Storm Warnings

Organizational change is as inevitable as winter. We can’t prevent workplace “storms,” but, like with the weather, we can—and should—prepare for them.

If you are reading this in North America, chances are you’ve been buffeted by some unusually forceful weather in recent weeks and months. Flooding rains, raging blizzards, gusting winds, and frigid temperatures—extreme weather seems to have become the norm this winter.

Bad weather isn’t limited to the sky. An analogous phenomenon takes place in all of our organizations. Reorganizations, downsizings, mergers, changes of leadership—these are the blizzards and floods of the business world. Organizational change is as inevitable as winter. We can’t prevent workplace “storms.” But we can prepare for them.

Consider your value to the organization. In the final analysis, the only security we have is in ourselves. When my grandparents were in the workforce, you could plan to work your entire career with one company. A shift started in the 1980s. People discovered that the fastest way to progress in both pay and position was to leapfrog organizations every three to five years. And many organizations started thinking of employees as “plug and play.”

I remember a conversation I had when I was vice president of a company in the late 1970s. For four years since moving from the field to the home office to build the company, we had doubled sales. While I was the initial trainer, I soon brought on other trainers and team-taught with them. For three years, we team-taught three-day programs once a week in several parts of the country.

As we began to accelerate growth, the president thought we ought to send one trainer out to lead the program—we could offer more programs in more locations with the same resources. Within six months we had lost 50 percent of our traveling trainers— people who had been with us for three or four years.

At our executive committee meeting (the chairman, president, and myself), I voiced concern about the turnover and talent drain. The chairman said, “Bob, you need to understand that every day someone is with you means they are one day closer to leaving. Let them leave. We can bring someone in at a lower salary—and start the process all over again.”

I was stunned. My conversations with trainers who were leaving indicated that training by yourself with no one to debrief with at the end of the day was just too draining. And doing it so often was causing burnout. I viewed the loss of these talented people as something to be stopped. I was alone in that thinking. But what I also observed was this: Marginal performers never left. It was the highest performers who understood that their security was in their knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes—the ability to deliver results. They had no fear of leaving; they knew they could work at other places. And they were right.

So how self-aware are you? Are you truly a high performer? If resources become limited, are you part of the emergency response team, or are you more likely to be washed away? If the road you are on is blocked with organizational snow, are you responsive enough to take another route?

One way to shore up against corporate bad weather is to make your influence felt high in the organization before rough times reach you. Communicate regularly with the supervisors of the people you train. Tell them what you’re doing and how students are responding. Ask them for input. Suggest programs they may not have considered. Understand that when performance is the question, training is the sixth answer after examining systems, policies and procedures, recruitment processes, placement, and providing coaching. Become a performance consultant focused on helping the organization get results rather than a trainer focused on delivering events.

In hard times, management-level people often are forced to think strictly in terms of dollars. Have you calculated the value of the training you provide in terms of increased productivity, reduced turnover, or lowered rates of injury? Often, if trainers aren’t prepared to prove it, their services are considered an expense, not an asset.

Usually, we get a brief warning before a change in the corporate winds. Be prepared to act. If your organization’s new mission statement stresses quality, for example, make sure you’re doing the same—both in the classroom and in your own performance.

Until next time—add value and make a difference.

Bob Pike, CSP, CPAE, CPLP Fellow, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.