how to work amid chaos and constant change

A reader writes:

I work for a company that has had one steady constant — change. How do you ensure you continue to get work done and are as efficient as possible when your team mates, responsibilities, and structure are constantly in flux?

You can read my answer to this question at Intuit Quickbase’s Fast Track blog today. Plus, three other careers experts are answering this question there too. Head on over there for answers…

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. lachevious*

    Great advice! I am one of those people that cannot handle constant change. I can handle reasonable, occasional change – but constant would make me way too anxious to function.

  2. Adam*

    My current job has struggled with “change”. I have been here not quite four years and in that time the name of the department has changed three times, the director has changed four times, there was one massive transition where everyone was reshuffled with little rhyme or reason to it work wise (when you factor in office politics, it all falls into place), and I was reassigned to a different manager three times in the space of a week, the last one being my original manager to begin with.

    All this chaotic “change” is one piece of the “Why I want to ‘change’ jobs” puzzle I’m currently piecing together…

    1. Lamington*

      Do we work together? I think I’m in my 4th boss now in a almost 3 year span. I hate change for the sake of change.

      1. Mimmy*

        I bet my husband works with both of you! lol. They’ve reshuffled the departments so many times in the past few years, it’s insane!

      2. Marina*

        7 supervisors in 3 years, although that’s including several periods where I had two at once. What’s almost worse is that my current supervisor has been here a year and has already reported to 3 different people. Sheesh.

  3. Jamie*

    There is good change and bad change. Even with the good kind there is a tipping point where enough is enough, but lack of any change has always bothered me far more.

    I can deal with frustration way better than I can deal with boredom.

    1. Annie O*

      I think I’m the same way. If I had to choose between constant change and no change, I’d choose constant change.

      That said, there is that tipping point when a bunch of good changes cumulatively add up to be a bad thing. If my company suggested 10 big changes, I might agree with the 10 individually while still feeling like rolling out all of them is a bad strategy. Again, that’s where a big picture view is invaluable.

      1. Jennifer*

        I dunno, it frequently seems like most of the changes are for the worse when they are made more than they are better, like budget cuts and not rehiring replacements and making stupid nitpicking rules.

        But what can you do to stop it? Nothing. You just HAVE TO put up with it.

  4. TP*

    This is exactly what happened to me. Two months after I started, the person who hired me left. Then the person I was shifted to left after four-five months in. I’m now eight months into this job and on my third supervisor. I understand change happens–sometimes for the better–but so many in under a year reeks of dysfunction. Needless to say I’m back on the job market, despite the fact that this will be my shortest stint. Everyone is allowed at least one blip, right!

    1. BeenThere*

      I had similar happen, in a position I moved countries for I had four managers in the space of 9 months and then was layed off.

      Needless to say when I have told future employers that I wouldn’t feel right giving any of those managers as a reference as they had all worked with me for less than three months they were surprised I stayed in the position for so long without quitting.

  5. Annie O*

    I actually like change, but it helps me when I have a big picture view. Why are we doing it? Do we have a strategy? Do we have a comprehensive plan? Have we considered alternatives? Or are we just chasing the next shiny object?

  6. Ruffingit*

    I have no issue with change. Chaos on the other hand is very difficult for me. I’m working in a place right now that has a great deal of inefficient and chaotic procedures with a lot of turnover. And I can see why. I’m certainly not looking to stay there long-term due due to the chaotic environment. It’s too stressful.

    1. Kelly O*

      Same boat.

      This constant change is wearing on me, and I’m not the type to weather it for years like my office-mate. It’s not quite been a year and my nerves are shot.

    2. Jillociraptor*

      That’s a really good distinction. We’re in the midst of chaotic change. What’s challenging about it is less adapting our work, and more the fact that no one seems to have any clue what’s actually going on and we’re all completely winging it at this point. Those who complain about it are sometimes pegged as not being able to deal with change or ambiguity, but I don’t think that’s quite right, and the distinction you make illuminates why.

  7. Better w/o a Name*

    The chaos comment brought up this question. How does one answer interview questions about what projects one has completed when every story would end with, “and now I am working to get my boss to do his part before I can move on”? The unspoken part is that Boss thrives on chaos and appears to adore abandoning projects in order to start something new that will also be abandoned before completion.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I think you can talk about the parts you completed and be vague about the fact that the project as a whole was never completed. So, for example, you could say that you contributed the research and data to project X while conveniently leaving out the part about your boss never presenting it to the CEO and thus it died on the vine while boss moved on to something else. Just talk about your contributions rather than the project as a whole.

      1. Rev.*

        Ruffington, I get what you say, and agree with it, as an immediate answer to an interview question.

        But, suppose, as an interviewer, I really, REALLY need a good project “closer”, and I insist on a straight answer to my question of, “…tell me about a successful project you helped bring to completion?”
        This job is one you really want (30% increase in salary, fast track to upper management, etc.,)…

        What do you say? No vagueness, no bluffing, just straight talk?

  8. Be the Change*

    So what do you all recommend when getting put in CHARGE of a department where there has been a lot of change, and there is going to be some more? None of the previous change over the past several years was my decision; the future change is an upgrade and I’m working to get people good things like nice spaces.

    I am trying to listen to people, get them support they need, make good decisions quickly, follow through, sunset old projects, not take on huge new projects, and (hardest of all) streamline and codify some procedures.

    Anything else youse can recommend?

    1. Clever Name*

      I’d suggest keeping your staff informed as much as you can. Of course, some things are not meant for everyone to know, but I think many people feel better about change if they know it’s coming, and know a little of the why. If people have questions, answer what you can. If layoffs are possible, it’s far kinder to let everyone know that it’s a possibility. I know that isn’t always possible, since management likes to keep layoffs quiet since the best people end up leaving first, but let people know about them as early as you are allowed.

    2. Kelly O*

      Totally agree with Clever Name. Just communicate as much as you possibly can about what’s going on. Your employees know you can’t necessarily say everything, but so long as you’re talking and not keeping things double-super-secret, I would think most people would be way more willing to work through regular changes.

      For me, the worst part is the chaos. I don’t find out about changes until after they’ve happened, and then don’t have the tools I need to work through them, so it clogs things up and slows processes down. Once I figure it out or at least get close, it’s time for another wrench to get thrown in.

      Well-communicated change is one thing. A chaotic office where nothing is the same from day to day? That’s what wears on people after while, and that’s when you end up with either an office full of discouraged workers who feel like they’d be giving up to leave, or people who couldn’t get out on their own. Which obviously makes the chaos worse.

  9. Lanya*

    I had a lot of change at OldJob. Not so much with staff turnover, but with constantly-changing directives and new processes. I tried creating a procedures manual to help keep some kind of record of how we had been instructed to do things, but I was editing that file so frequently that it was not really helpful at all. I left for other reasons, but all of the change all the time was a big part of my dissatisfaction there.

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