Staying In The Game

The message came from Human Resources. There's nothing to worry about with the newly announced organizational changes and pending merger, it reassured. The changes will be good for the company and good for the people who work here it coached.

I've seen a couple dozen messages like this during my career. In fact, I've even crafted a few. I've been through mergers, acquisitions, downsizings, organizational changes, personal career set-backs and a myriad of new corporate initiatives. And the best lesson I learned from all of them? Stay a player.

Granted my tactics for what that meant varied with the situation. Sometimes the safest play was to keep my head down and do my work exceedingly well until I understood the new landscape. Sometimes I rolled with the punches long enough to realize what was happening might be great for the company, but not a great long term choice for me, so I moved on. Sometimes I helped others acclimate to the new direction or culture and found new opportunities emerging along the way. Sometimes the toll was personal, like when a promotion I'd worked my entire career to reach was given to an outsider. Still, I stayed in the game.

I'm not saying I didn't yell and complain to friends or go into a woe-is-me victim mode licking my wounds for a time; or require space to sort out the divergent directional messages appearing to me like a corporate minefield. I'm not wired to change with the immediacy of a remote control. But I am wired to change. I know taking myself out of the game, retiring on the job, or sitting it out on the sidelines is not a viable option if I want to be winning at working. As Charles Darwin reminds, "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

But there's more to winning at working than survival. To grow and thrive in the corporate world you must find your resilient center and evolve. That may mean learning new skills, aligning with a new boss or company, changing direction, letting go of the way things used to be done, compromising approaches or moving on.

Only fifteen percent of S& P 500 companies listed at the end of the 1950's are still in existence fifty years later. In a Fast Company (Nov04) interview with Jim Collins, author of the best selling book, "Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies," he advises companies to, "Preserve the core! And! Stimulate progress!" He claims, "To be built to last, you have to be built for change!"

His advice is as true for successful companies as it is for successful people. You need to preserve your core and stimulate your progress. If you do, you'll stay a player and deal with the changes coming your way. Sure, change can be painful and difficult and uncomfortable, but if you're open to what it brings, it may surprise you. It did me. My best lifetime career opportunity came after I was denied the promotion I coveted. It never would have happened if I hadn't stayed in the game.

(c) 2005 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Sign up to receive Nan's free biweekly eColumn at Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and on-line instructor. Visit or contact Nan at

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