Times of uncertainty often make or break a company. Uncertainty is always present to some degree, of course, but there are times when the invisible hand of economic, cultural, political, and regulatory forces all begin to collide in such a way that the rug is pulled right out from under a business’ feet.

Large-scale uncertainty, such as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, puts pressure on the internal fortitude and structure of a business. Businesses that may have been nominally successful but inwardly broken were crushed under that pressure. Meanwhile, businesses that cultivated healthy teams and systems were hit significantly but were able to pivot their balance, absorb the blow and shift their energy into a rebound.

So what sets apart businesses that use times of uncertainty as opportunity breakthroughs? What about their leadership allows these companies to weather storms where vision is limited, navigation is restricted and circumstances uncontrollable? Let’s explore some key concepts through this blog.

workplace uncertainty

What is Uncertainty

The nature of an uncertain business environment is different from risk. While risk also involves unknowns and uncontrollable factors, it is quantifiable and companies often leverage calculated odds to achieve great success. Every time a product is launched or an ad is aired, there is a measure of risk involved, but not necessarily uncertainty.

The difference is that uncertainty is unquantifiable. In an uncertain business climate, metrics and analytics will signify there are growing risks and turbulence occurring, but to understand why it is happening or what has changed, you need more than numbers, you need the storyline or overarching narrative of your customers. To understand how to respond to business uncertainty, companies must be able to gather and implement qualitative customer data.

Qualitative Data

As business uncertainty surged in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading brands and B2B companies have quickly recognized the need for qualitative data and have been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into user experience (UX) research.

Qualitative data is information that is descriptive in nature and brings substance to thoughts and behaviors, which can often be  invisible to quantitative tools. This type of generative data is collected through methods like:

  • Moderated interviews
  • Surveys
  • Live viewing of customer journey
  • Opposition research 

This type of research gives a company rich insights that can assist decision-makers in forming deep understandings of their users’ stories and a better grasp on broader shifts in preference and customer expectation.

What to Do in Times of Uncertainty

To cut to the chase, when leaders encounter uncertainty the answer for how to move forward is that they need to begin to invest in information. This can break down into two kinds of information, though: reviewing historical data and collecting new data. If that sounds simple, that may be because it is human nature. 

When people are abruptly introduced to unfamiliar territory, cognitive instincts jump into overdrive to information gathering. For example, think about someone getting off at the wrong subway stop in an unfamiliar city or a couple in an escape room. Their heads will are turning, their eyes are scanning, and their feet are moving them around to gather spatial information about where they’re at. They’re gathering new insights. Another thing their minds will do is subconsciously attempt to match patterns and memories to their new surroundings trying to interpret and understand them.

When found in uncertain times, companies should be leaning in on new research and their historical research to try and form a response and a strategy.

Woman feeling overwhelmed because of uncertainty

When Unsure, Don’t Do Nothing

The only universally wrong answer when thrust into uncertainty is to do nothing. That’s not to say decision-makers should not pause while attempting to gather their bearings on new circumstances. Pausing in that way is actually an intentional act of data collection. 

Instead, leaders need to be fighting the temptation to freeze in moments when their organizations are introduced to unfamiliar territory. Anxiety and fear can lock up and delay teams from proactive information gathering and creative brainstorming during critical windows. Likewise, stubbornness and denial of uncertainty can also freeze teams into the status quo and result in them never reorienting their products or strategies to the changing landscape.

Leading Companies Invest in Research

What can make or break a company in times of certainty is the investment by the organization to gather information about the changing environment and the change in their customers’ preferences and proclivities. Leading companies know this, and with the severe spells of uncertainty over the past two years hiring demand for UX researchers has skyrocketed.

Tetra Insights is the leading qualitative research platform for moderated interview analysis, reporting, and organization-wide access. The platform enables UX teams to execute and analyze UX research critical for responding in times of customer and business uncertainty. It also documents research insights in a searchable database where historical insights can be reviewed and referenced across an entire company.