How do you react to change? Your answer may affect your career — more than you might believe.
“Resilient” individuals are recognized for their ability to absorb change more effectively than their less resilient counterparts; they adapt to change positively, keeping their composure, without the change negatively affecting their emotional, mental or physical well-being — or of those around them. Less resilient individuals tend to react with fight (emotional outbursts, passive/aggressive behavior or sabotaging the change effort) or flight (“I hit the job boards the day I heard the news.”).
Ambiguity is everywhere. The workplace today is full of changes, uncertainty and complexity from changing work flow, processes and overlapping roles to reporting structures and new information/technology systems. The rules of how to succeed in the workplace are changing. Companies place a high value on employees who can adapt to all this change successfully. The winners will be those who are identifiable for their adaptability and resiliency — those seen as effective, optimistic, supportive and proactively seeking solutions. The losers will be those seen as being overwhelmed, putting up roadblocks to success, paralyzed, “stuck” and resentful.
Dr. Spencer Johnson illustrates the importance of anticipating and adapting to change in his simplistic parable “Who Moved My Cheese?” The book is full of cheese (change) nuggets:
- “If you do not change, you can become extinct.”
- “Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.”
- “Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese.”
The cheese story reminds us to embrace change vs. becoming immobilized or traumatized by it. Simply put, change is coming — so get over and on with it!
Adaptability has become a workplace buzzword — and a key hiring standard. Staffing for all this change has become important. I counsel job candidates to prepare a story that demonstrates their “adaptability” for interviews. Employers equate the ability to deal with uncertain and unfamiliar situations as key to potential success in positions. Being seen as the one who “makes it work” may be the difference in getting the job or promotion.
While easier said than done, here are a few ways that employees and managers can increase the odds of adaptability and resiliency:
- Self-awareness is essential. Be aware of your emotion to the change but “choose” your behavior in how you react to it. Extreme negative reactivity can — and will — hurt your career.
- Communicate to management your desire to learn new coping and adaptability skills. Demonstrate you are willing to improve and change. Ask what training or coaching is available to you to become more valuable to the company.
- Develop an open mind. Be curious — ask questions. Explore and consider vs. deciding quickly or rigidly planting your stake in the ground. Change often opens up better and new opportunities.
- Be proactive. Take action given calculated risks and have a plan for problems. Remember — it’s not IF problems will come up — it’s how you deal with them that makes all the difference.
- Remember Ben Franklin’s wisdom: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Be identified as one who challenges the status quo and provides solutions (you will stand out from those who hide behind, “It’s always been done that way.”).
- Identify the positive opportunities and keep a big-picture perspective. Just because your company just got taken over doesn’t mean disaster — it may mean good riddance to processes that have been getting in your way of success.
- Attitude is everything, and humor helps. Scream in your car (not your cubicle) and try viewing the change as another *#@*! growth opportunity!
- Be compassionate. Empathy and understanding that change can be “scary” and uncomfortable can go a long way toward soothing ruffled employees. Back those willing to challenge the status quo (good leaders pave the way for their people to be successful).
- Be “coachable” — professional coaches or supportive mentors can help.
- Be a lifetime learner — stay current. Keep adding to your knowledge and skill base. Those that stagnate will not thrive in the new order of the workplace.
- Accept it and embrace it. Change is coming — it’s inevitable.
Adaptability also means being creative to find solutions that work. Most organizations can’t afford to carry those who fight them tooth and nail over changes to improve the business. If you aren’t moving forward, someone else is passing you by.