If you’ve had any interaction with a nonprofit over the past five years, you know that it’s a time of never-ending change. Realignments, redistribution of talents, tightening belts, cutting costs, closing organizations, rebirth of organizations, shifting departments, shifting responsibilities — the list goes on and on. You may find yourself doing a completely different job than when you began, or you may be the new guy or gal who’s come on board as a result of these changes. So how do you navigate shifting seas? How do you choose your battles and still manage to stay afloat?
1. Keep mission first. Chances are you chose to work in a nonprofit because you care. If not, hopefully you have grown to support, or at least respect, the mission of your organization. The Twin Cities are home to a multitude of nonprofits with missions as diverse as the people they serve, but they all have one thing in common: They exist to serve people. And even during times of strain or change, this has to remain front and center.
Change can suck. You may find yourself stretched to your limits, but remember there’s a reason you committed to do what you do. Ask yourself, “Why am I here?” If you can’t answer this question, it may be a good time to look for another job. If you can, it should remind you of the mission you’re supporting and the people you’re serving.
2. Work it to your benefit. Seasoned sailors may believe they’ve seen it all before, but that may not always be to their benefit. New work environments and situations can be a birthplace for new ideas and new ways to shine. No one likes to have their rhythm disturbed, but those who are more flexible will be most successful in navigating new waters.
Be bold and share your ideas. There’s no better time to try new things and prove you’re creative, innovative and resourceful. Perhaps you can build new skills that bolster your resume and push you toward that next promotion or job opening. The newer an employee you are, the higher advantage you have in not being convinced things must work a certain way. Prove you can work well in uncertain times, and you’ll quickly build a strong rapport within the organization and beyond.
3. Be open and honest. All said, it’s important to know your limits. Just as Nick Cross mentioned in his post about dealing with times of personal change, it’s crucial to be open and honest when dealing with organizational change. Be willing to push or re-establish your boundaries, but remember they exist.
If you feel you’re working under impossible expectations, don’t be afraid to say so. You can’t always expect others to recognize when you’re struggling, and you may be first to face a certain set of problems or responsibilities within the organization. Those above you should understand well-balanced employees are the most effective. Make it clear what you feel you can and can’t do, and collaborate with others to find an arrangement that works. Stand up for yourself — it will keep you from being trampled or biting off more than you can chew.
Change can be annoying, frustrating or downright infuriating, but by keeping your cool and approaching it thoughtfully, you can almost always work it to your advantage. Look for opportunities to grow and support your mission, and always be open about your limits. By learning to manage change and thrive from it, you’ll be successful wherever your path leads.
How have you managed organizational change?