Thriving When Change Is The New Normal At Work

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A longtime client I’ll call “Betty” asked me to give a talk about how to survive in an organization that’s going through a multi-year transition.

I was pleased to speak at the company where Betty is a manager.  But when she told me the topic, I was surprised. That’s because I can’t think of anybody more adept than Betty at navigating a rewarding career through an industry experiencing prolonged restructuring.   She has survived multiple mergers, division liquidations and realignments.  And she’s been adept at jumping ship and making a great landing at the perfect time.

Then I realized that Betty was concerned about her colleagues. She saw some of them worrying and whining, instead of coming up with her kind of survival strategies.  So without mentioning Betty’s name, I used her as a model as I developed a list of tips for surviving in the midst of transition. 

If you work in an organization going through widespread change, try these tips for steering a steady career course even when it gets stormy: 

  • Know it’s not about you.  Institutional change is like stormy weather. It’s pouring everywhere, not just on you. Complaining won’t help and bitterness can make your situation worse.  It’s vital to survival that you look at the big picture and let go of any anger at finding yourself in a game you didn’t sign up for.
  • Understand your industry and its environment.  One reason Betty keeps landing on her feet is that she puts in the time to understand her company’s business.  She knows a lot about its competitors, she’s alert to the needs and interests of its customers, and she’s well informed about broader regulatory and economic developments.  By thinking like a CEO, she can spot the trends and be ready when the next wave hits.
  • Know your bosses’ goals.  Your longtime supervisor may fondly recall your contributions from a few years back, but that may not be enough to save you when the going gets tough.  Your most valued colleagues are the ones solving today’s problems and contributing to the achievement of tomorrow’s goals.  If you want to do well this year, be sure you understand your bosses’ big objectives. Ask yourself: what do they need in order to be successful?  And are there more ways I can help them succeed
  • Network! Network! Network!  One reason Betty does so well is because she is so widely connected. Whether you are looking for a new job or a new idea, your position will be stronger if you have a wide circle of professional acquaintances.  Join groups, volunteer for projects and find other ways to get to know people throughout your organization and beyond it.
  • Find stability in other places.  Some folks are less at ease with uncertainty than others.  If the constant state of change at work is getting you down, find people and communities to rely upon in other aspects of your life. Although she can be a bit of a workaholic, Betty is smart about building a balanced life.  She is active in her church, she works hard to stay connected with many friends, and she finds the time to visit family members scattered across the country. Betty has created structures in her life that give her a place to rest when everything at work seems crazy.
  • Be in great shape.  Let’s face it: change can be exhausting.  When the world seems to be shifting it takes extra energy just to get through the basics.  So, while working around the clock might be the answer in an emergency, it’s a shortsighted strategy when transition is the new normal.  You need sustained energy for the long haul. Betty is not an athlete, but she has learned that a regular fitness routine and enough sleep are critical to strong performance during difficult times.
  • Reduce financial pressures.  One thing that has helped Betty keep her jobs is that she has never become desperate at the thought of losing one.  Betty dreamed of buying a larger home, but instead she kept the small one and invested her savings in rental properties.  When times are uncertain, do what it takes to build up your rainy day fund or alternative income sources.

Are you, like me, still working on 2014 Resolutions?   Want to make a plan to  thrive in times of change? You might be interested in this post on New Year’s Resolutions that actually work.

Beverly Jones is an alum of Ohio University. Her column appears at Clearways Consulting LLC. Republshed with permission. For archives and additional content, visit the Clearways Consulting website.