Guest Post: Leveraging Change Into Career Success

One thing is for certain, everyone experiences change. Change, whether anticipated or not, can be difficult.  It elicits feelings of excitement, fear, stress and/or happiness.   In today’s world, change disrupts the flow of what has been, evolving current situations or making them irrelevant.  Those who have thought themselves invincible now must confront vulnerability.  Whether broken and bruised or strengthened and motivated, they can continue on their path, look for another way, or quit.

Many IBM executives can attest to the frequently changing nature of the consulting world and how those opportunities (whether favorable or not) were leveraged to accelerate their career path.

In his 14 year consulting career, Srini Attili, a Partner in the US Federal Healthcare Team, experienced a lot of changes as he navigated his career path from a Junior Programmer to an IT specialist to an IT architect to a Client Partner and Capture role.   Many of Srini’s career changing moments actually resulted from people believing in him.  His credentials and reputation caused people to seek him out for new opportunities, which gave him a chance to prove he could be successful in new territories. In a microwave generation, many find it difficult to be patient and take the time to understand business needs and goals, often shying away from the unfamiliar, but it was the unfamiliar that allowed Srini to grow in the depth and breadth of his knowledge base.

“Instant gratification is good for all, but sometimes you have to be patient, step back and look at it from the perspective of the people who are accountable for the overall delivery and see what impacts them.”

– Srini Attili

Application Innovation Services Leader, Andrew Fairbanks, is no stranger to change either.  In the late 90s, Andrew was thriving in his career and enjoying working on a series of short strategic engagements with a variety of higher education clients.  After winning a $500 million proposal to design, build, and operate an online university, Andrew was approached to be a part of the delivery team.  Making the transition from short term engagements to working on a large complex delivery for a sustained period of time would grow to be something that Andrew enjoyed.  Moving past the initial impulse of fear and being open to the risks that come with new engagements would open up a number of opportunities for Andrew that enabled him to move through the ranks from a Program Manager to a Program Executive to a Senior Program Executive.

“When your leadership comes to you and ask you to do something, be willing to take the gamble.  They are usually doing it for a reason, because they think it’s in the best interest of your career and it’s what the business really needs of you.”

– Andrew Fairbanks

Many career changing moments find us in a place where we experience new people, subjects, or clients.  Speaking with Lori Feller, IBM Interactive Experience and Mobile / Social Business Leader, it was clear that the theme of collaboration repeated throughout her career experiences.  A support system is needed to help endure changes, whether planned or unexpected, and being able to identify those resources is critical to managing transitions in one’s career.

“I really couldn’t do it without the support of my mentors, my peers, and the people that I work with everyday.”

-Lori Feller

There will be many defining moments in someone’s career that can either propel or hinder their success.  One of the most common ways to deal with change is to adjust your thinking.  Approach change as a process – reframe how you think about change and be flexible.  Every successful person has encountered unplanned changes at some point in their career.  Their success comes from how they dealt with it.

Whenever you encounter change in the workplace:

  1. Recognize that change does happen
  2. Be aware of your surroundings and subtle clues that change is coming
  3. Recognize the stages
  4. Communicate with others
  5. Do a self assessment
  6. Be flexible
  7. Continue to do your work
  8. Be positive in actions and attitude
  9. Maintain your network
  10. See the big picture

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”

Gail Sheehy, Author

 This post was written by: Jelece Morris, Consultant for IBM.


A Challenge to Leaders: Leading through Challenges

All organizations go through challenges, whether they are as significant as the recent government shutdown or more commonplace, such as growing pains from shifting business models. You shouldn’t expect or even want to avoid challenges (though some are less desirable than others). It is through these situations that individuals and organizations have the opportunity to grow. And as leaders, we are defined by our ability to navigate through challenges.

First, leaders must understand the impact on employees – most significant is the impact to trust and motivation.

Though change often comes with many new opportunities, it is hard for people not to equate change with risk and uncertainty. With those feelings come defensiveness and distrust, and sometimes the changes happening more than warrant those feelings. However, it is important to remember that distrust is a form of insecurity. When employees see their coworkers leaving or are asked to develop skills in new areas, they feel uncertain about how these changes will affect them. Rebuilding trust is about bringing back a sense of security. Let me be clear here, this is not about painting an unrealistic picture in order to temporarily assuage fears. Instead, leaders must be open, understanding, and focused on the end goal. Leaders should:

  • Be upfront about changes taking place, what impact they will have, and how long they are likely to last
  • Recognize that these changes may be hard for some employees and empathize with their feelings
  • Live the “open door” policy and encourage employees to come with concerns and suggestions
  • Demonstrate a commitment to creating a better organization despite challenges

Uncertainty can also lead to decreased morale. Especially if benefits are not seen immediately or if in fact negative changes have taken place. As morale slumps so does engagement, motivation, and productivity. To restore morale, bring back the “positive” as quickly as possible. For example:

  • Recognize employee achievements
  • Celebrate special events
  • Host face-to-face collaborative innovation sessions
  • Focus on the future and achieving goals
  • Reduce the sense of hierarchy and empower employees at all levels
  • Have a little fun!

Ultimately, the best way to handle a challenge is to come out of it stronger than when you went in. Whatever the cause or reason, a  great leader has the ability to take a challenge and turn it into something positive.  For example, during the recent shutdown, our team leaders focused on building their employees’ skills, developing new and innovative solutions, and creating tiger teams to improve existing services. When the shutdown ended, our teams were able to help their clients better than ever before. So, instead of getting lost in challenges, learn to accept the situation and transform it into an opportunity.

Reflect, Implement, & Progress

A time to celebrate and reflect: As we all take time to relax with family and friends this week – it is a good time to take stock of the contributions/innovations we have made to our family and to our workplace. We only make progress when someone has a bold thought and works through the implementation. Whether at home or at work, I challenge all to pause this week and think of something new and different. Evaluate the value of that on your home life and/or work and move out…This is how progress and change is accomplished.

Happy 4th!

Insights from the Change Management Tweetchat

A few weeks ago I hosted a tweetchat on managing organizational change. Many of the insights from the conversation aligned with the findings from Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I want to discuss two of those points in particular: What is change and how do you get buy in?

What is change?

Our first mistake as leaders is to assume that change means one thing. Take a relatively simple change as an example: “We will no longer have coffee in the office.” To one employee this means an hour in the morning with a grumpy, decaffeinated manager. To another employee this means a changed commute to factor in getting coffee before coming to the office. And to yet another employee this means that the organization clearly no longer cares about its employees if it can’t even provide coffee. These are three very different interpretations of this simple change, and that is exactly the point.

Change is not what you are doing; it is the perception of what you are doing. Change is personal. It is individualized, not one specific thing, and thus you have to recognize and respond to various personal perceptions in order to make change work. Luckily though, different perceptions don’t always require different responses. In our example, the first two employees could both be appeased by providing purchasable coffee, for instance. However, failure to recognize the perspective of the third employee could lead to bigger problems. Therefore, the way you communicate and the actions you take cannot be one size fits all.

How do you identify those perceptions? Simply put: Ask and observe.

How do you get buy-in?

As Organizational Change Consultant, Gregg Gullickson, said,People don’t resist change; they resist being changed. Engagement is key.” A classic example: Parents pushing their child down a certain career path – Becoming a doctor may seem like the best option, so the parents may pay for the education, set up an internship, and insist that their child takes the MCATS, but if the child has his heart set on becoming a musician, the chance that he will willingly become a doctor is limited. And even if he does, it is more likely that the change won’t stick or he will resent his parents.

People have to be engaged in the change; they have to own the change for change to work. But how do you do that? As Rob Tucker wrote in his blog, “Ownership is not an intellectual state, it is a feeling.” Leaders need to help their employees feel:

  • They can manage the change – Give your employees a slice, not the whole pie and work your way up to the goal. This is what the Heath brothers referred to as “shrinking the change.”
  • They are empowered – Remove roadblocks, provide resources, and let your employees decide the best way to reach the goal.
  • They are responsible for the outcome and the outcome has meaning – What they do or don’t do has an impact on the whole team. If they feel that the team is counting on them they are more likely to be committed to creating success and when they are successful, their efforts are recognized – not only to for their own benefit, but as a model for everyone else.

Managing change is one of the most difficult things a leader will do in their career, especially when the change isn’t as simple as coffee, which most often it’s not. Often changes can be unwanted, multi-faceted, or even confusing. However, a rapidly changing environment has become the norm and getting employees on board is essential. Often the first step is an open, honest conversation – “How do we get this done?”