Managing Within Uncertainty

Managers make decisions within uncertainty daily. Sometimes, critical decisions made within uncertainty involve high risk for a manager. When I worked as a manager at The US Environmental Protection Agency, one of our team’s most challenging projects was to develop guidance for scientists and regulators addressing decision making under uncertainty. In the project, we put a lot of our focus on the assumptions scientists and regulators made for each decision. Good assumptions can mitigate the risks inherent in decision making within uncertainty. Ideally, you have the time to make solid, well-researched assumptions, but that is not always possible. So, what do you do? Fly by the seat of your pants? No, you do the best you can in the time available to you. Some strategies for making critical decisions in uncertainty: bring your team together and use all your brainpower to identify first the unknowns involved and then the risks; devise the best course of action in the time available to you; document the assumptions and identified risks involved in your decision; get the concurrence of upper management both on your decision and on going forward within uncertainty. The unknown can become a bit more known with time, but will often remain, and decisions must be made. Get as comfortable as you can with uncertainty. Create a strategy that helps you deal within it.

 

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