08 Feb Why your work is changing again
Your job is changing… again. I know. I’ve been there. I am there. And I don’t know anyone for whom it’s not true.
If you haven’t been asked to do something new this week, you were last week, or will be next week.
Every day, we face challenges to do something new, usually in a new way or with new people. To make sense of a disorienting world without rules, we try to shove these new assignments into our well-worn mental grooves. We bump it against what we already know, whether it fits or not.
To be fair, this force-fitting occurs automatically and unconsciously. And it’s effective for getting us through another mundane Tuesday at work.
But it doesn’t silence the inner panic that surfaces as we look at the new assignment and silently protest, “I have no idea how to do this.”
Flip your narrative.
From my work with teams and professionals (otherwise known as people), I believe the cause of the panic is not lack of knowledge. And it’s certainly not incompetence. The new work breaks our mental models of what we think we’re supposed to be doing in the jobs we have. This cognitive dissonance creates the confusion and panic, which convince you that you don’t know how to do the new work.
Now that’s a scary, disorienting loop.
But it’s not true. While the work is new, I don’t believe you can’t do it.
We use a lot of mental energy trying to fit new work into the confines and constraints of jobs and roles and org structures.
But your job is a thing of the past. Someone created it months or years ago for a need that existed well before you landed the role. And that role was only a best guess of what you’d be doing and what the organization needed at that time. So, for example, if you’ve been in your job for a year, the need surfaced at least two years ago.
There’s no way your work today fits that job.
Your job is not your work.
If you believe your job is your work, you’re probably suffering. So part of your job is to expand how you think about your work.
Regardless of roles or departments, we’re asked to lead teams outside our areas of expertise, to launch new programs, to design new systems, to build new products, to innovate, to collaborate, to iterate, to experiment, to disrupt. Your expertise in marketing or human resources or finance probably tells you very little about how to do these things.
Your job is not your work. It’s just your job.
You know a lot more than your job.
If you can accept for a moment that your work looks different from how you’ve thought about your job, you’ll uncover ideas how to do it.
Sometimes those ideas include finding someone who has done it before. Or they might involve adding some new skills or tools to your bag of tricks. And almost always, these ideas will entail applying what you’ve created and learned before to the changing work.
Forget about the limitations of your job description. You know much more than that.
- If you’ve led an initiative, big or small, you know how to lead.
- If you’ve successfully managed a project, you know how to provide structure and clarity.
- If you have to work with people to get anything done, you know how to collaborate.
- If you’ve achieved or accomplished anything ever, you know how to get things done.
- If you’ve had a great idea on your drive home, which led to other great ideas and solutions, you know how to innovate.
- If you’ve ever improved upon something, then you know how to iterate.
Your work is way more interesting than your job (or mine).
Your expertise landed you the job. But your work extends far beyond the constraints of the role or your expertise. (You don’t have to lead with that nugget in your next 1/1.)
Without constraints, you can use everything you’ve got: every success, every failure, ever prior role, every mistake, every problem solved, every project, every meeting, every inspired idea, every mundane task, every skill, every insight, every boss, every experience, every moment of brilliance.
The project that just landed on your plate is probably not your job. But it’s not outside your total abilities. It’s just another sign that your work is changing… again.
• What is the work?
• What do you already know how to do that could help?
• What experience do you have – regardless how you acquired it – that you can apply?
• What do you know – regardless where you learned it – that you can apply?
• What ideas do you have that might fit?
• What work have you done that’s kind of like this?
• At your most effective, what’s worked in the past that might help?
• At your most creative, what’s made the biggest difference in how you approach something new?
• If you weren’t nervous about not knowing how to do it, how would you approach it?
• Who do you know who could help you find your footing?
• What’s really making you nervous about the new work?
• What’s the worst that could happen if you just started?