Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Adapt or Die!

You recently left a prior position of your own accord, because you didn’t find it a fit, or the work environment was unacceptable, or for whatever reason (see Know When to Fold ‘Em, and When It’s Time to ‘Walk Away’, Don’t Turn Back!). Prior to leaving, you looked around for a good opportunity that would be a good match to your background and interests, and that would provide good opportunities for growth. You’ve just accepted a position in what you believe to be a promising company. You’ve been told what your job will be by your hiring manager, by the folks you interviewed with, and by Human Resources. You believe that job description to be a perfect match to your experience and interests, and you’re really looking forward to getting started. But when you start, your first assignment is actually fairly far removed from what you were told. But you do it well anyway. Then your second job builds upon your first, and is also far removed from what you had been told. As you move forward in your new job you find that, while there may be a passing resemblance to what you were told you would be doing, the reality is actually pretty far removed from that job description. What’s going on, and what does this mean for you going forward?

The mismatch of actual job assignment to what you were told it was going to be is typically not due to any ill intent on the part of anybody involved, but more due to the concept of ‘sh!t happens’, and what has happened, totally outside of your control, requires you to get deeply involved in these job assignments somewhat outside of what you expected (see The Best Laid Plans … and Then Life Happens!). You need to decide whether you want to adapt, or find something elsewhere that is more in keeping with what you expected (see Take the Time to Think!).

A reality of life, at least for knowledge workers at almost every level of a company, is that the job you expect to be doing often bears fairly little resemblance to the job you will actually be doing. This can be true for a wide variety of reasons.

  • Your company hits a rough patch, and needs all hands on deck to get through it. This means that everyone needs to work on what is most critical to company survival, whether that is related to your ‘job description’ or not (see Like Trying to Change Tires on a Fast Moving Car! and The Sky is Falling!). Far from being a distraction from what you thought you’d be doing, this can actually be a great opportunity to demonstrate what you can really offer when the chips are down, and to stand out among the crowd and show people what you’re made of. Be grateful you’re not one of the people with the potential of being laid off and show your potential. Seize the opportunity!
  • Your company hits the jackpot and sales rocket through the roof. It’s all hands on deck for an entirely different reason, where higher production needs must be supported, where new projects must quickly be launched, where hiring new people to fill new positions is critical, where product and/or service changes to support new features or changes are critical, and everyone needs to work overtime to build on the company’s success. In situations like this, your ‘job description’ is likely to go out the window, and you have an opportunity to chart your own course, to success if you respond positively, or to failure if you don’t. Seize the opportunity!
  • Other actions, even some totally unrelated to your job, cause directions in the company to change, and alter what you were told you would be doing (see The Butterfly Effect in the Workplace). Again, you may not be driving the train, but its far better to enjoy the ride than to cause it to derail. Show people what you can do! Seize the opportunity!

Even in a relatively stable environment, the job is seldom what you were told. Problems arise that must be quickly addressed, pulling you and others off the work you were planning to do. A crucial trade show is coming up and special needs must be addressed in order to meet commitments made, or to counteract competitors features (see Showing Progress vs. Making Progress Syndrome). Performance problems among your group or peers may necessarily pull you away from your expected path (see Learn from Good Role Models; Learn More from Bad!). Some of these may be hard to accept; some may be serendipitous (see Serendipity Can Change Your Life!). You may well not be certain which case it is at the time, but you still need to adapt, and quickly!

What can you do about it? Probably not much. Sh!t happens, and everyone must deal with it. To the extent you can, you should keep your antenna up to try to anticipate unexpected direction changes, people or group or organizational problems, competitive problems, etc. Get ahead of the situation, if you can, and volunteer to take the lead. Demonstrating leadership and initiative in most circumstances will be recognized and valued, but only if such leadership and initiative is real and properly motivated (see Say What Your Mean, Mean What You Say, and Do What You Say You’ll Do!). Knowledge workers are hired for their brainpower and their ability to think on their feet and adapt to changing situations (see Knowledge Is Power!). Seize the opportunity!

Life is full of surprises, where twists and turns abound. And every twist causes a new assessment, and every turn takes you further away from your ‘job description’ or what you were told you’d be doing. But every twist and turn is the reality of life at that time, and you need to adapt and excel, or you will fail and fall by the wayside. Life is what you make of it. These changes are part of your job, and you need to own you job, whatever that entails (see Own Your Job! All of It!). Adapt or die!

Copyright 2011 Workplace Insanity, All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. … and Technology advances.

    As a maturing electrical engineer I remind younger engineering students that “nothing they sell today at Best Buy was yet invented when I was in college.” Engineers work in fields that advance rapidly, and part of our job is to advance with the technologies.


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