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Journal of Change Management, March 2002.

Embracing uncertainty: The executive’s challenge


The old news is that organizations function in an increasingly chaotic and uncertain environment. The good news is that most employees want their organizations to embrace uncertainty rather than suppress it. Our research reveals that employees who work for organizations that embrace uncertainty tend to be:​

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Authors: Phillip G. Clampitt, M. Lee Williams, Robert J. DeKoch

  • More satisfied with their job.

  • More committed to their organizations.

  • Less cynical about organizational life.

  • More likely to identify with the organization.

These tendencies occurred even when employees themselves did not fully embrace uncertainty. Therein lies the executive’s challenge: creating and sustaining an organizational climate that welcomes, utilizes, and exploits uncertainty. That’s not an easy task because it means encouraging an organization to come to grips with vagueness, complexity, randomness, the unknown and sometimes the unknowable. Wise executives cultivate organizations with the intellectual dexterity, emotional toughness, and operational flexibility to embrace uncertainty implied by these various types of uncertainty. Doing so requires that they 1) recognize different organizational climates, 2) understand the reasons why their organizations suppress uncertainty, 3) determine how their organizations suppress uncertainty, and 4) develop appropriate uncertainty-embracing competencies.

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