5 Keys to leading in disruption & uncertainty - Non-binary problem solving




Every day we are met with binary decisions. Binary is either on or off. Either yes or no.

· Light on or light off?

· Go for a run or have a lay-in?

· Chocolate bar or piece of fruit?

In work we often face binary choices. Expand or not. Run this campaign or not. Binary choices are great for simple issues and in certain times. However, when life is complex, the binary approach is not always the best solution.

This is the fifth of our blog series on 5 keys for leading in disruption and uncertainty. How to lead at a time when the organisation has not been in this place before requires these 5 things

· Visibility

· Authenticity

· Storyteller

· Prioritise

· Non-binary problem solving

Last week we looked at prioritising. This week, we examine the importance of decision making and taking it beyond a binary approach.

Real problems

Countless organisations are facing significant issues as they seek to adjust business during this world pandemic. Take, for example, the situation that many companies face – our sales have dropped, our income has gone down. Our expenditure exceeds income. We face a real threat to the company’s existence. We are at financial risk. Costs have to be cut. And then the binary decision - We will make redundancies. It is just yes or no. Problem solving of this magnitude has to be examined carefully as even the most obvious answer has serious consequences. Maybe, in times of uncertainty, it is time for a different approach.

Non-binary blend

A non-binary approach looks to find a range of solutions and considers blending them to get the best way forward for the company and the people who are part of it.

It starts with really investigating the problem, what is at the root of it? Then it is about looking at all the possible ways of solving it.

For example, if sales have dropped and income is down, a non-binary approach looks at

· How can we reduce costs? What are the different ways?

· How can we increase sales? What are the different ways?

· How can we diversify? What are the different ways?

· How can we create space to recover? What government support is there?

You then look at what is the best blend. It could be a combination. One doesn’t have to exclude the other.

Income dropping, often leads to the binary approach of redundancies. But some companies have chosen alternatives and blended them. I know of one company that discussed the issue with their staff and everyone agreed a pay cut rather than lose one of their team. Other companies have given employees 4 weeks unpaid leave, thus reducing wage bills and giving employees time. There are alternatives to redundancy with some creative thinking.

Taking time to really consider the situation and look at a range of solutions is the best way in any time, especially when you are in a time of uncertainty as it takes people with you. We have a problem-solving sheet on our website that can help get a full picture of the situation and a range of ideas. https://www.everydayleader.co.uk/resource-bank Do feel free to use it to help you examine the problem fully. You can also give Everyday Leader a call to arrange some coaching and we can help you create a ‘war room’ to examine the problem from all angles.

Whether with us, or by yourself, ask questions like:

· What is the big picture I am trying to achieve?

· What are the different ideas out there?

· What are my different options?

· What are the pros and cons with each idea?

· What is the optimal solution for us?

Impact of Non-Binary

You may be asking, “why is binary is not the best in uncertain times?” Of course, binary problem solving allows you to track what has been successful or not as there is only one thing you have put in place. But in times of uncertainty, in times of heightened worry for staff, having an approach that shows staff and customers that you are considering all options and that you are investing in them and making it as safe as possible for them, generates a loyalty and commitment from them. In some cases, there is just the one option, but the key thing is to review as openly as you can and consider wide options. It gives you time to think of wider consequences and limit damage. Picking options that work for you, rather than just one option allows for a dexterity and balance where one area is not depleted. If you make lots of people redundant, then staff morale is heavily depleted. If you remove all spending or expenses then the manageability of the job becomes inhibited. Non-binary means that you spread the risk.


Imagine if you could could go for a shorter run after a shorter lay in and then have some chocolate and some fruit in a room with the light turned down by dimmer switch. Life doesn't always have to be binary. Neither does decision making!

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