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By Liz Reyer

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Q: Our organization generally is pretty good at decisionmaking, but with so much uncertainty about the future we feel a little shaky. What are some good ways to factor in the unknowns without getting paralyzed?

A: Explore multiple options, test them against your organizational vision and manage fear of the unknown to move forward.

The inner game

Let's start with fear. Often when there are lots of unknowns, people dread terrible outcomes without thinking about how realistic they really are. An easy way to manage that is to ask, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" It's generally not as bad as the imagined outcome.

People also vary in what worries them. Taking a stand for an option or the risk of being wrong may cause great anxiety. Analyze your fear-triggers first, and then spend some time considering your colleagues so that you can be aware of what might be driving their responses to uncertainty.

Now look at how your agency operates, thinking through your current decisionmaking process. A process that works when the system isn't under stress might need additional reinforcement when things aren't quite as smooth.

The outer game

Using the analysis you've done, prepare to share your perspectives with your colleagues.

First, bring your ideas to your boss as "preventive maintenance" for the agency. You're in a strong position when presenting both a concern and a solution. Seek buy-in for having an open discussion of decisionmaking across the management team, and then work together to plan the best approach.

This would be an excellent focus for a staff meeting or retreat. The underlying issue is not simply decisionmaking, it's managing uncertainty. A session that builds buy-in to who you are as an organization (vision, mission and values) can help people regain their momentum.

Use the session to find ways to tweak your decisionmaking process to accommodate the uncertain times. Need some ideas to get you started? Spend extra time defining the problem to ensure that you know what you're trying to solve. Generate more options than you otherwise might. Be sure to communicate the approach throughout the agency. There is likely more risk of paralysis than recklessness, so help employees feel comfortable taking action when needed, and provide plenty of mentoring.

The last word

Facing fear of uncertainty and refining your decisionmaking process will help your agency continue to be effective.