Timm Portrait 2014-180x180Rapid change is the “new normal” and today’s business leaders must be able to quickly adapt — whether it’s to competition, a groundbreaking discovery, or a natural disaster.

If they don’t, even companies with established histories of strong leadership can be thrown off balance, becoming ambiguous and unclear with respect to their vision and goals. And as organizations must have clarity in these areas to thrive, ambiguousness should not be present.

But it’s more common in the workplace than one might think. A key symptom is that the work environment has turned toxic, most likely from negativity projected by unsatisfied employees who don’t feel strongly guided by management. Employees need an open and goal-oriented leader to turn to, but if that leader hides too much behind his or her silo, or doesn’t display a sense of commitment or direction, trouble can organically start to brew.

“Leaders must provide clarity so that work assignments and goals are not as ambiguous as the environment,” writes Col. Eric G. Kail, in the Harvard Business Review (“Leading Effectively in a VUCA Environment: A is for Ambiguity”). “Ambiguity doesn’t paralyze workers; it makes them insecure and stirs them up … A leader must provide clear direction and synchronize the efforts of others while continually communicating any adjustments.”

Kail also notes that leaders should also listen well, think divergently (e.g., openness to new ideas), and set up and achieve dividends, as celebrating success is a great way to build confidence and trust.

A company’s human resources team can also help eliminate ambiguity. Human resources professional Steve Brown recently asked this question during his monthly HR Roundtable, and compiled some solid tips:

Lead by example: Because the human resources department usually tends to play it safe, ambiguity can creep in. HR professionals need to set the bar high for the company, so trust and confidence do not erode.

Toss the bad apples: Some people shouldn’t be in leadership. If your HR department has done everything it can to address unruly behavior and performance – without seeing positive results – then the bad apples should go. Otherwise the rest of the bunch (your entire organization) will suffer.

Create a safe haven: The HR department should be the place to facilitate situations and conversations between management and employees. Its role should be to mediate, not judge.

Take the time to explain why: By giving employees clear (not ambiguous!) context, you can resolve challenges more quickly and nip any uncertainty in the bud. This (hopefully) simple step indicates your commitment to providing them with the whole picture and can clear up any misunderstanding so everyone can move forward.

Teach good communication skills and relationship building: Educate managers on how to communicate “with” people, and not “at” them, and how to “include” people, not “delude” them. Another roundtable participant noted, “A different tactic is to teach others how to approach people. We don’t teach relationship building and if we did we’d be light years ahead of how it’s currently being done.”

There’s a wealth of information available on leadership, both online and in books. Pick a personal business mentor and read his or her biography. Get started, and stay motivated and positive. Keep your goals clear, not ambiguous, and success will follow.