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Levels of Uncertainty


Disciplines > Change Management > Articles > Levels of Uncertainty

Predictable | Exploitable | Problematic | Turbulent | Chaotic | See also


Uncertainty is not always a good thing in business, although those who can manage it can gain significant advantage. Uncertainty can also make change difficult and the greater it is, the greater management attention is needed.

The degrees of uncertainty can be divided into levels, as in the sections below.

1: Predictable

At level 1, everything is pretty much perfectly predictable. You can plan for the longer term with relative ease as the future is well known and next year will very likely be similar to this year.

For those working in change, this is a relatively dull period and the best you can do is often just to get ready and ensure people do not get fat and lazy and incapable of responding to the inevitable changes in the environment.

2: Exploitable

At level 2, there is moderate change -- something equivalent to a light wind. It is, with reasonable intelligence, quite easy to predict what will happen.

Change at this level is easy enough to handle, provided people do consider that it is a good idea. Quite typically, little reorganization is needed, if any, and the change can go through without much disturbance.

3: Problematic

At the next level, things start to get trickier as the winds of change pick up and the ability to predict drops to within the annual business planning and budgeting cycle.

The ability to respond to external forces is not guaranteed and those who sat back in easier times will run into difficulties as risks multiply and the need to spend money and other resources on change rises sharply.

At this level, change moves firmly onto the agenda, although some will still be in denial and the problems inside the company of managing change can be as bad as the environmental issues outside. At this level, you are likely to find you may need permanent posts and a defined change organization.

4: Turbulent

At level 4, things are becoming distinctly dangerous as external forces demand immediate action and serious restructuring may be needed. This is an 'all hands to the deck' situation and change initiatives must be owned and managed weekly or daily, at the highest level.

In change management, you may well need external help in such times as internal change resources are unlikely to be able to help.

5: Chaotic

At the final level, nothing is predictable, not even in the short term. There are constant surprises and the turbulence becomes a hurricane of events that appear too quickly for any meaningful response.

In such times it may be best to head for the storm shelter. Batten down the hatches and protect your resources, ready for when the storm starts to abate, at which time you can emerge, ready and re-energized.

See also

Confusion principle, Uncertainty principle


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