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Sage Advice for Surviving Major Workplace Transitions

There is no doubt about it – change is hard. Even more so if you are not at the helm leading that change.

A few years ago, the director of the local government agency I was working for at the time decided to resign their position to pursue new professional goals. The news of their impending departure sent shockwaves through the agency. In fact, I recall that upon the decision being made public, several of my colleagues began to worry. More than one of them asked me if I thought we were all likely to lose our jobs when a new director was brought on. I remember being genuinely puzzled by their sudden despair about our employment futures with the agency. I had a hard time understanding why they believed that our jobs were suddenly in jeopardy because the director had decided to move on.

I might sound overconfident when I say this, but I never once considered the idea that the director’s departure would somehow negatively influence my own job security, and here’s why. Over the course of my professional life, I have worked within the executive offices of three city mayors, two city administrators and 12 cabinet-level, city agency directors. It is fair to say that I have weathered a fair bit of change in the workplace and have survived. Better still, I have thrived and honed several useful skills for surviving major workplace transitions along the way.

Raised by parents who happily retired after having worked in government for a combined total of more than 80 years, very early on I came to believe that there is no higher calling than public service. A public servant can positively impact the lives of untold numbers of people with a single decision. Servitude is an incredible and unparalleled opportunity to participate in the process of creating a better society for everyone. With that enormous responsibility rightfully comes an extremely high level of expectation and responsibility for those we serve.

Operating with that charge top of mind, and with respect and reverence for the privilege to wield that kind of power, my priority has always been to adhere to the fundamental principles of ethical behavior. It may sound rudimentary or extraordinarily altruistic, but my dedication to this mode of operation has been the key to my success and personal thriving despite major workplace transitions.

In particular, the guiding principle modeled in action by my parents to which I attribute my own professional success is as follows:

  • You shall put forth an honest effort in the performance of your duties.

Seems simple, right? Well, it is. In relative terms, it means that you will embody the characteristics and skills you claimed to possess on your resume and in the interview that landed you the job in the first place. It also means that you will remain committed to doing so for the entirety of your tenure. Believe me, if you make the mental shift to following this practice in every aspect of your work, the reputation that precedes you will be one that you can be proud of, that transcends time and circumstances and may ultimately be the reason that you survive almost any workplace transition. In the meantime, here are four other practical tips for surviving major change within an organization.

  • Recognize that change is constant – Change happens whether you like it or not and you have to accept that reality and adapt quickly.
  • Maintain a positive attitude – Think about how you can best leverage your skills, experiences and network to maximize and highlight the value you bring to the organization.
  • Look for ways to help others cope with the change – You may find comfort in recognizing that others are managing the same feelings of uncertainty. Community in the workplace is always a good thing.
  • Be optimistic – A major change may lead you to opportunities and experiences that may not have presented themselves otherwise.

“Continuity gives us roots; change gives us branches, letting us stretch and grow and reach new heights.” – Pauline R. Kezer

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Kelly Brown is the Special Assistant to the Director of a public safety agency in Washington, D.C. In her 22 years in government, she has served in senior advisory roles within the executive offices of mayors and city administrators. Her career achievements include drafting the District of Columbia government’s first set of published customer service standards and conceptualizing engagement and culture pivot programs for upward of 40,000 employees. Kelly spends her spare time working on a collection of personal essays that she hopes to have published soon. She is passionate about language and about helping others find and cultivate their distinct voices, too.

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