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Playbook for Uncertainty

As the year begins, every business faces a series of potentially disruptive trends converging all at once: climate change, globalization and growing social inequality.


As a result of these trends, we will likely see more devastating forest fires and hurricanes, more price volatility and material shortages dragging on and on, and (let’s hope not) even more shocking forms of civil unrest.


“Welcome to the era of uncertainty,” says the Harvard Business Review, “when constant crisis threatens every business in every place on earth.”

No Return to “Normal”

What’s your game plan for this brave new world?


“We’ve had the perfect storm of the pandemic and natural disasters—flooding, freezing and hurricanes—that have affected raw material manufacturers and product availability,” said Mark Nabity, CEO of Grayhawk in Kentucky, in my December 2021 article, “Business Management: Everything Under Control?” He said: “Eventually those problems, you would think, will go away as the supply chains get repaired. But the problems may be more frequent than they were in years past.”


You can no longer count on business being the same. Nabity told me the supply-chain disruptions of the past two years took a toll on his company’s long-standing partnerships. He had no choice, he said, but to switch on occasion to alternate suppliers of cold-formed steel studs. Chip McAlpin, AWCI’s immediate past president and division president of the Jackson, Miss., and Louisiana offices of F.L. Crane & Sons, said his firm has a whole new approach to managing materials: They order them sooner than they’re needed to get ahead of supply-chain bottlenecks.


Are you still doing things the old-fashioned way?


In the past, crisis managers did anything and everything to combat uncertainty. Some put on a bold game face and claimed to be decisive. Others became shifty, skimping on quality to finish jobs and doing anything to land a sale. Some promised the moon, never intending to deliver but betting the crisis would end before others caught on to their diversion.


These plays no longer work.


“We’ve gone through this little cycle where the ability to perform is rising back to the top of the decision chain,” said Nabity, calling out low-price, unscrupulous contractors. “We went through a period where low cost drove things. But [sub]contractors who low-balled work got into trouble. They didn’t have labor or material, and prices escalated.”


Today, ethically driven, quality-minded firms have regained the lead in the marketplace. But there is still some work to do.

Three Keys to Success

Two researchers—John E. Katsos, an associate professor of business law, business ethics and social responsibility at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, and Jason Miklian, a senior researcher at the Centre for Development and the Environment at the University of Oslo—identified three keys to success for today’s businesses.


Writing in the HBR article, “A New Crisis Playbook for an Uncertain World,” which I had quoted earlier, Katsos and Miklian drew conclusions about crisis management from interviews with more than 300 business owners and managers in conflict-torn regions of the world and from discussions with scholars knowledgeable about political and social conflict management.


Here are their three keys to success:


Partner with the community. Give your community as much priority as you do your business.


Work beyond government agencies. You bring solutions to the table. Don’t expect local authorities to do it.


Make principled political choices. This may be hard to enact, since you will have to make choices that may be unpopular.


“The real risk in uncertain settings, especially hyperpolarized ones such as the United States, isn’t alienating people because of honestly held values—it’s alienating them because of vague or blank-slate values,” Katsos and Miklian say. “Those can be interpreted by anyone to mean anything, especially by those who don’t like the company for other reasons.”


So, despite what others may think, make your choices. Support state vaccine mandates and project masking requirements? Why not? Hire, train and pay appropriate wages to documented workers? Of course. Have a zero tolerance for hate crimes on the job site? Absolutely.


What else can you come up with?

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via

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