It’s Thursday morning. You’ve been rocking your week; you're finally feeling in a groove after being at your company, or in your role, for less than 12 months. And it’s not just at work — you’ve gotten your commute time down to a science, things have been calm and easy and effortless at home. Your attitude is opening up doors — you're excited about a meeting next week in which you’ll be presenting to your senior leadership team, something that you were never allowed to do at your previous job with that micro-managing boss! Overall, you’re feeling just good and solid in this role and where you are in life.
Then it happens: Just before you start your Thursday ritual of asking your neighbor where you should head out for lunch you and your team get a vague "Team Update" meeting set for 3 p.m. that afternoon.
That afternoon you come to find our that you team is moving under a new VP, or maybe the department is being restructured entirely. Maybe your boss you who LOVE is moving to a different team. Maybe your project is being put on hold and that upcoming senior leadership meeting is canceled until further notice. Your day-to-day work might change as people in your office are shifting around or a business strategy takes a turn. Change could break the status quo of your company, but change initiatives are usually intended for organizational development or positive culture change.
Maybe you’ve known this kind of organizational change and development was going to happen for a while. Or maybe the planned change is a complete surprise to you, and you don't like your new day-to-day operations. Either way, change in organizations happens to the best — really all of us — and way more than we’d like. So there's no point in trying to resist change. A resistance effort is futile, but readiness for change can prove invaluable for employees.
So how do employees navigate the seas of organizational change and change strategies of a company? Here are 13 things you can do to learn, grow, and come out from change in organizations sharper and stronger.
1. Lean on a friend at work or outside the office (like, a real friend). If you have someone who you can fully trust feel empowered and allow yourself to become vulnerable to this person. If you don't have someone at work consider using this as a moment to work to get closer with your colleagues; it's unlikely that will build a strong foundation of trust overnight so find a person who you can share your thoughts, concerns, and feelings with. Organization development, culture change and changes to day-to-day operations can be tough, so lean on someone for support. You may also want to consult a human resource representative if the planned change to the organizational culture or the new strategy is unbearable.
2. Be positive. Change initiatives aren't easy to swallow always. Sometimes a human resource representative can help you navigate the organizational change process, but you need to keep positive about organizational change and developmenta. Maybe you are frustrated because your personal growth is stalled or a project has been back-burnered or you’re now existing under a VP who you simply don’t see eye-to-eye with or you're just having difficulty managing change. That's often an unfortunate result of restructuring/organizational development and can make venting or whining or simply being negative really easy. That's what your trusted close friend is for; to everyone else you must be positive. The worst thing you can do, I repeat, the worst thing you can do during a reorg is to be negative constantly.
3. Create multiple channels to stay plugged into. One of the things people struggle with the most during an organizational change is communication and flow of communication. One of the best ways to manage this is to have multiple channels to share and receive information. Leverage your manager and direct reporting structure but don’t discount the information that your partners in operations, marketing, or IT have with regards to the organizational change process and your day-to-day work. This is a great place to lean even more on those friends or closer colleagues, but you don’t have to be best buds with someone to exchange information during a change. A simple question of, “How’s your team managing this change?” or “How are you doing with all this change?” can unlock a wealth of information.
4. Ask questions. If your company is implementing change, you should ask questions. Along with those partner teams, in general this will be a time during which you're going to have a lot of questions. You should feel empowered to ask them. But do so at the right time. Sometimes it’s in the 50-person meeting, sometimes it’s at 8:15 when you run into your manager popping her lunch into the fridge. Feel it out. Successful organizational change only occurs when everyone understands what's going on.
5. Listen to answers. Regardless of if you're asking at question over coffee or when your boss seems to be in an open mood or to your close friend in sales department, asking a question is no good if you don't listen intently to the answer. Overall, listening is truly an underutilized skill in the workplace and it can be incredibly powerful when things are in transition. But it’s not just something to be aware of when you’re trying to get some insight to when your team will have a new leader, listening to how someone answers any question is particularly powerful during times of change. Everyone is going through this change — not just you. There’s immense power in giving someone the space to process and verbalize their thoughts on a topic and not rush them through a response by sharing your thoughts immediately. Part of having a readiness for change and change strategies means being ready to listen and better understand the goals for the organizational culture and organization development.
6. Learn about the company. Times of change create good moments to refresh your understanding of your organization since, after all, it may have evolved since you were researching its values during your interview process (you did that right…?!) Take a moment to ensure you understand a few basics: What your company’s key priorities are, how it makes money, and what matters most right now. Listen to earnings calls if your company reports them (and dig a few quarters back to get a 12 month+ view), spend time on your company’s intranet, and research your company's top hits on the "News" sections of search engines. Managing organizational change means knowing your company well.
5. Learn about your industry. Your immediate world and organization might be changing but what about your industry? Are other shake-ups happening? What are key experts predicting for the next five or 10 years? (You know a few experts in your industry, right…?!) You’re probably started to follow your company on Twitter and via News Alerts before your interview (if you’re not, get on that!) but add in competitors and thought leaders to the mix, stay up to date on mergers and acquisitions that might be impacting the landscape, also figure out what other industries may impact yours and keep an eye on those (Hint: Tech impacts everything!) Managing organizational change also means knowing your indsutry well.
8. Have compassion. Organizational changes are difficult for everyone, not just you. This includes your manager, your VP, and their bosses. Be sensitive to the fact that everyone might be a little on edge or confused.
9. Tune into what’s changing but don’t push every step of the way. Dial up your senses, tune into conversations, ask good questions, but all with that compassion--know when to not ask a question or accept it when your manager says, "Look, I want answers too but I simply don't know. I don't think we'll get anymore information until next month." Back off, keep charging ahead on your own tasks, and follow up next month.
10. Get comfortable with self-promotion. Before you run off to charge ahead on your work, make sure you're making it clear to your manager and superiors what this work is and the value you're adding. If you’re not comfortable highlighting your accomplishments, a transition is a great time to refine this skill. Don't perceive this as you being on the chopping block, but do be aware of portraying yourself in the best light possible. To achieve this you need to ensure your manager knows what it is that you’re doing. Do a bit of self-promotion and arm her with short sound bites that she can take into those meetings. Tip: Always try to ladder up your results and performance to align with the company’s—or your department’s—goals.
11. Get involved in a horizontal “side-of-desk” project. For some organizational changes mean extra work, for others it may mean that work slows or seems to stop altogether. One way to proactively spend your time so that you’re still making an impact is to get involved in a project or a team that isn’t 100 percent related to your day-job. Feel it out with your manager—sometimes bosses like to be looped in beforehand if this will take any time from your 9-5—but things like recruiting for your alma mater, getting involved in a diversity group, or leading a team volunteer event can really help make you stand out and make a transition more comfortable.
12. Understand HR policies. Ever feel like 6 months into a role you realize that you don’t know the severance policy or how much PTO you’ll get paid out should you decide to leave? You’re able to ask these questions whenever you like, and many companies have online portals that you can find this information, but let’s be real it can be awkward to ask about “HR policies” and sometimes the portals are difficult to navigate. This is where an organizational change can create an interesting opportunity. You can ask for a “refresher in light of all the changes” and specifically ask to connect with HR “to be sure you understand all the policies.”
Again, you can ask these things any day of the year but sometimes we get stuck behind our human concerns and emotions and not wanting to suggest anything. Asking questions amidst a change can sometimes feel easier since there’s a “reason” for the refresher.
13. Trust your gut. We’ll all face many restructurings in our careers. Sometimes the changes are fantastic, sometimes they result in poor outcomes, sometimes they’re somewhere in the middle. If you have a gut feeling about something or someone tune into it. Only you have your own vantage point so only you can make the right decisions for how to navigate a situation. Tune into your feelings and instincts, talk with someone if you need to, and make decisions based on your needs, wants, and desires.
You can’t often control when, how, and into what your company changes — though you can control your reaction and if you are conscious of yourself you might be able to help influence the outcomes for the better of everyone. So ask great questions, listen intently, tune in, trust your gut, and you’ll come out on the other side of this one too.
Jane Scudder is a certified leadership and personal development coach; she helps individuals and groups get unstuck. She builds and leads original workshops and training programs, consults with organizations of various sizes, and is Adjunct Faculty at Loyola University Chicago. Find out more at janescudder.com.