Thursday was a pivotal day in my professional life; the past year has been a year of serious firsts if I really look back on it. My first time to go through an acquisition, my first time to go through a merger (sort of), my first time to be “down sized” (or whatever the vogue term for having your position eliminated is now). These kinds of things change you. But change does not have to be viewed as a negative.
So here I sit on a Sunday morning- just a few short days after losing my job- trying to look on the bright side of things. It is easy to feel sour, but I just can’t let myself go there…so loving the old cliché, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”, I decide that is the way to go for me.
What can be considered sweet in all of this or any workplace adversity for that matter? Well let’s see if I can discover at least three things that are positive (three seems to be a good starting point when something seems overwhelming to me):
- In my short time there, I learned some truly valuable lessons. While it was awful putting up with certain inequities and unethical behaviors, I did learn that trust is paramount to an organization’s overall health. Once it is gone, it is gone. I have never seen this in practice in such a blatant manner before but I certainly was able to gather many “What not to do” stories that will help me bring life to my teaching and will serve as a reminder of what I never want to be. My dad says, “You have to experience the bad to appreciate to good.” So that is my first positive- I can now truly appreciate the good and can use my experience to help others improve the health of their organizations.
- I met some really great people. I made some very good connections- both professionally and personally- which I would never trade for the world. I know that staying in touch is difficult once you are gone from their daily life but I know there are a few people that I will work very hard to continue to communicate with on a regular basis.
- While free-falling is a terrifying feeling, I believe that if I had not been pushed out of the nest I would not have propelled myself forward as hard or fast to begin my own company. Not that I wouldn’t have gotten there eventually but I certainly would have taken my time and approached it in a very methodical manner. I do think that often times this calculated approach stifles our creativity. While emotionally difficult for me- the rejection you feel when you are told you are no longer wanted somewhere is painful, even if you know that to them you were not a person but a number-being laid off gives me the opportunity to let the creative juices flow free and makes me have to work extremely hard to ensure the success of my new endeavor.
If I worked at it a little longer, I bet I could have come up with a few additional blessings that this hardship has bestowed upon me. Life is messy sometimes and we can either choose to cry over the spilled milk or embrace the challenge as an open door to a bright new opportunity. I am choosing to make some really delicious lemonade and I am excited to pour a nice cold glass and bask in the glow of a sunny future- care to join me?
Have you ever walked through one of those haunted houses where everything is pitch black and you are kind of just feeling your way through? Scary as heck, right? Of course it better be or the haunted house would be a major flop. While intentionally inflicting fear on ourselves at Halloween is fun (at least for some), that horrifying, stumbling-around-in-the-dark feeling has no place in our work lives.
We want and need to know where we are going and how we are getting there. It empowers us to do our very best and makes us feel in control of the situation at hand. Now, I have worked with some really smart people in my career so I am forever baffled when they seem taken aback by the mere suggestion that we share information with the employees of the company.
Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting that information that needs to be confidential is shared but more often than not, managers tend to want to withhold information that would help to strengthen the vision of the company or the ability of employee to succeed at their job and is not classified information. For example, a company I worked for was doing some reorganization. There was a position that was going to go through a transformation (not elimination) but the managers did not want the employee to know for fear that he would be unhappy with the change and would leave. The plan was to get everything set-up and when it was time to make the change they would tell the employee.
Well, you can probably guess where I am going with this but because I no longer take things for granted, I will lay it out for you. The day came for the transition to happen and they called the employee into the office to break the news to him. After the shock wore off, a few things were apparent; 1) the employee felt betrayed that people he knew and trusted did not let him in on the plans for his position and 2) the managers, not being as intimate with the position as the employee, made a huge mistake in what was realistically able to be expected from the person and related systems.
So, there they all sat, with egg on their face. The one person that could have and should have been consulted was left out of the planning and now that there was a mess to be cleaned up they did not have the trust of the person that could help them out of the jam they created…hmmmm, you know we have all seen something similar happen. So the question that just begs for an answer is why can’t we trust our employees?
That is what this all comes down to in the end. We don’t trust them to act in the company’s best interest so we keep them in the dark until we think we have backed them in a corner and left them with no option. They have to comply with things as they are presented – as the managers want them to be- or so we think. Silly Rabbit!
The one thing the employees (especially your best employees) have that nothing can change is their ability to choose. They can choose to leave, they can choose to stay, they can choose a good attitude or they can fight the entire time…but no matter what, THEY choose. As managers, the impact we can have is giving the employees the information and support so that the trust and respect is maintained. Turn on the lights and help them choose you and everything else will fall into place.
Enjoying the beautiful spring day (finally), I really noticed how quickly the trees and flowers had changed from the stark, colorless state that they were in just a few short weeks ago to showy wonders of nature. This started thinking about change in general (not just as it applies to HR or business) and I remembered the quote, “The only thing constant is change”. While of course I believe that to be true, I was hoping that I could find even one thing that remained the same; something that I can count on to be steady and stable. I pondered this and ran through all kinds of stuff I thought had the chance of being unchanged. Nothing, and I mean nothing that I could consider, held true. Even a rock changes-albeit usually gradually over time.
So then it comes down to perception. The rock is changed- maybe by elements of nature, maybe by force of humans- but the question becomes, does this change matter to me? A rock that changes ever so subtly by flowing water is nonetheless changing but the change is so small and the effects of the change is so insignificant that no one really even notices- or cares. But what happens when the change does matter?
William Bridges’ book, Managing Transitions, (http://www.amazon.com/Managing-Transitions-Making-Most-Change/dp/0738213802/ref=pd_sim_b_5) really breaks down how we can make the most of change when it hits home. He reminds us that the situational shift is not the most difficult to manage but the psychological components is where the real work lies.
Unfortunately in my experiences, it is the psychological effects that the managers will do anything to avoid. I have seen everything from telling staff that nothing has changed (when in all actuality a significant shift in culture and business operation was taking place), to trying to make it seem like the change is wonderful- which it may be for some people and the company itself- but for others it may be mean job elimination or other consequential variation. Both efforts generally seem to do more harm than good. Managers need to accept that there will be grieving, fear, and other really uncomfortable emotions that must be honored and not simply pushed under the rug if they want to help minimize the distress and disruptions caused by the change.