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How to hold your nerve while all about you are losing theirs

How to hold your nerve while all about you are losing theirs

Nicola Hopes

12 March 2024

Make planning feel less like navigating a maze on a unicycle.

So, the days are getting longer. And brighter.

And there’s a slight whiff of optimism in the air. But we don’t really trust it do we?

We hoped things would iron themselves out after a global pandemic – how many times did you hear or say, ‘At least we’ll be back to normal soon!’

But…then a cost-of-living crisis. 

And a recession.

And for those of us in the UK we had ‘that’ budget – which may or may not have lit your fire… And then there’s the upcoming election.

There are so many moving parts, trying to plan right now feels like trying to navigate a maze while riding a unicycle. At night. It's a wild ride with no clear direction, and you don’t know where you’re going to end up!

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You have 3 factors of existential angst in processing every major development or announcement:

  1. What does it mean for me and my family?
  2. What does it mean for my team and their stress / engagement / motivation?
  3. What does it mean for those we serve – our customers, our members, our clients? Therefore, how will that impact our business?

And trying to predict that impact and flow it through business decision-making is enough to have you reaching for your second double espresso / vodka martini before you’ve even got dressed.

So, given the ongoing uncertainty we’re all facing – let’s move on from the mild delusion of trying to manage uncertainty to the healthier mindset of living with it.

‘Yes, but how?’ I hear you shout at your screen. ‘I find it really uncomfortable!’.

Newsflash. Everybody does. Our brains are hard-wired to want predictability. Because unpredictability based on external factors we can’t control feels like a threat.

Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty, so game it.

So, how do you give your poor old brain a chance to be calm and perform at  its best?

Mind-altering drugs?

Daily meditation?

Perfecting your own ginger shot recipe and handing them out daily to the team like a miracle elixir?

You’ll be pleased to know some simple steps can make all the difference – without requiring heavy sedation.

Step #1 – hold your nerve

  • If you believed that project was beneficial last month, it probably still is now.
  • So why delay? How many times have you regretted not getting on to deliver something because you’ve now missed the boat?
  • Find ways to make it doable – phasing, scoping, use of resource. Get creative.

Step #2 – accept you don’t have complete control

  • You know your ‘sphere of influence’ is smaller than your ‘sphere of concern’ but do you really accept it? Do you actively use that idea to identify all the things you and your team can control and what to do about them?
  • By doing this, you’re actively reminding your brain of all the things it can And suddenly it all feels more manageable.
  • Repeat this exercise regularly because, ahem, things change…

Step #3 – agile can help

  • The core concepts of agile dictate that you fix short-term goals and make progress in stages.
  • Spend your time creating certainty – stage by stage – and you get to the goal.
  • You can use this planning approach for any initiative or activity you’re doing. Don’t worry about the 12-month deliverables, focus on the 3-month ones. And the rest will come.

Step #4 – be prepared

  • If you were a Scout, Guide, Brownie or Ranger – this should be a doddle!
  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – plan for scenarios. Get the whole team brainstorming what things could knock you off course, and then specifically what you’d do about it. Capture the thinking.
  • Then regularly dust off those scenarios in line with your 3-month planning cycle.

Remember: uncertainty is like a bowl of quinoa.  Not so appealing at first, but you can get it eaten if you just add the right ingredients to make the flavour palatable.

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