Finding Running Room
If you play a sport like soccer or basketball, you know what it means to find even a little opening to run toward the goal. If you run in a weekend 5k race, you know the satisfaction of finding a small space to dart ahead of the person you were following since the start. My personal favorite is the infamous roller derby whip, which takes the need for running room to a completely new level.
Finding room to run applies to professional development as well. This means looking not at the barriers, but at the opportunities- the space- between them.
For example, many people focus on the uncertainties that major organizational changes create. They think they have little, if any, room to maneuver.
I see a different approach, one that starts with you, not your organization. You are the person that is responsible for your career development, and there are certain times when you need a little roller derby- type whip action to gain experience and build competence. The good news is that such opportunities can happen in the most unlikely, sometimes counter-intuitive situations. But you need to be prepared, and you need to have your head in these situations when they arise.
Two Perspectives to Major Organizational Change
The **** Hits the Fan Perspective
Your organization is in the midst of a big change, like a merger, a loss of a major client, an economic downturn. “Big” is a relative term, but these are more than the garden-variety change like a new manager or new procedure. The later we accept as facts of life. We care, but not a whole lot.
All the same, for these bigger ones- something very different happens. Grown men and women freeze in their tracks. Everything has meaning. They look for signs, like who shuts their doors, who talks to whom, who seems worried. They fear the worst.
They fear the worst of the worst – greater than a change in routine, worse than fear of the unknown, more heinous than losing your job. They fear a loss of control. Fate, played out at their expense. They are at the mercy of the gods, actors on the stage of impending doom, and there is nothing they can do about it.
Time to polish up the resume? Maybe. Maybe not.
The Roller Derby Perspective
Your organization is in the midst of a big change. You realize that everything is up for grabs. The certainty that you had yesterday is uncertainty today. Then again, this is a familiar pattern, perhaps this time more a matter of degree. You look around you and see three types of reactions: a handful of true believers, the vast majority in the wait-and-see and out-of-my-control category, and a vocal group of hardcore cynics who love a disaster in the making. They could not be happier.
Roller derby time. You understand that change presents opportunities. While there are many unknowns, you look for running room. You focus on what you can control, like increasing your visibility to managers and groups with whom you do not normally interact. You initiate discussions to better understand where the business is headed, out of interest, not desperation. You realize that telling your manager you are worried about having a job is no different what he may be telling his manager. Reassurance may be hard to come by.
You understand that senior management will not and cannot figure everything out. This could be running room.
While others move to the sidelines until senior management put names in boxes and publish org charts – neither of which you ever had control over- you look to see how you might influence a path forward in your professional development.
What skills do you need? What job might you be able to lobby for in a new organization? What do you really want to do with your career? There are opportunities; you just may have to go find them.
You understand what you have to lose. How could you not.
The question is- what do you have to gain?
I say go for it.