Weathering winds of change means

By Control Engineering Staff January 5, 2000

I n 1901, J. P. Morgan created U.S. Steel by buying Carnegie Steel, sparking a merger mania that has continued ever since. Over the past 50 years, there have been hundreds of thousands of mergers, acquisitions, downsizings, bankruptcies, and company failures, so it’s easy to see why employees become stressed during periods of change.

Don’t forget your galoshes!

Here are some tips for succeeding in organizational storms:

Be proactiveExerciseBe supportiveLaugh often and loudBe alertPick your battlesChoose to respondTake responsibilityBe tolerant of mistakes

Since these winds of change appear to be permanent—reaching hurricane force on some days—it might be worthwhile to adopt some survival tactics.

Be proactive —Predicting the outcome of a situation is a lot easier if you can be actively involved in the planning and implementation. Plus, being an “insider” offers opportunities to learn about other changes in progress.

Exercise —Changes may come too fast, last too long, and hit too hard. When this happens, physical and mental resources based on regular exercise can be your salvation. Physical exercise makes you feel better and gives you extra stamina. Mental relaxation, stress management exercises, and reading positive material will improve your alertness and attitude.

Be supportive —There will be plenty of negativism around the water cooler about rumored changes. Avoid being a contributor. Those assigned with implementing change don’t always feel good about what’s happening, but most likely the ultimate goal is to build a better, stronger, more competitive, and profitable company. Try to give the change agents all the support you can provide.

Laugh often and out loud —Some of the changes will border on craziness. You can choose to cry about them, or you can choose to laugh at them. Laughter is part of the healing process, so choose to laugh.

Be alert —Even if it doesn’t appear your duties have changed much, be alert to recognize subtle changes that can make-or-break your success, and be sure to align yourself with new corporate cultures and values.

Pick your battles —Organizational change can be scary and depressing, and cause confusion and frustration. Social activist and author Jonathan Kozol said, “Pick battles big enough to matter, and small enough to win.”

Choose to respond —Changes can take a long time to complete, are often fraught with disarray and uncertainty, and the next change usually pops up just as you become familiar with the first one. Whether you react or respond to the changes can effect you physically and mentally. A positive response is usually welcomed and may improve the situation for all concerned. Take the high road; be a responder.

Take responsibility —Complaining and contributing are not the same. When you see something about the changes in progress that you believe could be improved, speak up! You have a vested interest in the success of your company, take responsibility for its success.

Be tolerant of mistakes —Things aren’t always as they appear to be. What may look like a dumb management mistake may actually be the best compromise solution. Of course, management isn’t infallible and may make some dumb mistakes. When they do, use some of the above recommendations to ease them and yourself back into a tolerable and workable solution.

How you look at, size up, and draw conclusions concerning changes affecting your organization is up to you. You can dig in your heals and resist everything, citing the “good old days.” However, even today will be the “good old days” someday.

The winds of change blow harder on some days than others, but they’re always blowing. Some companies will catch those winds and sail past their competition. Others will seek shelter, hoping for calmer days that will never come. Pete Silas, former chairman of Phillips Petroleum, said, “We can’t wait for the storm to blow over, we’ve got to learn to work in the rain.” That’s really what it’s all about: learning to be happy working in a rain of change.