Paul Raggio | Ambiguity is Poison to the Workplace

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I went to Disneyland with a friend last week. I hadn’t been in decades. Buying the tickets was a unique experience. Plastered throughout the website and on your entrance ticket were cautionary notes and warnings about COVID-19 and masking requirements. Once we entered the park, officials reinforced the obligatory statements prominently displayed on signs to stay socially distanced, wash your hands and wear a mask by chattering at the noncompliant patrons. Most of the rides were operating, and about 50% of the concession stands were open. 

The queues had stenciled distance markers to help you understand what 6 feet of separation mean, and once on a ride, every other row of seats was empty. After the ride, attendants misted the seats with disinfectant before the following riders boarded.  

The Centers for Disease Control published new guidance this past week. “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” This statement caught many of us off guard, including the White House and Joe Biden administration, and created a lot of ambiguity among our population. Even the First Lady speaking at an event lamented she color-coordinated her mask and outfit, then she waved her mask at the crowd and gleefully stuffed it in her pocket.  

So, there you have it! Fully vaccinated people, meaning they received both injections with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or one injection with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and waited the prescribed time, can walk around inside and outside without a mask and little fear of contracting this hideous virus!  

Hold your horses, not so fast now! What does the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration say about not having to wear a mask in the workplace? Nothing. Absolutely nothing on their website other than the workforce is required to wear masks. OSHA is one of those government oversight regulatory agencies that monitor compliance in the workplace. Violating their regulations may lead to penalties that can be monetary, lockdowns and foreclosures in the extreme. 

With this latest CDC guidance, many people are scratching their heads, wondering, can I go to the grocery store and not have to wear a mask? What about a restaurant? Do I still have to wear a mask before I’m seated? How about the movie theater? I’ve been so anxious to go back to the theater, ballpark, concert, any place where the crowds may be significant. Do I have to wear a mask at any of these venues? And if I’m required to wear a mask, why, when the CDC has published guidance saying I don’t? 

Ambiguity is poison to the workplace, yet it prevails. With ambiguity comes chaos and dissent, and if not eliminated, dysfunction and instability follow. All organizations exist with some level of ambiguity. Exceptional organizations recognize the damaging impact ambiguity has, and root it out where and when they can, thus bringing clarity and stability to the workplace. An essential management skill is to instill clarity in all organizational systems: human resources, financial reporting, manufacturing, business development, planning and decision making. Within each system are multiple processes, and within each process are numerous procedures. Eliminate the ambiguity in each stratification of the system, and you’ll increase your workforce productivity, and just as important, their morale. 

Larger organizations with multiple departments constantly fight ambiguity. Without focus brought on by a known purpose, clear vision, coherent mission, and action-oriented values, and if stovepipes exist in the organization, then ambiguity will thrive. Clear, direct, purposeful, inspirational and well-coordinated communication from the top leader cascading down to the most junior manager and understanding and constantly clarifying the intersections of systems, processes and procedures within and among the department team members is how you eliminate ambiguity.     

 I assume Disneyland will soon abolish the mask mandate on their properties, but not before OSHA and other federal, state and local agencies clarify their mask compliance orders in light of the CDC guidance. Because of poor coordination between the CDC and governmental agencies, there will be a lag time before minimizing the ambiguity.  

Nevertheless, like every other business, Disneyland has an obligation to keep its employees and patrons safe. How they choose to do that and whether they remain compliant with government orders is a business decision. Their responsibility extends to clearly and directly communicate their decision and the rationale for making it to the public, just as your business should with its employees, customers and stakeholders. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it! 

Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. 

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