Change is here to stay

Not so long ago people often had one job for life. To a younger generation it may seem odd that anyone would want to work for the same company for more than a few years.

Not so long ago people often had one job for life. To a younger generation it may seem odd that anyone would want to work for the same company for more than a few years. For generations yet to be born, who knows what the norm will be?

Even if you do stay in the same company for a while it's likely you'll witness a myriad of changes. The company's ownership may change, it may go through mergers and/or restructuring.

Woolworths general manager IS, Graeme Cox, hasn't been involved in major changes recently, but remembers the major restructuring in the 1980s.

"Back then there was initial shock and basically people were assisted to get new employment. There was realisation that there were new opportunities opening up and in some cases people did pretty well out of it . In IT in particular, the world's your oyster out there now. I'd love to be a bit younger to be able to take up some of those opportunities."

John Hert has witnessed a lot of change in his seven months as CIO at UnitedNetworks.

"Utilities are going through major upheavals," he says.

All the IT managers agreed that good communication during times of change is key. Although that sounds obvious, often communication is haphazard or non-existent. Managers need to think carefully about how to communicate.

Hert says: "We've had a few redundancies. We sat down with individuals and talked through their careers - where they're up to - and the movements that are happening in the industry and the company."

He says doing this helps staff members to see their way forward. Hert says you can communicate with your staff as a team or individually - whatever seems the most logical approach in a given situation.

"You tell them what's going on and what's happening to the company and ask for their input. Involve them in the alternatives; discuss options openly and honestly.

"I think people will always be hesitant, frightened and anxious about change. The barriers to change come when you are not communicating and not letting people be involved in decisions and the changes that are going on."

Clear Communications director IT, Graham Walmsley, says it's hard for people to "get their heads around change", particularly the sheer pace of it. "Most people accept it, but usually these days we've got multiple changes going on."

He says it's important a company or department outlines its overall road map for change to staff and explains what the end game is. He believes that during change people might need to let off some steam. "Some beers on a Friday night often go a long way and you often get some good feedback."

But he emphasises that change doesn't have to be stressful.

"There are a lot of people who like working in a changing environment and get an awful lot more stressed when nothing is changing."

So what are the warning signs that morale isn't so good?

Hert believes one is gossip over the tea trolley - "whispers that go on in the background regarding what's happening to Bill or Joe or whatever.

"At the end of the day, the events probably can't be altered so you need to communicate the events and welcome open discussion."

Walmsley says a warning sign is seeing people starting to get disaffected and frustrated with everything -and with each other.

"What you start getting at times of change is different agendas. And they're not necessarily driven maliciously - they're just driven from different perspectives."

Cox says managers have to concentrate on people and endeavour to keep morale up.

But if you don't like change, there's bad news. The forecast is for much more of it.

Hert says: "The pace of change is going to increase too. It's not that we'll just have change - there will be three or four changing events happening all at once. You have to be flexible, attuned to your career and where you want to be. You have to be prepared to keep moving, evolving and developing new skills and keep your eye on what's happening out there. Fundamentally that's the survival kit you need in the new century."

Cox doesn't believe there are huge changes in terms of the large-scale mergers we saw 10 years ago, but does agree that work situations are forever changing.

"I think people perhaps now are being taught to accept that they won't have one job for life and obviously there will be more than one."

Kirstin Mills is Computerworld's careers editor.

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