology for an international oil and gas firm based in Dallas, Texas, USA. The oil crisis was at its peak and I had less staff and more demands.

Not only was the future existence of our organisation uncertain, my operating budget was uncertain, and our software was changing so fast that we were in total “reaction” mode, just putting out one fire after another.

One weekend I sat quietly for many hours contemplating this intense situation. I knew something had to change, starting inside me. For weeks I continued this “soul searching” journey with myself and with those in my department.

The first major shift that happened was my relationship with uncertainty. I had previously tried to manage uncertainty by controlling the “content” of it with an ever-increasing array of procedures and quality control, or I avoided it thinking there was nothing I could do about it.

The shift that occurred for me inside was to “embrace and befriend” the uncertainty and to find out truthfully what it was all about. From this, my first step was to do a study to find out how much of our time was being spent on things that we could not predict or foresee would happen. I asked those who worked for me to be totally honest about how they spent their time, assuring them that their honesty was the most important factor. I found that 45% of our time was being spent on unpredictable tasks.

Now I had something I could work with. Now I had confidence that 55% of our time, after accounting for personal leave and training, could be directed toward customer related tasks. So each month, we planned an honest account of our time and made promises to our customers that we could keep. This created a harmonious and trusting relationship with our customers that we had never had before. This also reduced the negative stress of my staff significantly. They no longer needed to be stressed about the unexpected work that arose and was assigned a workload that they could confidently accomplish.

Once this basis was established, then we began to look more closely at the root causes of the 45% area that was still considered unpredictable. With trust and reduced stress, we were able to open our minds to this area in a whole new creative way. Month by month we identified and worked on internal projects that would pro-actively solve many of the unpredictable problems that occurred. Usually the employees already knew these projects needed to be done, but because they were so overloaded hadn’t mentioned them.

Together, we all set a goal to reduce our unpredictable percentage from 45% to 20%. When I announced this goal at an executive planning meeting, a vice president from our international office retorted, “That’s impossible.” To which I replied, “We don’t really know whether this is possible or not, we haven’t found any studies in this area to confirm it one way or the other. However, we do know that whether we reach this goal or not, we will at least be heading in the direction we want to go.” Within 6 months, we accomplished this goal and had a big celebration.

This caused an entire culture transformation. We were now a department that made promises to our customers that we could keep. We had time to be creative and to study and plan for future trends in our industry. And most of all, we were now having fun as we were no longer stressed about our uncertain present or our uncertain future.

Debra Miller's picture
About the author

Debra R. Miller, co-founder of Values Centered Innovation, is passionate about consciously co-innovating the future... with good character and conscience!

"Innovation is a conscious, pro-active act of creating your future."