Spectacles on an eye test

30 Jun 2020

The importance of clarity in a time of uncertainty

In the climate of uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s only one thing business leaders can do… focus on what is certain.

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Covid-19 challenges not only our biology but our minds. It is hard to remain positive. For businesses to survive the pandemic a spirit of resilience and a pragmatic and adaptive mindset must be adopted.

The challenge we’re facing is uncertainty, the scale of which correlates perfectly with the anxiety we experience and our resultant behaviour. If you wrote a list of how many things we used to be certain of in our daily lives and compare it to how many of these things are now uncertain, you’d be surprised at its length.

The key task right now is for business leaders to manage the uncertainty that can create unnecessary anxiety and result in destructive decisions and behaviours. How? By focusing on what is certain. We need to pinpoint what we do know, what we can do and where we can plan. Name it, be clear about it and stand by it. In doing this you will reduce the level of uncertainty and the effect will be a sense of containment, calm and order.

For the first phase, focus on what we know to be true: we will get over this virus.

Many entrepreneurs are worried about the sustainability of their organisation through this pandemic and economic lockdown, and in particular their ability to continue employing people. How do you maintain a level of certainty even when the world seems to be in chaos around you? You can. Approach it in two phases: planning and information assimilation.

For the first phase, focus on what we know to be true: we will get over this virus — it is simply a question of how long it will take; we are not all going to die from this virus (only a proportion of people will tragically pass away, and we are acting as a population to protect the vulnerable as much as we can); and the economy will recover in time, as it always has.

Now we can plan for three scenarios — short-term, mid-term and long-term potential recovery. Decide what your business and leadership actions need to be for each of these three possible outcomes, and create a separate plan for each. Include a timeline for when decisions need to be made as events unfold and trigger a scenario’s likelihood. This process will create a sense of containment in the present and produce increasing clarity as time unfolds. Decisions will be less impulsive, more rational, and more informed.  

The second phase is about how you deal with the information we are exposed to daily. Bad news sells, because as humans we are instinctively drawn to it as means of managing our survival. This can create unnecessary anxiety, forcing your brain into a fight or flight response, which uses black versus white thinking that is unhelpful as it reduces your ability to manage complexity. We need to help our brain organise itself by looking for good news to rebalance this, which helps us to appreciate reality better and lower anxiety.

Marc Kahn, Investec
Marc Kahn, global head of people and organisation development, Investec

Now we can plan for three scenarios — short-term, mid-term and long-term potential recovery. Decide what your business and leadership actions need to be for each of these three possible outcomes, and create a separate plan for each.

Unfortunately, we know some businesses will not survive this period of history, and many people will come upon hard times as a result. We must acknowledge the trauma of this reality, which requires a balanced and pragmatic mindset and energy. If you are in this situation what can you do? Again, work with what you are certain about and plan ahead accordingly. Ask yourself: why do I do this work? What else could I do? Who can help me? What is possible? Create your scenarios and plan. Know that you will find your way again — statistically, people do — it is usually only a matter of time.

A positive side effect of this pandemic is the sheer volume of data available on business modelling for the future. Seek out and aggregate this information each week, as opposed to thinking it up for yourself. Apply these approaches, models and theories to your business and your work, consider what is relevant to you and build your own emerging model.

By using the great thinking of others you can focus on planning your recovery scenarios and acting on these plans with the best information available. The good news is that almost all of it is freely available on the internet if you look.

The world has changed. Despite these trying times if you make sure you are seeing the good amid the bad news, separating fact from fiction and using what you know to be certain to plan your business across scenarios, you stand a good chance of coming out the other side of this pandemic intact, and possibly ahead of the pack.


This article originally appeared on Business Live.

About the author

Marc Kahn, Investec

Marc Kahn

Global head of people and organisation development, Investec

Marc is responsible for the people value chain of Investec worldwide. Specifically his areas work to facilitate the way the company's culture supports and drives its people and their businesses toward extraordinary performance. Marc is a psychologist (HPCSA & PBA), a chartered business coach (WABC), a certified master coach (IMCSA) and a seasoned management consultant. Marc is a Visiting Professor of People, Organisation and Strategy at Middlesex University, and the author of the book: Coaching on the Axis: Working with Complexity in Business and Executive Coaching (2014) Routledge: London.

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