Managing your Career through Ambiguity and Change

Question  from QD in New York: My company has gone through a massive reorganization and restructuring and we are still finalizing the company’s organizational structure and it is not clear who will have a job and who won’t, how can I manage my career amidst so much uncertainty?

Change is inevitable, growth is good! I first made this declaration at a speech in 2006 at the Harlem Black Achievers Awards Gala. There is no company, no organization, or person that can remain competitive or sustain a leadership position if it is unwilling to change. Change is an inevitable part of every organism and every entity’s life and if you consider yourself a leader then you must be willing and able to change, and in fact you must create change, if possible.  Part of the strategy for successfully managing through change is to demonstrate that you are comfortable with change.
While change is inevitable, ambiguity is not.  Ambiguity is a function of the leadership’s strategy and how they are choosing to manage the change within the organization. It may very well be that the leadership has chosen to implement the new strategy step by step to see how the organization will respond to each change and give itself the flexibility to make changes as appropriate or even to develop the strategy step by step instead of delivering a fully developed strategy to the organization. It may be that change has to happen quickly and the leadership does not have the luxury of time to figure it all out before rolling it out to the organization. In this scenario there will be some ambiguity and it will affect the organization’s productivity level. However, you do not have to be a part of the paralysis or declining productivity that may impact the environment.
Here are a few things that you can do to successfully operate in an ambiguous environment:

  1. Deliver excellence, create performance currency. Your objective is to approach your job every day with a goal to deliver excellence. Whatever your assignment is, you must go in every day to do an outstanding job. Doing an outstanding job creates performance currency. When you have performance currency, you have something that will be attractive to a prospective new leader in the organization. Performance currency means that you have consistently done a great job in all of your endeavors, you have a reputation for excellent execution, and you can use it to buy you a conversation with someone who may be putting together a new team in the organization. Without performance currency, you are at random within the organization with a lower likelihood of being a part of the new paradigm.  You cannot afford to get distracted by the ambiguity, lower your productivity and slack on your execution. If you do, you are creating a dynamic that will make you uncompetitive as decision makers are assessing the new players for the new strategy.

  1. Understand the new vision and define the key success factors in the new paradigm. Do an assessment of your key strengths and how they align in the “new world”. You must be ready at any time to articulate your understanding of the new vision and how you fit. You must be ready to make a “relevant sale” about your ability to be a value added contributor in this new world.

  1. Actively use your network. When the environment is unclear, you must spend time interacting with others. The worse thing that you can do is keep to yourself and stay in a narrow silo. You want to make sure that you are recognized in the environment, so that you can position yourself to be top of mind as people are making personnel decisions. Hiding out will not preserve your position, and in fact, may keep you from finding out about opportunities as they arise.  As you are interacting with others, you may also want to message the kinds of things that you are interested in, you never know who might ultimately end up with decision making authority. Remember if the environment is ambiguous, then the leadership is still trying to figure it out, and you want to be potentially positioned as someone who should be included or given a shot. One of my mother’s favorite sayings used to be, “out of sight, out of mind”, and in an ambiguous environment you do not want to be invisible.

  1. Keep a productive and constructive attitude- As leaders are assessing the new players for their team, they are generally looking for someone who has a positive, “can do” attitude. They are not attracted to someone who seems to be resentful of the new change, of the new decisions that are being made, of the new paradigm. You cannot afford to be perceived as someone with a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, because the leadership has decided that it IS broken, and they have endeavored to fix it, so get with the program. If you really do not agree with the changes and you honestly do not think that you can successfully operate within the new paradigm, then you must be true to yourself and search for an environment where you can contribute and do well. Remember when there are massive changes in the environment, everyone is somewhat intimidated, including those in power. Therefore, they want someone who is perceived as solution oriented, constructive, has an appetite for moving ahead and moving forward. If you are perceived as that person, you will come out on top as the ambiguity subsides and the new paradigm is clarified.