Given 100% of the information and unlimited amount of time, you could make excellent decisions most of the time. Yet in today's increasingly foggy, fast-paced, complex work environment, do you always have the data or time desired to make a decision?
According to the American Management Association’s survey of 1,573 global corporations, dealing with ambiguity is essential for leadership success because close to 90% of the issues leaders deal with these days are ambiguous -- the problem is often unclear and the solution vague. (1) Listed below are five tips to help you efficiently manage ambiguous issues or problems.
Analyze probable causes of the problem. Generate a list of the possible causes. Use a rating scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being slight possibility and 5 being highly probable cause. In a column next to your ratings, write down what you must do to investigate the cause further. Then, rate how much effort is required to conduct the investigation. Again, use a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being minimal effort and 5 being tremendous amount of effort. Finally, weigh the probability of the cause with the amount of investigation needed to determine the order in which you will investigate the causes. Rank the order in the last column.
Minimize unnecessary data collection. Do you ever find yourself collecting data just because it's going to make you feel better? If so, ask yourself two questions: “Is what I’m collecting absolutely necessary? How much value doesn't really add?” Just being conscious of ‘how much is enough’ will help you decrease the collection of unnecessary information.
Take small steps. To increase your comfort with uncertainty, increase your openness to mistakes. One way to do this is to take a small step, get immediate feedback, adjust course, gather a little more data, and take another small step. The process is similar to finding your way in the dark. By taking small steps and feeling your way along the way, you minimize the risk of a stubbing your toe or big fall.
Prioritize and organize. It is easy to become distracted when dealing with uncertainty. Review your priorities with your boss. Set aside specific time to work on these priority issues uninterrupted. Focus on the fundamental few, not the meaningless many.
Accept criticism as learning. Leaders who manage ambiguity well understand that they will make mistakes. They adopt the attitude that there is no failure only feedback. It's only failure if they choose not to learn from the experience. Even when they are being criticized by others, they choose to interpret the criticism as learning.
Leaders use these tips to find their way through these turbulent times. How are you developing your skills to manage the foggy future?
1. American Management Association Report, Leading into the Future, New York, New York, 2005.