Change is the only certainty, so make it work for you.

Look around your office or plant and what do you see? Personal computers, copiers, fax machines, robots, closed-circuit television sets - devices that were rarities, or nonexistent, not long ago.

Look harder and you will probably notice that your company has also changed in subtler ways in order to respond to a host of new conditions and constituencies: government regulations, political activism, criticism of big business and so on. Some of these changes may not affect you personally, but many do.

It's hard to adjust to change, for we are all the willing victims of inertia. We feel comfortable with the status quo, because we're used to it. Yet change is a constant condition of life; without it there is no progress. And the truth of the matter is, change itself is accelerating. Those who don't adjust to it are condemning themselves to professional obsolescence.

How can you adapt to change? The following should help.

First, try, to understand it. Compare your own reaction to thunder to that of a small child. You ignore it, but a child displays signs of anxiety and seeks assurance from the nearest adult. From long experience, you know that thunder is a natural phenomenon that cannot harm you. The child knows no such thing. It's only human to fear the unknown.

With understanding comes a sense of confidence. That's why the first step toward coping with change is understanding it.

Is your department being reorganized? Are you worried about the impact on you? That's natural, but don't fall victim to rumors, speculation or the inclination to assume the worst. Wait for your boss to explain why it's being done, how the new department will work and what specific changes will result. Chances are the changes represent an improvement of some sort. If he or she doesn't explain these changes to you, ask.

Second, assess your situation. Okay, you understand what's happening and why. Now what does it mean to you? More work? Additional responsibility? Reporting to a new boss? Once you know the probable effects of the change on you, you are in the right position to take appropriate action.

Third, identify the opportunity. What may initially appear to be simply more work for you may really be a golden opportunity to show what you can do. A new boss may be more receptive to your ideas than the old one. Additional responsibilities can "stretch" you and provide the experience you need to qualify for bigger things. In a nutshell: Don't assume a change is necessarily bad. Think about it, and dig out the opportunity behind it.

Fourth, accept the challenge. Once you recognize the possibilities created by the change, you're ready to take advantage of them. In today's high-tech world, that usually means increasing your knowledge in some way. Learning is an exciting experience and should be approached in a spirit of adventure and anticipation.

Fifth, prepare yourself. All development is self-development, and it is up to you to add to your personal know-how. Most companies schedule meetings, seminars and classes to help their people keep abreast of the latest developments. Courses may range from personal effectiveness programs to advanced training in highly technical skills. If these are offered on a voluntary basis, take advantage of them.

If your industry or profession has an association, join it, attend meetings, swap ideas with others doing the same kind of work. If there are any outside classes you can take, look into them. Get your hands on books that will keep you abreast of developments in your field of specialization. Subscribe to periodicals that regularly report on innovations and new methods that can help you in your work.

Finally, face the change with confidence. It is said that "knowledge is power," and that is certainly true. But knowledge is much more - it is also ability, confidence and promotability. Understand the change, assess its impact on you, identify the opportunity and accept the challenge. Prepare yourself for it, and you will find that change is not something to fear but something to welcome and turn to your own advantage.

Arthur G. Davis is principal of A. G. Davis & Associates, a management consultancy in Chicago, IL, specializing in quality and productivity intervention.


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