Change inevitable so don't let fear hold you back

I have been part of small company culture for more than 10 years and love the fact every person in our business has the ability to influence our culture in small but often meaningful ways.

A decade in one organisation feels like a long time but our business is such that change is always around the corner - sometimes good, sometimes bad, but never boring.

As part of my work, I have been lucky enough to work with many organisations, small, medium and large, sometimes at senior executive level and sometimes on the factory floor. These experiences have honed my ability to sense the culture of an organisation or a unit very quickly. Hierarchy and people's ability to contribute to decisions is obvious, humour and comradeship is visible when it's there and equally visible when it's not. People's buy-in to a company or unit's strategy or direction can also be sensed quickly.

Sometimes I have seen high-performing groups operating well within an organisation with overall poor culture, so I do believe individual people can influence their immediate surroundings independently of organisational leadership, but sometimes even this gets too hard.

What consistently surprises me is how people will stay with an organisation when they are clearly unhappy. In this situation I have asked people why they stay. Sometimes it is out of a sense of loyalty to their colleagues and an organisation which perhaps once treated them well, but more often it is fear of change and because they don't value the skill set they have beyond what can be captured in a quantitative manner. Because they don't value this skill set, they are then unable to articulate what they are good at and don't have the confidence to sell themselves into something new.

Let me explain. If someone has had a technical career for some time, then that is what they will value, their technical skill set, or their skill set within that technical sector. As an example, a vet will value their degree and their subsequent experience, caring for and treating animals in a way which aligns with best veterinary practice.

Often, these technical skills have been long, painful and expensive to acquire, so it's fair enough that a high value is placed on them. Along the way though, that same vet may have also gained equally valuable skills in dealing with clients - being flexible and reading situations and acting accordingly, running budgets, managing time and so on.

Similarly, a teacher may value their technical teaching skills, but not pride themselves on their ability to contribute in a team situation, lead change in curriculum development or manage student counselling.

Why does it matter that we value and articulate our wider skill set? I believe more and more, employers are looking for skills than cannot be captured by degrees or courses. Someone's initiative and commitment can be shown in many ways on a CV or in an interview, but to do that, someone has to recognise they have that skill set, understand its value and be willing to make change and put themselves out there.

Right now, in the face of enormous career path disruption, our ability to be proactive, show initiative, get on with others, analyse situations and be flexible are as important, if not more important, than our technical skills. To help understand what that skill set is, it may take sitting down with a few people who will be honest and positive, to determine where you add value and work out a way to demonstrate that.

Finding a unit, or an organisation, with a culture that fits our values is a great way to make the 40-plus hours a week we spend at work a whole lot more enjoyable and help us ride through the inevitable highs and lows of business and life.

-Anna Campbell is managing director of AbacusBio Ltd, a Dunedin-based agribusiness consulting and new ventures company.

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