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How Employees and Organizations Manage Uncertainty: Norms, Implications, and Future Research
Unformatted Document Text:  12 working environments occurred in the Dynamic and Unsettling climates. These findings imply that organizations could best use their scarce resources to improve their uncertainty management practices rather than build individual employee skills. For instance, an exercise designed to identify organizational obstacles to embracing uncertainty would be preferable to a training program focused on building employee uncertainty management skills. Presumably, such an exercise would help identify organizational practices, procedures and policies that suppress uncertainty. These might include overly formal presentations, authoritarian edicts, and rigid planning processes (Clampitt & DeKoch, 2001). Second, the data indicate that communication practices and protocols play an important role in cultivating uncertainty-embracing organizational climates. In particular, employees in the Dynamic and Unsettling climates are significantly more satisfied with communication from their supervisors and organizations. Past research has indicated that supervisors who cultivate open relationships, listen to employee concerns, and exert upward influence tend to foster greater employee satisfaction (Jablin, 1979; Pelz, 1952). These behaviors and skills may also be associated with cultivating uncertainty-embracing climates. But that remains an open question, providing a fertile ground for future research. Future researchers might investigate what specific supervisory behaviors build uncertainty-embracing and uncertainty-suppressing climates. Historically, supervisory communication has been strongly linked to perceptions of the adequacy of the organization’s communication system (Downs, Clampitt, & Pfeiffer, 1988). So we were not surprised to discover that employees in the Unsettling and Dynamic climate were also more satisfied with “communication in their organization”. Clearly on a conceptual level, employees can make distinctions between supervisory and organization-wide communication. What remains unclear is exactly what organization-wide communication practices, policies, and procedures foster uncertainty-embracing and uncertainty-suppressing climates. This presents a potentially fruitful area of future research for two interrelated reasons. First, a number of organizational development specialists and business strategists have advocated the necessity of creating uncertainty-embracing organizations (Schoemaker, 2002; Courtney, 2001; Stacey, 1992). Second, these advocates have largely avoided detailed discussions of how the communication system must change in order to accommodate the new structures and culture. How should the CEO communicate when environmental uncertainty prevails? These questions are only occasionally discussed in the literature (Clampitt, DeKoch, & Cashman, 2000). Third, the data suggest that two demographic variables, gender and organizational type, are linked to particular climates. Males and females had similar perceptions of their organization’s willingness to embrace uncertainty. Yet, females tended to report a lower willingness to personally embrace uncertainty than males. This finding appears to resonate with research reporting that males tend to be greater risk-takers than females (Byrnes, Miller, & Schafer, 1999; Veevers & Gee, 1986). While biological explanations for gender differences have been offered (Reiss, 2000; Schwartz & Cellini, 1995; Walsh, 1978), socialization and speech community patterns appear to have a dominant influence on male and female behavior (Coats & Cameron, 1989; Doyle, 1997). Masculine versus feminine norms are established early in life, and these blueprints seem to persist into adulthood. Males are encouraged to be more competitive, individualistic, goal directed, aggressive, and achievement oriented (Maccoby, 1998; Maltz & Borker, 1982). Conversely, females are reinforced for being collaborative, maintaining relationships, responding to other feelings, and asking for help (Wood, 2003). Further research

Authors: Williams, M.. and Clampitt, Phillip.
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12
working environments occurred in the Dynamic and Unsettling climates. These findings imply
that organizations could best use their scarce resources to improve their uncertainty management
practices rather than build individual employee skills. For instance, an exercise designed to
identify organizational obstacles to embracing uncertainty would be preferable to a training
program focused on building employee uncertainty management skills. Presumably, such an
exercise would help identify organizational practices, procedures and policies that suppress
uncertainty. These might include overly formal presentations, authoritarian edicts, and rigid
planning processes (Clampitt & DeKoch, 2001).

Second, the data indicate that communication practices and protocols play an important role in
cultivating uncertainty-embracing organizational climates.
In particular, employees in the
Dynamic and Unsettling climates are significantly more satisfied with communication from their
supervisors and organizations. Past research has indicated that supervisors who cultivate open
relationships, listen to employee concerns, and exert upward influence tend to foster greater
employee satisfaction (Jablin, 1979; Pelz, 1952). These behaviors and skills may also be
associated with cultivating uncertainty-embracing climates. But that remains an open question,
providing a fertile ground for future research. Future researchers might investigate what specific
supervisory behaviors build uncertainty-embracing and uncertainty-suppressing climates.

Historically, supervisory communication has been strongly linked to perceptions of the adequacy
of the organization’s communication system (Downs, Clampitt, & Pfeiffer, 1988). So we were
not surprised to discover that employees in the Unsettling and Dynamic climate were also more
satisfied with “communication in their organization”. Clearly on a conceptual level, employees
can make distinctions between supervisory and organization-wide communication. What remains
unclear is exactly what organization-wide communication practices, policies, and procedures
foster uncertainty-embracing and uncertainty-suppressing climates. This presents a potentially
fruitful area of future research for two interrelated reasons. First, a number of organizational
development specialists and business strategists have advocated the necessity of creating
uncertainty-embracing organizations (Schoemaker, 2002; Courtney, 2001; Stacey, 1992).
Second, these advocates have largely avoided detailed discussions of how the communication
system must change in order to accommodate the new structures and culture. How should the
CEO communicate when environmental uncertainty prevails? These questions are only
occasionally discussed in the literature (Clampitt, DeKoch, & Cashman, 2000).

Third, the data suggest that two demographic variables, gender and organizational type, are
linked to particular climates
. Males and females had similar perceptions of their organization’s
willingness to embrace uncertainty. Yet, females tended to report a lower willingness to
personally embrace uncertainty than males. This finding appears to resonate with research
reporting that males tend to be greater risk-takers than females (Byrnes, Miller, & Schafer, 1999;
Veevers & Gee, 1986). While biological explanations for gender differences have been offered
(Reiss, 2000; Schwartz & Cellini, 1995; Walsh, 1978), socialization and speech community
patterns appear to have a dominant influence on male and female behavior (Coats & Cameron,
1989; Doyle, 1997). Masculine versus feminine norms are established early in life, and these
blueprints seem to persist into adulthood. Males are encouraged to be more competitive,
individualistic, goal directed, aggressive, and achievement oriented (Maccoby, 1998; Maltz &
Borker, 1982). Conversely, females are reinforced for being collaborative, maintaining
relationships, responding to other feelings, and asking for help (Wood, 2003). Further research


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