How to Navigate When Your New Position Has Unexpected Changes

Starting a new position is never easy, whether you are switching companies or departments or moving into management. But sometimes the universe has a few surprises in store. Soon after your start date you might find yourself dealing with change you had not bargained for—a merger or acquisition, downsizing, outsourcing, or the closure of a business unit. Or perhaps the hiring manager who recruited you announces they are leaving. When you are the new kid on the block, how do you adapt?

How to navigate change

You cannot press rewind, so instead try these strategies for successfully navigating change when you are in a new role at work.

First things first: Understand your role

Any of the changes listed above can be earthshaking to an employee, and this list is far from comprehensive. Once you absorb the initial shock, take some time to quietly evaluate the situation in terms of what it means for you personally. Because you are new to your role, you may not experience as much impact as your more-tenured colleagues—after all, you were already in a period of transition. What is a little bit more?

A good way to evaluate the situation is to answer the following questions recommended by the Society for Human Resource Management as questions employers should answer for employees during times of change:

  • What is changing? Pinpoint exactly what is changing in objective terms. Do not let emotions—yours or your colleagues—affect your answer.
  • Why is it changing? Seek to understand the internal and external factors driving the change.
  • How will it affect your area? How much will this affect your area of operations?
  • How will it affect you directly? Taking an even more granular approach, how will this change affect your day-to-day responsibilities?

If one of the responsibilities of your position is to help others—i.e., your direct reports—manage change, make sure you understand and can communicate the answers to these questions.

Strengthen your network

Research published in Harvard Business Review suggests that succeeding quickly in a new role is largely dependent upon effective use of internal networks. From day one, you’ll want to make connections at all levels of the company so you can understand organizational culture and who really does what—the crucial information the employee manual doesn’t cover. Set up introductory meetings with peers and ask each of them who else you should meet with. This is important even if you have made a move within the same company.

“Networking” does not equal “gossiping,” however. Resist the tendency to veer into gossip. Rumors and mistrust breed quickly during times of change, so while you will want to keep your ear to the ground, remember you are still building your reputation

Focus on what is in your control

Change piled on top of change is not fun—and while you had a definite say in your job change, you likely had no input on the next layer of change. Keep that in mind. If your new manager is leaving, you cannot do anything about that. If your company has been sold, it is out of your hands. Even if you are not religious, think about the message of the Serenity Prayer often used in 12-step programs: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Remember that you were already dealing with change

If your colleagues are balls of stress, it is easy to get caught up in it, even if the change does not carry the same emotional impact for you. Do not exacerbate the situation by letting colleagues’ drama affect your perspective. Level-set with yourself. If your reporting structure was already new to you, how much does additional change matter? A new boss is still a new boss.

Take care of yourself

Changing jobs is one of life’s most stressful experiences, right up there with getting married or divorced or experiencing illness or the death of a loved one. And major workplace transitions such as downsizing carry all sorts of emotions. (“Survivor’s guilt” after a reduction in force is a real phenomenon.) Give yourself enough mental space to process the change and take advantage of resources such as employee assistance programs if you need added support.

Change pushes all of us out of our comfort zones. But with intention and care, you can successfully manage change and emerge even stronger in your new role.

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