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Preparing for the Unexpected
There is an old saying that luck favours the prepared, but how do you manage unanticipated change? What do you do if your company unexpectedly shifts direction? Is it possible to make the most of unforeseen change? One mentee did just that.
While working for a client, I had an opportunity to help fulfil a key position in their broadcast division. This role had been a challenge to fill, and I happened to receive a phone call from a former mentee named David at just the right time. He was looking for a new opportunity and met the requirements for the position. I was very excited for him, and he did well through his interviews. The
organisation realised they had someone with the experience to take the job, and the team to the next level, and they offered him the job. His experience was solid, but he was walking into a challenging role. The team was in desperate need of a leader, who could roll up his sleeves, help them and, at the same time, develop the future direction. The team members had been with the organisation under several management styles and had a lot of adjustments to do, as well.
David was excited about the opportunity and the challenges. He knew that the technical skills were not as much of an issue. However, he had to make sure that he provided strategic direction and leadership for the team. David was more concerned about this, as his team was not thriving in the midst of the intense expectations of their internal clients. Instead, the team reacted to crises as they occur. Everything was always a "crisis" and rushed last minute. The amount of planning from the clients was not always ideal.
David was an experienced leader, accustomed to assigning responsibilities without needing a lot of follow-up. He requested things to be done and expected to receive updates as they were completed. In this job, things were moving so fast that David was having difficulty staying on top of everything and asking for updates on projects that needed to be completed. The team was so focused on the “crisis of the day” that they didn't always get their tasks finished. Things began to slip through the cracks and the clients would have to ask for the updates. The team was perceived as being "reactive" and not "proactive" by their clients. Next, issues with technology arose with equipment that needed to be upgraded and/or changed out. The money to do this was hard to come by for the organisation, so a lot of "duct tape" and workarounds had to be done.David knew that he had to make some major changes, so he implemented new (and effective) processes for his organisation. Determined to make a positive difference, he even began improving his team by developing their different skill sets. These changes were going well, but in the midst of it all, major problems with the equipment became insurmountable. Equipment began to fail; employees weren't picking up the slack; and the perception became that David was not communicating enough to the clients. He worked hard with his internal clients (peers) to improve this perception. He was also trying to prove that he could make this situation work. Over the next six weeks, the company experienced some major problems, some equipment related and some a lack of preparation. On top of all of this, David was given a new boss.
As we all know, the buck stops with the leader and David took responsibility for the issues. He also took responsibility for not being on site for the issues and relying on his team, as he was in communication with them. David thought it was going to be ok and everyone understood what he was going to do to resolve the problems. Except … one day David arrived at work to learn that his company was moving in a different direction and he would longer going to have a job. What would he do? His first thought was for his family - how would he support them? His second thought was - this is the first time in his career that he would not have a job. How would he move forward?
After David received the news, he immediately contacted his wife. She was very supportive, but he knew he only had a short time to get something in place. The timing could not have been worse as his family had just bought a new house. He had told his old boss that he was getting a house and wanted to make sure that things were ok. His boss told him yes. So, he moved forward. Boy, do things change. David is not unique. Sadly, this is the time of year that many companies decide to change directions and sometimes shed jobs as they make the changes. We always have to be on our game and maintain our own personal backup plans. In the end, we must remember that company decisions are not personal; they are made in the best interest of the company. Even when someone is simply just let go, it means that the individual is no longer a "fit" for the company.
When David called me, we discussed what had he learned from this situation. Also, we talked about what he would have done differently. Lastly, we discussed his next steps. Here are a few of the lessons that he had learned that I’d like to share with you:
During the interview process:
Make sure you thoroughly inquire about the skills of the staff, their tenure and any personnel challenges;
Ask the clients that you interview with what kind of service level agreements they have and would they like to have;
Understand the budget process and constraints. Find out about the age of equipment and assets, as well as the organisation’s ability to make investments.
Personally, David said that he learned:
Every management situation is different. You have to manage and lead to the strengths of your team but you can't blindly trust team members, if the track record is not there.
You must get involved and be present. There is a LOT of value to FACE TIME with your peers, as it shows that you are engaged and leading your team in the right direction.
Be willing to understand that it is ok to receive assistance from others and doesn't make you look like you can't do your job. In fact, it shows true leadership that you are willing to listen and follow others.
If you realise that a job is not a "cultural fit" soon after taking a job, start working your exit strategy right away. If you feel it, more than likely there is something to it - especially if you find yourself dreading to go to work.
David and I discussed his next steps, which wasn’t easy as he was going through the natural stages of separation. Yes, you go through denial, anger, etc. But, he knew that he had to make move quickly for his family. So, he did the following:
Made a list of all of his contacts;
Took advantage of the out placement services to update his resume;
Looked for opportunities, applied and contacted people on the inside of those companies to assist him.
Explored other types of roles where his skill sets were transferable. He didn't limit himself to the same position title.
The transition was hard, but David learned a lot during this period. Not only did he find a new role in an organisation that was a much better fit (with a culture of investing in their teams and equipment) but he also learned to prepare for the unexpected. He continues to network and keep his professional relationships moving forward, just in case he finds himself needing their help again. I know – and he knows – that now he is better prepared for unanticipated change.
Acknowledged as a “visionary leader”, Vicki Hamilton develops new IT strategies to address old workplace problems. An award winning technology executive with over 20 years of senior level experience, Vicki’s strategies drive high value results ($20M+.) Her latest initiative, The Wright Answer, is a global online match making mentoring program for women from college through retirement. Connect with Vicki and join the experience at thewrightanswer.net.
By Vicki W. Hamilton