Work today is a whirlwind of activity and change. So workers need to stay flexible and able to switch their priorities and focus as quickly as a short-order cook moves from eggs and bacon to veggie burgers.
In the year ahead, you may have to accept and adapt to a myriad of changes: new software or systems, a new boss, new duties or hours, a new initiative or priorities at your organization, or even a new employer. Some companies may merge or file for Chapter 11, while others will outsource departments and jobs will disappear. Even if your employer is growing nicely, it may hire someone who outshines you or shakes up your department.
No wonder then that adaptability and flexibility were rated the most important skills for both experienced and new workers in a Society for Human Resource Management survey (Critical Skills Needs and Resources for a Changing Workforce, 2008). It ranked higher than critical thinking, collaboration, or any other skill.
If you need to bring out your inner change agent or cultivate your adaptability, M.J. Ryan, author of AdaptAbility, How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For, and an executive coach, has suggestions:
- Remind yourself of previous times when you came through change all right. Focus on your inner resources and lessons learned from the end of a long relationship, relocating to a new city, losing a job.
- Go into reporter mode and learn all the facts. Find out as much as you can about the new boss or the change to your job duties. Ask good questions. Gather information and insights—for they help neutralize the anxiety and anger that change can instill.
- Use gratitude and appreciation. Ask yourself: How am I growing through this experience? What qualities am I developing? Or say to yourself: “At least the gift of this experience is ________.”
- Let go of your emotions. Give fear, anger, sadness, anxiety a ticket out of your life and you’ll have more energy and room to respond to changes.
“Becoming less emotionally involved in it all is one of our greatest areas of growth for most of us,” Ryan said.
It also helps if you build small changes into your life. Take a different route to work, or go to a new restaurant for date night. Decide on a new skill to learn—and then sign up for a class or seminar. Find a friend whose work is ever changing and who loves new things. Volunteer for a new committee at work or at a charity you support. These are like warm-up exercises that will help you run the distance when something bigger comes along.
If the change at work is a huge and unpleasant one, give yourself a little time to adjust to it. But try not to get stuck for long in the Woe is me, why is this happening? outlook. Ryan found that the best change masters are those who learn to move quickly. Their speedy, adaptable mindset could become yours: “That’s over; what’s next?”