Embrace Uncertainty: Q&A with Amanda Setili, Author of ‘Fearless Growth’

February 5, 2018 Mary Lorenz

“A lot of companies have grown up being very good at being efficient and doing what they do well…but when the market starts to change and they need to do something different, it’s very hard for them to change gears,” says Amanda Setili, author of “Fearless Growth: The New Rules to Stay Competitive, Foster Innovation, and Dominate Your Markets.”

As president of strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates who counts Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines and UPS among her clients, Setili believes that in order to adapt to today’s changing business world, companies need to put more trust in their employees and empower them to make their own strategic decisions. Setili recently spoke with CareerBuilder about these concepts and more.

CB: How did the idea for “Fearless Growth” come about?
AS: A few years ago, I wrote a book called “The Agility Advantage,” which is about how to identify and act on opportunities in a fast-changing world. [Afterward], companies approached me to help them become more agile. What I noticed was, no matter how agile companies want to be, there are a lot of organizational impediments that make it very difficult for them. So I started researching and spending more time talking about this issue with companies, and what I learned is there are many things you can do [to be more agile], which are kind of like giving up control, in a sense. But in the end, you actually gain a degree of control, because the world is changing fast, and you need to be adaptable. For instance, if you empower your employees, they have more leeway to be able to adapt as things change and therefore you get to a safer place.

CB: In your book, you talk about being fearless and trying new things, which inevitably comes at the risk of failing. What is your advice for companies that say, “We don’t even have the money to risk that?”
AS: That gets into the question of, “How do we manage the risk that we see?” And there are a couple different things you can do. One is to simply place smaller bets – very simple, small experiments – where you can afford to risk what you’re risking. The second thing you can do is be more explicit about what the risks are, and do a better job of managing those risks. If you are more explicit about identifying those risks, and assign someone specific to manage each one, those risks often become fairly manageable.

One thing I advocate is embracing uncertainty, because uncertainty is here whether you like it or not. If you worry too much about the fact that you can’t predict everything, you end up stuck in one place, which is more dangerous than trying something that might not work.

CB: You have a chapter called “Open the Floodgates of Employee Creativity.” Creativity seems to be an undervalued asset in employees. Is that why you chose to focus on it?
AS: Creativity is really important in a fast-changing market. If nothing’s changing, you just keep doing what you’re doing. In today’s world, things are changing fast, so you need employees to all be thinking, “What am I seeing here that’s new? How should we be responding to this? Who should I be collaborating with inside or outside my company to be able to respond to this market trend I’m seeing?”

You really need to empower employees to make decisions like that, and you need to stimulate their creativity so they feel confident, because often, I think, we squash creativity out of employees. Either we don’t want them to be creative, or we ask them to be creative, but we don’t back it up by supporting their ideas.  

CB: You also dedicate an entire chapter to building trust into all you do. Do you think trust is a bigger issue today than it has been in the past?
AS: I think it’s important now. When the market is changing fast, you need to be working together in a flexible and fluid way. And if you can’t trust each other, you can’t move fast, because you’re constantly re-checking [your colleagues’ work], and you’re constantly asking permission to do things.

CB: You say that lack of communication can foster distrust. How do you strike a balance between not communicating enough and over communicating to the point where it just turns into white noise?
AS: One thing you need to do is decide what’s important to communicate and over-communicate those things that are very important, and decide what’s not important to communicate, and reduce that noise. I worked with a company once that was sending out 50 emails a day to its managers about [things like] policy and process. There was no way they could absorb all of that. So they actually put a gatekeeper in there to sort through things and coach people on how things should be communicated.

CB: If there’s one thing you want people to take away from your book, what would it be?
AS: That the world is changing fast, and...you can get frozen if you get too worried about not being able to predict things. But by getting more involved with partners, more involved with customers, more empowering of your employees and more trusting in your organization, you can get to a place where you’ve got a lot more people helping you succeed and adapt to the changes that occur.

For more on building trust at your organization, check out How to Earn Trust with Your Employees.

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