How Fast Can You Shift Gears At Work?


One skill that I have picked up over the years is the ability to quickly perceive the need for change and then implement the necessary alteration in attitude to successfully alter direction in a short period of time. This ability, or lack thereof, is a desirable trait to raise in an interview if you choose. By way of example, let me cite my experience from yesterday.

On a typical morning, I arrive at work at about 7:30a.m. and one of the first things I do is check the staff schedule just to confirm what I’m responsible for that day, as my role as a Facilitator changes often. However, yesterday morning I didn’t bother. You see, our team was planning on holding an open house for visiting staff later this month, and I was under the impression that I and two others had been removed from the schedule to flesh out the details of a loose plan. However, as that open house has been delayed to later in the year, back on the schedule I was.

So there I sat at 9:15a.m. doing some recruiting for an upcoming workshop on job searching, when my Supervisor came in and asked if I would like her to see if she could arrange another team member to do the workshop on responsible alcohol service I was supposed to be doing in 15 minutes. What?! My immediate reaction in the next three seconds and no more, was to process that I was on the schedule I guessed to do it, I still had 15 minutes to get things together so I wasn’t late, and here was a possible out so I could continue recruiting clients.

As it turns out, I did end up facilitating the workshop as my co-worker wasn’t feeling prepared to lead that workshop. She herself ended up sitting in on it all day to reaquaint herself with the flow of the day and the content. While I wasn’t getting the time to do what I had originally wanted, and still need to do before Friday afternoon, it was fulfilling what I was expected to do. My responsibility in other words to do what I was on the schedule to do, and my own fault for not realizing it sooner. It still required a mental shift however from one planned activity to another in a short time frame.

As a Manager, I think that’s a trait you hope to find in those who you supervise. Finding staff who can with a positive attitude, roll with things and show adaptability and flexibility makes things run smoother when change occurs. Now on the other hand, staff that change but make sure everybody knows how inconvenienced they are and get all flustered may get the job done in the end, but there is a path behind them like a tornado maybe getting other staff out-of-sorts along the way.

And there are some who cannot cope with change at all of course; those that will put energy into resisting, looking for opportunities to get out of doing what they should be doing because they are not prepared, which ends up of course then impacting on others directly who have to change to achieve the desired result.

In every workplace, change occurs. Sometimes the change that comes about is fairly frequent to the point when change itself is the norm. That constant flux can either fuel a person’s energy or cause undue stress and anxiety. The bottom line in that setting is that you as the worker may not be able to control the external things around you that impact on you yourself, so the only thing you can control fully is your own reaction to change. If you don’t react well to change, your options may be limited to learning to adapt to change, quit or transfer out if that’s an option, or resist change and deal with the fallout.

Resisting change in a setting where change happens daily would appear to be a recipe for unhappiness, constant strain, and you may not be valued as a contributing employee who fits in with the requirement of your position. If a Team Leader, Supervisor or Manager cited that requirement as a desired or essential characteristic of the employees under them, how surprised should you be then if a decision is made that comes down to you not being the right fit for their needs?

But back to an interview. In an interview you’d be wise if you could determine ahead of time what the desired qualities of the applicants should be, and then ensure that your answers to questions demonstrated your ability to bring that quality out. And if you are working in a setting that requires skills and qualities you don’t posses, perhaps its time to acquire those skills or move on.

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