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7 ways the public sector can lead through uncertainty

Best-selling author and speaker Chris Helder recently explained seven steps for absorbing uncertainty and affecting positive change.

From the pandemic to extreme weather, we’re living and working in an era of uncertainty. It can be difficult to know what’s coming next – much less how to manage it. 

But the public sector operates on the frontlines of uncertainty. Public servants in Australia and New Zealand can still find ways to lead through change and drive prosperity despite difficult times. 

In a new webinar, international keynote speaker, storyteller and best-selling author Chris Helder discusses how to accept uncertainty and affect positive change in a challenging reality. In it, he sets out the seven stages of uncertainty acceptance.

1. Taking an adventure mindset

Opportunity exists in the absence of certainty, but an adventure mindset is necessary to see it. 

The public sector operates in an environment of almost constant uncertainty. From crises like bushfires or the COVID-19 pandemic, to frequent elections, agency reconfiguration and relentless media oversight, public servants face a huge amount of multi-faceted uncertainties.

However, Chris notes, it’s within this uncertainty that we can affect meaningful change – as long as we embrace the adventure, he says.

2. Focusing on what you can control

There are many things we can’t control. And the pandemic has taught us there’s no single approach that will restore certainty for good. Still, we can control how we respond to this uncertainty. 

Chris explains that we can control how we lead change. We can control the actions we take to make a difference. And, here in Australia and in New Zealand, research shows that government has earned some gains in trust. In other words, public servants can’t control the future, but they can still create a ‘virtuous cycle’ of trust by improving areas like service delivery.

This includes taking concrete steps to harness the right technology and unlock the data, processes, and insights needed to build resilience and enable effective change management in the public sector. We can’t unilaterally control every future crisis, but we can equip ourselves to respond in efficient, rapid, informed ways.

3. Adopt useful beliefs

It’s undoubtedly a challenging time in the public sector, but there’s a choice: get bogged down in overwhelming negativity or adopt useful beliefs that drive positive actions. 

The pandemic is awful – there’s no spinning that. But, unlike those living through pre-vaccine smallpox or the 1918 influenza, we now have technological advances that help us adapt and save lives. Australians and New Zealanders have come together and taken action to minimise risks. We have means of communication that help researchers or governments exchange critical information in the blink of an eye. We have the tools to make amazing things happen. 

As Chris explains, these are the useful beliefs that will drive us forward.

4. Adjust your values

For better or worse, the pandemic has changed our reality – potentially in permanent ways. Chris says that means many of us will have to adjust values and priorities accordingly.

In the public sector, serving people and the community is an important value. The pandemic has affected many people and wide-spread uncertainty is making many feel vulnerable. In this climate, time is the greatest gift we can give to our customers and stakeholders. We must invest our time to make their day better. When our stakeholders give us their time, it’s our job to give them everything we’ve got.

5. Keep it simple

As uncertainty grows, high performers and effective organisations keep it simple. The past 12 to 18 months has highlighted the importance of focusing our energies on important, high-value activities versus unimportant, low-value work. 

To succeed in the face of uncertainty, we must ask ourselves what is useful and what is not? Which activities produce results, and which do not? 

For instance, this year’s Trust Imperative research indicates that agencies are better served by flexible technology platforms – ones that allow them the flexibility to reskin digital solutions for whatever’s next on the horizon. These kinds of focuses can reduce organisational and technological ‘clutter’, streamlining agency operations and helping public servants respond more quickly.

6. Choose your narrative

Where do we go from here? The public sector will have to continue leading through ongoing uncertainty, but there are opportunities everywhere.

We can take ownership of the narrative and tell stories that celebrate what we can control. We can simplify the messages we share, help define what’s important, and focus on learning from one another and growing from tragedy.

7. Take action

The biggest takeaway might be that you can always take steps today. And research tells us there are specific steps governments can take to improve public trust and create new efficiencies. Chris explains that it’s okay to start small and to acknowledge when things can be done better. That’s how we ignite conversations and share ideas. 

When you learn what works – replicate it. Code the success into your DNA, and design a life of excellence.

Watch the full webinar with Chris Helder.

Salesforce Staff

The 360 Blog from Salesforce teaches readers how to improve work outcomes and professional relationships. Our content explores the mindset shifts, organizational hurdles, and people behind business evolution. We also cover the tactics, ethics, products, and thought leadership that make growth a meaningful and positive experience.

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