"We have to do this!"
How two OD Specialists Converted Losing Their Jobs into a Positive Transition for their Organization and Themselves
Author of The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks (2006 Independent Publisher’s Best Self-Help book), and best seller The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too.
Adapted from The Resiliency Advantage and based on personal interviews
Two organizational development specialists (I’ll call them Stephanie and Priscilla) were shocked when the new deputy administrator in their state agency called them into his office and said their jobs had been eliminated. He said they would be transferred to another agency in a few weeks.
Back in their office, they felt outraged, hurt, and bewildered. They were known to be two of the best, most productive organizational development (OD) specialists in state government. They were skilled at systems analysis, strategic planning, process redesign, process improvement, and implementing transition and change. Through years of excellent work, they had streamlined many of the department’s operations to high levels of efficiency and effectiveness. Their work was vital to internal operations and cultivating sustained capacity to achieve the organization’s mission.
They knew there had been no mandate to reduce the workforce. The new administration had made a private decision, for political reasons, to eliminate their positions without consideration of merit, performance capacity, or commitment to achievement of agency outcomes. They stared at each other, feeling shock and dismay. A flood of questions welled up. What would happen with all their programs and the new mentoring program they had just started? Where were they going? What would they be doing? Would they be split up?
Co-workers rushed into their office to see if the rumor was true. People they’d worked with for years started crying. Many asked, "What will we do without you?" Co-workers at all levels telephoned and sent them cards and e-mails thanking and praising them.
After the waves of questions subsided, Stephanie said, "We really don’t have a choice about this. We have to do this."
Co-workers rushed into their office to see if the rumors were true. People they’d worked with for years started crying. Many asked "What will we do without you?" Co-workers at all levels telephoned and sent them cards and e-mails thanking and praising them.
Stephanie and Priscilla decided to use their professional skills for managing the transition and change for themselves and their co-workers. They outlined a strategic plan for leaving. They describe their plan as including:
- A period of emotional transition. We allowed ourselves to cry, laugh, feel grumpy, be catty, make faces, (with each other, not with others) grieve what we would be losing-and have a large supply of comfort foods. Permission did not include trashing management. We allowed ourselves several days of emotional wallowing, then ended it. We decided that we’d be like tree cones that don’t open and sprout until heated. We decided that like the phoenix, we would rise out of the fire healthy and strong.
- We wrote on the white board in our conference room all the wonderful things people were saying to us. Basking in all that praise neutralized the impact of losing jobs that we were so good at and emotionally invested in.
- In response to all the questions, "What will we do without you?" our attitude was that we were just catalysts at a time when our skills were needed and that others will continue doing the same things. For the people who had been through our O.D. programs, we compiled a notebook documenting all that we’d done. The notebook also provided them with guidelines for keeping the programs going. We did a lot of good stuff, and it was an impressive document to bring to the new department we were transferred to.
- We identified the values we brought into the workplace. If these values were useful here, then they will be useful wherever we work. Our list included teaching and being good role models for collaboration and conflict resolution, developing good communications skills, creating a vision of our highest goals, and constant personal and organizational improvement.
- We organized a going-away party for ourselves. It lasted all day long. It was a great event! It was a good experience for almost everyone. When the new deputy director came by, he was nervous, couldn’t look us in the eyes, stumbled when he tried to say something about how much we had contributed, then fled. We felt sorry for him-but that didn’t spoil our party.
When the director of another department heard that Stephanie and Priscilla were available, he acted immediately to get them transferred to his department. Stephanie says, "We came to our new department with ten products. We conducted interviews to determine which ones would be most useful right away and started with those. In the several years that followed we adapted the others and got them going. The new department is twice the size of our old one. We have developed more new products-some of them so successful they are being adopted state-wide."
When Stephanie and Priscilla were ripped away from their work and friends, their resiliency came from strong feelings of self-confidence, healthy self-appreciation, and having identities based on their values and principles. Unlike so many others who feel victimized going through lessor challenges in their careers, they took hold of the action and managed the process for both themselves and others. It is no surprise that they have both been promoted and continue to do valuable organizational development work.
The Resiliency Center was founded by the late Al Siebert, PhD who studied highly resilient survivors for over fifty years. He authored the award-winning book The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks (2006 Independent Publisher’s Best Self-Help book), and best seller The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too.