I am a fairly experienced senior manager at an organization that was acquired about eighteen months ago. The larger organization makes a new acquisition about every eight months, with no end in sight. The changes are really hard to keep up with. There seem to be new processes and procedures every day.
I have a wonderful employee—I’ll call him Bob. I like Bob a lot and he has been a dependable producer. His team respects him and he consistently gets the job done with a minimum of fuss.
Recently, though, it’s as if Bob has run out of steam. When I asked him about it, he told me the pace of change here is wearing him down and he is beginning to think he might be happier at a more stable organization.
I am afraid to lose him, but how can I talk him off the ledge when I am kind of feeling the same way?
Trying to Keep Up
Dear Trying to Keep Up,
My first reaction was to laugh and think Good luck finding an organization where change isn’t constant! But seriously, I really understand this. The pace of relentless change can be exhausting.
It is said that many employees leave organizations because no one asked them to stay—so let’s not let that happen. The first step is to share with Bob how much you understand his feelings and how important you think he is to the success of the organization. Then have the conversation about what it would take for him to stay.
If he insists that the organization would have to stop growing by acquisition—well, that’s probably non-negotiable. But what is negotiable? Possibly Bob is burnt out and needs to take a vacation—a real one—meaning at least two weeks, maybe even three, with no checking in. Burnout is a real thing. A change of scene and perspective can do wonders.
Maybe the way you manage change could use a tweak. We know from recent neuroscience studies that the brain craves clarity and certainty. There is a ton of research, some of it from The Ken Blanchard Companies, about how to better support people who are dealing with change. Perhaps the two of you could take a class together to get better at it—or at the very least, you could read up and discuss it together.
Here’s the thing. Even if Bob does go somewhere else, he’s probably not going to be able to escape constant change—it is simply a fact of organizational life these days. He seems like a bright guy, so maybe the rate of change isn’t what is really bothering him. You may need to have a different conversation to really get at what the true problem is.
Start by asking the simple question “What’s really bothering you?”
And then keep digging: “What bothers you so much about that?”
“Say more about that.”
You never know what you’ll learn by following this line of questioning, but give it a try. You may actually get to what is really going on—and then you can work out how to proceed.
I hope you figure this out—and I hope you get to keep Bob so that he can help with all the changes to come.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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