Down with the Ship

I’ve worked in a company where the employees were described as quitting like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

I’ve worked in a company where the employees were described as quitting like rats fleeing a sinking ship. It’s depressing. You have this overwhelming feeling that you’re the dumb rat still there despite the writing on the wall. And you wonder, will I be laid off? Will I be fired? Will I get more and more and more work to do as the people I’ve worked with abandon our efforts for greener pastures? All the cliches. It’s hard to get up every morning and go to work. Yet, it’s hard to go to sleep at night without checking Indeed and LinkedIn for opportunities that could make you feel more fulfilled.

And there’s a culture of blame. It’s HIS fault we’re falling apart. It’s HER plan that has us failing. And there’s no more “US” anymore. It’s every man for himself. 

I never want to work at that kind of company again. But it doesn’t mean that we won’t have hard times, that it won’t be difficult.

So what creates the culture where we band together and dig deep and figure out how to make it work despite the turbulent waters around us? There are three keys to making difficult times better (and they don’t just come from the top):

  1. “What Can I Do” Thinking. 

    Every employee needs to start each day with, “What can I do to make it better?” instead of, “What’s happening? I haven’t a clue” or, “Decisions are being made that I can’t influence and so I am just along for the ride.” This means that everyone needs to understand their worth, responsibilities and abilities. It means we each have to think about what I HAVE to do in this role and what I have the opportunity to do in this situation. They say that change and opportunity are eternally linked. Every time I’ve been in a place where things are difficult, I’ve found ways to make out-of-the-box suggestions, implement new ideas, and ultimately earn promotions to build my own career; at the same time, I’m building a better product, team, or company.

    You can spend alot of time and energy describing the situation and dwelling on the size of the iceberg you just hit or you can start loading lifeboats and figuring out how to save what you have left. Try to avoid talking about the sadness in the past and talk about how to build a new future. 
  2. Ideas Come From Anyone Activities. 

    As a leader, we often think that we’re responsible for the ideation that will lead to the best outcome. We think we have to be brilliant all of the time. I’ve found that when the situation gets volatile and unpredictable, it’s best to gather the troops, define the problem and start brainstorming about what’s possible. Judge the idea that comes from the receptionist the same as the idea that comes from the CEO. Don’t worry about where it originates; just worry about whether it’s a good idea or not. 

    Like MacGyver, we must look at what we have and build from there. Or think, “If only I had a holocaust cloak!” Because you never know what asset someone might have that they didn’t realize was useful.

  3. You Can’t Shrink to Greatness. 

    When things go bad, you have to be willing to plan activities that require more work or more resources and put time and money into new things. We have this urge to circle the wagons and conserve resources, but you can’t shrink to greatness anymore that you can build a wall without supplies. Deciding where and how to put your efforts starts with who your customers are and your mission. Every company has this – nonprofits have customers and for-profit businesses have a mission. Figuring out yours is the key to understanding how to build and rebuild. I think about Netflix, which changed directions to move into streaming and nearly blinked out of existence. But Reid Hastings saw declining revenue and decided to leap out into the future.

We’ve all sailed in uncharted waters for the past few years. We held on and now we can build our future together.

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