A Rising Tide Sinks Ships

“In the midst of chaos there is opportunity” – Sun Tzu

The phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” is generally attributed to John F. Kennedy during his first year as president. It is associated with the idea that an improving economy will benefit all. Whether JFK actually coined the phrase or lifted it from an older origin is not clear. What is clear is that in recent times it’s come to be used not only in relation to the economy, but also in other areas of business. It’s not dissimilar to that mystical “bar” that everyone in business says is always rising. However, just as that mystical bar can leave people behind as it goes up, so to can a rising tide can sink ships – people’s careers – if it goes up too fast. This is especially true during times of enterprise transformation when the tide of change can rise like a tsunami. Those who choose not to engage or engage ineffectively with enterprise change are often left behind becoming a casualty of the effort.

While much has been written about leading change, there is a lack of guidance on how employees can effectively engage and take advantage of the opportunity’s times of change offer. Here are five ways to avoid your “ship” from being sunk during enterprise change.

Be Strategic

Seek to understand the bigger picture regarding the change. Don’t simply focus on your personal situation or that of your immediate team. Many people worry about their personal future during a change event. However, this is actually an outcome. All companies want to keep good people. Proving yourself valuable can accelerate future prospects within the organization. The reality is change events represent huge opportunities for personal growth and advancement. Focus on understanding the broader picture and resist the urge to focus on what it may or may not mean for you personally. Take the time to understand the “why” behind the transformation. Why is the company undertaking this transformation? Why now? What is the ultimate desired outcome? What new behaviors are expected and what old behaviors are trying to be eliminated? This understanding will help you engage more deeply and broadly with the change.

Be Curious

Once you understand the broader outcome work with appropriate leaders and managers to translate that into what you and your team should do to help bring that outcome to reality. With this strategic focus seek better ways to achieve that same outcome. No good leader will argue with someone who is bringing forth ways to achieve outcomes better, faster or cheaper. Consider competitors and how they are performing. Look at sectors outside of yours. One common fallacy during times of change is the need of deep industry knowledge. The reality is for the vast majority of business functions industry experience is irrelevant and can often be harmful because it can constrain thinking.

Be Action Oriented

Get involved and help move things forward. This means throwing you all behind the change and trying to help achieve the outcomes personally as well as with your organization. Don’t be one of those complaining about what’s happening at the proverbial water cooler. Instead, be positive, look at how achieving the outcomes could benefit the organization and encourage others to do the same. Again, executives will appreciate the support and good companies will reward it – especially since change communication is one of the most challenging aspects of managing any transformation. Here are some additional benefits of staying positive.

Be Involved

Engage with others regarding the change. Ask questions of them to discover how they are doing as well as how they are thinking about the change. What questions they have, and if you know the answer, let them know. Genuinely care about how the change is progressing as well as how others are being impacted. While often this advice is given to leadership, the same can be said for fellow employees. Model the change behaviors being asked for. The more quickly you can begin to model the outcomes the better.

Be Inquisitive

Ask questions, but do so in a positive fashion. I’ve seen cases where someone who feels they know better or simply wants to show off try’s to play “gottcha” with a senior executive in an open forum. The executive is trying to explain the change and the bigger picture while the individual selects a highly specific case that may or may not come to pass to disprove whatever the executive is saying. In many cases, the example is so specific the executives have not thought through that level of detail yet – and in fact it’s probably best they didn’t and leave it to the experts like the person asking the question. This would be an example of an ineffective way to challenge. Instead, ask questions in private if you think they could be disruptive. There may be some information you are missing and no one likes to be made to look bad in front of others. Seek to understand and where possible, offer suggestions for executives to consider in how to do things differently or better. Doing so in an unemotional way that takes into account the stated strategic outcome should be received positively and help your ship be one of those that rises on the tide of change.

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