Action in Uncertainty

May 11, 2020 Dan McDonough

Problem-solving in complex and high-pressure situations is routine business in the Army. The Estimate, a logical and agile decision-making formula, is used to enable effective action in uncertainty. The lack of similar codified processes in the commercial world is surprising; especially in the advent of COVID-19. Having used the process in deciding to leave the Army and in finding a role at Matero, it is fascinating to see how this new consultancy is bringing these capabilities to businesses, with a unique and blended methodology.

THE LURE OF INACTION

When changing careers, or going through any major adjustment in life or business, it is easy to blame a lack of progress on external factors. Transitioning out of the military during COVID-19 provided such an excuse. In the face of a wave of hiring-freezes, furloughing rounds and redundancies the temptation was to slow any momentum and wait.

However, using the estimate demonstrated that this was in fact the precise moment to focus on factors within my control, to build further momentum and to set the conditions to exploit opportunities that would arise out of change and uncertainty. The job market and business landscape are changing drastically, and those who are bold enough to go on the offensive, to make moves and pivot at speed, will have a greater opportunity to thrive.

‘BEWARE THE BUSY FOOL’

Before leaping into action, a cautionary note. Having come to the end of  seven years in the Army, the vast expanse of opportunities on offer in the ‘real world’ was daunting. However, as an action-orientated individual, the idea of diving in and chasing a myriad of potential leads was exciting. Three-months later, despite a great deal of activity, there was little to show for it. One comment from a wise source helped to change this – ‘beware becoming the busy fool.’

Although we must avoid inactivity during these times, any action we do take must be carefully considered and supported by appropriate tools. Activity by itself can lead us to a false sense of security, believing that progress is being made and positive change will follow. Ultimately, if the nature of the problem has not been correctly defined at the start, with a suitable road-map established, then no amount of action will solve it. Only after using the Estimate was it possible to formulate an effective strategy and quickly see progress follow, despite conditions worsening as COVID-19 struck.

THE TOOL KIT

MECCAR is Matero’s methodology for solving this – borne out of the Estimate but given relevance to the commercial world through the partners’ broad corporate experience. It enables businesses to use a formulaic, but highly agile process to make order out of chaos, to pivot at speed and to set the conditions to seize fleeting opportunities. It begins by refocusing and redefining your mission purpose, an expansion on ‘defining the problem’ which outlines more broadly the key objectives which need to be achieved in order to deliver a central outcome. This enables unity of effort and allows organisations to effectively allocate what limited resources they have, so as to achieve more with less.

The problems faced at present by businesses and individuals are challenging to the extreme. As a result the supporting tools offered as part of this methodology are essential additions to achieve mission purpose. For example, although the decision-making process could provide me with a vision of what roles would be best suited to a very specific set of criteria, there was a need for tools to enable further progress. Central to this was a requirement to communicate complexity with clarity. Articulating ideas and goals to others presented a professional image and enabled them to offer effective help. This was a huge force multiplier and allowed limited resources to go even further. Similarly, organisations need to ensure that every employee and stakeholder understands the intent (drawn out of the mission purpose) so that they can play their part independently and effectively. Without this it would be easy to create a team of ‘busy fools’.

EMBRACING RISK

At one stage an opportunity arose to re-join the Army. This was tempting as it presented a safe option in uncertainty. However, following a defined decision-making process and criteria, it became clear that such a move was not in line with my mission purpose. Having established that it was possible to mitigate the risk of turning down full-time employment, I re-focused on finding a job in the midst of COVID-19. Businesses will face similar decisions, having to choose between the safety of inaction and the risk of making progressive changes. Sometimes the risk will be intolerable; however, it is only by following a defined process that such a complex decision can be made confidently and that opportunities can be capitalised on.

Within three weeks the riskier approach had paid off and three job offers materialised (alongside two further interviews). All of these opportunities arose directly out of the COIVD-19 situation. The final step was to use the same objective decision-making criteria to select which of the three roles to accept. This was not an easy task, and I have again found myself taking the less secure, riskier, but ultimately more pragmatic route.

A PATHWAY FORWARDS

It is somewhat of a leap to equate such an experience with the issues facing businesses today. However, at its core there is a shared experience. A need to find a defined route out of complexity, a need to effectively bring others in to reach that pre-defined destination, and a need for an agile and resilient decision-making process to navigate each fork in the road. I am excited to continue to develop my understanding of this methodology and to help Matero in bringing these much-needed ideas to businesses in crisis, allowing them to act in spite of uncertainty.

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Accountability, Action Orientation, Agility and Decency