We all know that about the only constant in business, and in life, is change. Things are always changing, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad, but seldom standing still. Sometimes change seems to be way too slow and organizations can become or appear to become stagnant. In such cases there is often a need to stir things up and foment more rapid change. Sometimes change occurs at a reasonable rate where most of those involved understand, accept, and even embrace the changes, and everyone seems to be fully on board. Sometimes, however, change comes too rapidly, with not enough time or warning for everyone to keep up or get on board with. Unless rapid change is very well planned (see Plan Based On What You Do Know, and On What You Don’t!), the probability of success in such times can become vanishingly small, and many organizations’ attempts to plan for rapid change often go badly awry.
So what can you do to be most effective in times of rapid change? To some extent it may depend on the kinds of change being enacted.
There are good changes that will make things better for you, your coworkers, all organizations within the company, and the company as a whole. These are changes you can fully embrace and make your own. In such situations, even when the changes are coming at a breakneck pace, do all in your power to help get these changes in place and fully operational. This may well be a time for all hands on deck, working long hours or even around the clock. Ask what you can best do to help, and jump in with both feet, helping others as well along the way. The fast pace of the changes may be essential in making these changes successful, and working with many others as a well motivated team may become a thrill ride that you’ll remember for a lifetime (see Pigasus – When Pigs Fly!).
There are bad changes that may make things worse for you, your coworkers, and many others in the company. These could be downsizings (or other euphemisms for layoffs) that could affect you and/or many people you know. These could be structural changes that will move responsibilities to other organizations or other locations or even to other companies (e.g. mergers or acquisitions). Still, they may be best for the company, even if this is hard to see at the time (see Bad Breath Is Better Than No Breath At All!). Again, the pace of changes in such instances may be very fast, of necessity in many cases. Even if you are one of those adversely affected, it is still likely in your interest to do what you can to help. Your actions may help many of your friends to retain their jobs, even if not yours. Plus, digging in when times are tough can be a measure of a person that can pay off in ways that may not be foreseen at the time (see Serendipity Can Change Your Life!).
There are changes you can embrace. Such changes make sense to you and you can get behind, support, explain, and defend them. These are changes similar to the “good” changes above, but perhaps on a smaller scale. As with the “good” changes, embrace them, encourage others to do so as well, and jump in with both feet to make them happen.
There are changes you can accept. You may not be happy about such changes, may not fully agree with them, but you can at least understand and agree with the rationale behind them. Where such changes can be adjusted to make them more acceptable, you should try to do so with those advocating such changes to make them more palatable to most people in the organization. In any event, with these changes you should do what you can to help implement and make them successful.
There are inconsequential changes that you don’t see as worth making, but at the same time you don’t see these as worth arguing about. It is fine to point out your concerns to those proposing the changes, and to show the positives and negatives and your view of whether the positives will outweigh the negatives, but it is likely not worth investing too much time and effort fighting such changes.
Then there are changes you simply cannot accept. In your mind, these changes make no sense at all and will do damage to people, groups, organizations, and the company. You disagree completely with these proposed changes and the rationale behind them. In such cases, you need to go to those behind the changes and make your case to try to overturn or at least modify or ameliorate the changes. Let them know what you’re willing to do to help implement them and what you’re not. Let them know what you will actively campaign against. Recognize that you could come out on the losing end of such arguments, and be prepared to suffer the consequences of your position. Make sure this is a battle you firmly believe in having.
In all such considerations, I recommend keeping the “Serenity Prayer” in mind, which goes, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Change – slow, medium, or fast – will be ever-present within everyone’s life. Some will be easy. Some will be very hard. How we handle such change is what will set us apart from others.