Instability: Now What?

Businesses—and markets—were rattled by the latest financial turmoil, but have so far pressed forward. Is instability becoming too common?

It is what it is. A tech-sector meltdown. Mounting layoffs elsewhere. And now, a regional bank crisis. The current financial landscape is rattling firms, but the panic has been limited to certain sectors—at least for now. 

Welcome to another new normal. The year 2023 has already had its share of shaky news, but experts say the business environment is now so accustomed to uncertainty that leaders, investors, and employees have adopted a philosophical approach to potential meltdowns. Or, as Tamara Rodman, a senior client partner in the Culture, Change, and Communications practice at Korn Ferry, says, “People have developed a much higher tolerance for instability.”

To be sure, that new tolerance could end in an instant and cause both markets and business outlooks to plunge. And certainly some of that looked more possible as global banking fears grew during the week.  But expert leaders have at least some practice in all of this. Going back to the financial collapse of 2008, the corporate world has faced 15 straight years of mostly constant volatility, a largely unprecedented streak. In just the last three years, there’s been a global pandemic, an overhaul of how and where we work, mass hiring and subsequent layoffs, an acceleration of the transition to digital, and a host of other changes. Sharon Egilinsky, a Korn Ferry senior client partner specializing in organizational strategy, says the sheer volume of uncertainty has forced leaders and employees to develop a sort of immunity to it. “There’s been a return to focusing on what they can control,” she says. 

One approach leaders have taken is to communicate more frequently and transparently, says Andrés Tapia, global diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist at Korn Ferry. In a crisis, he says, the best way leaders can calm the frayed nerves of employees, customers, and investors is to proactively communicate what they know and don’t know. In fact, experts say, botched messaging around a planned fundraising round contributed to this week’s financial difficulty. “Hiding or obscuring details only leads to bigger trouble,” says Tapia. 

On the employee side, Rodman points to data showing that training and development opportunities are what talent desires most in a job. It’s evidence, she says, of how workers are adapting to constant change—both to the company’s benefit and their own. “Instead of being complacent, talent is actively looking for ways to grow new skills,” she says. 

At the same time, Rodman adds, workers have learned from the last few years of volatility to keep their options open. With the job market still hot, gaining new skills can be a way for talent to hedge against instability in companies, industries, or functions. “They are preparing themselves for their next chapter,” she says, “because they know it can start at any time.”


For more information, contact Korn Ferry’s Cultural Transformation practice.