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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

Don’t Flip Out: Adapting to Change at Work

Have you ever had the carpet yanked out from underneath you? It happened to me early in my career when the job I was promised at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, Florida was discontinued because of budget cuts. Ouch - it was such an unexpected (and unwelcomed) change! But it was also one of the most important learning experiences I've had in my life. People in the Smart Zone adapt to change because they know adaptability is a character trait required for survival in today's business environments.

"To be successful one must be willing to learn and apply new concepts and not be afraid of change." Craig Barrett, former CEO and Chairman of the Board for Intel Corp.

You've had to adapt to change if this ever happened to you:

  • Your company was bought out or merged

  • Your department was reorganized

  • Your boss was promoted or left the company

  • You were a victim of downsizing

  • Your job description was expanded

  • The weekly staff meeting was moved to another day

The Dallas Cowboys had to adapt to change recently when quarterback Tony Romo was sidelined with a broken pinkie finger. Corporate America (NFL included) has an "adapt or die" mentality. I laughed at a recent article in Inc. magazine where David Zugheri, cofounder of Houston First Mortgage, was determined to make the office paperless. So after investing in scanners he went in one night and unplugged every printer and copier and announced the next morning at 8:00 a.m. that the office was now paperless. Employees freaked out, 2 threatened to quit and by noon all printers and copiers had been plugged back in.

People in the Smart Zone have enthusiasm for change. They are resilient and innovative. Here are 5 Smart Moves for adapting to change in your organization:

  1. Take a moment. Try to understand the change and its purpose. Why did your department get reorganized? Is it so communication can be improved? Is it to help avoid layoffs in the tough economy? Then decide if resisting the change is worth it. Adapting to change is easier when the root cause of the change is understood.

  2. Chill out. Fear and anxiety are normal responses to change but they can also impede your ability to adapt. Don't do what this news reporter did (although I don't blame him). Remain calm in the face of the unexpected. Let your response to a change not be ruled by fear but by your self-confidence.

  3. Don't gripe and moan! No one wants to work with a whiner. If you want to survive in today's competitive environment you must accept change with a smile and determine how you can contribute to making the change successful. Click here to read my example of how to respond positively to change.

  4. Differentiate yourself. We all seek change. Think about it - did you eat lunch at the same restaurant today as yesterday? Did you begin to re-read the same John Grisham book on the airplane yesterday instead of getting a new book? Accept the fact that change is necessary and be the one to give it a try.

  5. Stay focused on the end result. I consulted for a company who had so many "flavors of the month" that employees refused to embrace them because they knew the initiatives were short lived. Stay focused on the end result of your own job: cutting costs, increasing sales, satisfying customers, managing profit and loss, improving safety, etc. and make decisions that favorably impact the end result of your job.

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