July 1st marks the start of the academic surgery calendar and with it comes change. Chief residents are graduating and moving on to new jobs or fellowship positions. New interns are welcomed into the program, residents are moving in and out of the research years, and faculty are being hired, promoted or recruited away. In academic surgery, change is inevitable. It’s one of the aspects of the job that keeps things fresh and exciting, but it can also be a source of stress or conflict for some. Ultimately how you respond to change can have a big impact on your job performance and satisfaction.
In her book No Ego, Cy Wakeman defines the Employee Value using the following equation:
Employee Value = (Current Performance + Future Potential) – Emotional Expense
Here she defines future potential as what an employee is doing to get ready for coming change and emotional expense as the amount of emotional waste and drama created by an employee. She goes on to explain that resistance to change is a top generator of workplace emotional waste and drama. Using this equation as a measure of employee value shows that how an employee plans for and responds to change are major drivers of their overall value.
Given that your preparation and response to change can have huge implications on your workplace performance and overall job satisfaction it’s imperative to cultivate a positive view of change and avoid these common change traps.
- Trap #1: Not being ready for change. While it’s true that “change is hard”, change is most hard for the unready. Many of us have witnessed some colleagues excel and achieve tremendous success during periods of change. Rather than viewing those colleagues as “lucky” or “in the right place at the right time”, consider how they were preparing themselves for change that allowed them to capitalize on new opportunities. In academic surgery, this preparation may take the form of learning the most innovative surgical techniques, pursuing a new methodologic research skill, or developing leadership skills in preparation for future but unknown opportunities.
- Trap #2: Arguing with reality. Most of our workplaces are not democracies. Decisions are made by a few senior leaders and then disseminated to mid-level managers and other employees. Unless you are among the “deciders” it’s unlikely you have access to all the information that led to the decision. For decisions that you might not agree with, don’t fall into the trap of always being a change resister and wasting emotional energy fighting reality. Chances are, if your leadership wanted your input, they would have asked. Rather than arguing with the reality of their decision, your best bet, once the decision has been made, is to get on board with how you might prepare for and best execute the change.
- Trap #3: Choosing suffering over success. Once change is instituted, don’t make the mistake of choosing suffering over success, either because you are unprepared or resistant. Consider the example of the electronic medical record. Are you the type of surgeon who creates customized templates and shortcuts to maximize the advantages of the EMR and your efficiency? Or are you the type of surgeon who writes every note and order set from scratch and constantly complains about the inefficiencies of the system? Instead of suffering, look for ways to adapt to the change.
Responding well to change ultimately requires that you not attach your identity or happiness to any one person or any one set of circumstances. By accepting that change is inevitable, preparing for it, and refusing to argue with reality you will be well on your way to navigating the next change in your health system. What other tips do you have for navigating change?