What the FUD is going on?

It seems our world has changed almost overnight. The events of the past week have catapulted us from complacency nearer to the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps we whipsawed from smiling while others bought up all the toilet paper to racing off to the grocery store to scramble and stock up on Ramen noodles. Unfortunately, we’re not doing it to rekindle fond memories of our college days. The economic disruption of the blockades that was front and center as national news a few weeks ago seems now like a distant and trivial memory. The current COVID-19 virus story continues to go viral. The only ubiquity is uncertainty. What the FUD is going on?

A colleague was mentioning a business seminar he attended some years ago that talked about communication. The instructor noted that where there is uncertainty, we fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, what is used to fill in the blanks by most of us is FUD. That is, Fear, Uncertainty , and Doubt. Our natural bias is to negativity. Our brains are wired to see the worst in things. This can be (and has been in the past for our deep ancestors) useful. Being hyper-aware of and sensitive to threats kept us from being eaten. However, that default bias isn’t quite as helpful today. Yet, do it, we nonetheless do. The business seminar my colleague attended was to emphasize the importance of clear, complete, and timely communication in order to successfully manage stakeholder expectations. We can’t think of a more valuable skill in today’s environment.

Collectively, we’re clamoring for content. We’re desperate for details. We want to know what to do and what the impact to us will be personally and for how long.

Business rules we thought were, literally, set in stone, are crumbling. The benefits of bricks and mortar businesses are broken. The real estate rule of “location, location, location” seems like hot air at this point. We’re being faced with existential questions that must be answered immediately. Will we keep our doors open to customers? Will we welcome them to our premises? What critical staff are needed to physically attend our offices? How can we support our staff working from home? How do we ensure our customers can access our services without needing to attend? How do we continue to add value in a world where our physical presence and location becomes less meaningful? Is this just a blip on the radar that will last only a few days or a week? Will it last longer than a month or few months? What are the consequences in either case? Will we move back to “the way things were” once we make it through this or will the work world be more permanently changed? We’re trying to make decisions which impact others in real time with little opportunity for thoughtful deliberation.

There are many more questions than answers. Into the void of these questions falls our fear, uncertainty, and doubt. None of us have been down a similar road before. We’re doing the best we can with the limited and changing information. Looking at my bookshelves and texts, none offer any guidance. Are there consultants that specialize in this arena? Is there a professor of pandemics we can call on for answers? We’re largely left to our own intuition to muddle through. The context we’re using to make a decision now can shift so quickly that what seemed like a good decision yesterday can look less intelligent today. We’re trying to find our way through the fog.

We’re exploring how we can work to keep our staff safe and secure while servicing customers. We’re finding ways to accommodate our staff’s family needs looking after children that no longer have places to go while still being able to contribute to our businesses’ efforts. We’re working hard to try to ensure that our staff can continue to contribute and earn regular income to support their families.

As we consider these tough questions, are we looking out or in? We invite you to consider that if we’re looking out, it might be because we have doubts. If we’re looking at others for guidance or validation, we’re not following our own principles but mirroring those of the crowd. We’re letting others make decisions for us. If we’re looking in, we’re more likely to win. We’ll find out what’s important now. As we deliberate, are we referencing our corporate values? Our mission? Are we consciously crafting our response to be consistent with what we hold dear? Perhaps, we’re realizing that the circumstances in which we find ourselves are bigger than what we thought our mission was? One upshot of the current circumstances could be that we are either learning or re-learning what’s important. When faced with crisis what matters to us becomes crystal clear. The things we thought were important and were keeping us awake a week ago, seem much less important today. Our minds are preoccupied with our true priorities.

Whatever decisions are being made, offering ongoing updates to keep all parties informed as best we can continues to be the foremost consideration. We would encourage working to fill the uncertainty void from being filled with FUD by erring on the side of over communicating. Being open, and honest is the goal. Transparency trumps perfection. We’re trying to make the best decisions we can based on the context as its understood in the present moment. We’ll be updating things daily, weekly, whatever it is. Can we make our message clear and ensure it is distributed consistently and across multiple platforms to keep all of our stakeholders informed? What kind of information does our customer need or want? How can we best let them know that their needs are still front of mind? Can we communicate to them that we can still service them accurately and quickly? In what ways can we proactively reach out to reassure them? How can we do this for our staff concurrently? How can we offer some constructive guidance to help our staff manage themselves and their workloads as some transition from working at home, independently? It is answers to some of these questions we’ll be seeking to offer some suggestions for consideration in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, Happy St. Patrick’s day. Here’s to having a green beer in a solo cup, solo. Cheers.