Ask Dr. Job’s chief contributor, Sandra Pesmen, is a member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and author of “DR. JOB’s Complete Career Guide.”

Winner of several journalism awards, Pesmen is a graduate of the University of Illinois Media College at Urbana, and is listed in several Who’s Who editions. She also has been Corporate Features Editor of Crain Communications Inc., founding Features Editor of Crain’s Chicago Business and a reporter/features writer for The Chicago Daily News.

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Avoid Workplace Chaos

SOME EXPERTS IDENTIFY the bright new fast trackers in the workplace as members of: "GenFlux." 

If those young people make you nervous, there is something you "reluctant fluxers" can do, say Glenda Eoyang and Royce Holladay authors of Adaptive Action: Leveraging Uncertainty in Your Organization.

 "It's true that we all need to work in new ways to keep up with the supercharged velocity of change that defines the global economy," says Eoyang, "And it's true that leaders need to encourage a sense of urgency in the people we're counting on to carry out the work.

 "However, that sense of urgency needs to energize, not paralyze," she adds. "We want people excited about the future, not feeling like it's some kind of alien universe. We need to let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they can get there from here."

 Many people desperately need to hear this message because the marketplace is changing with new technology and globalization. And all of this causes pure chaos-the dismaying sense that you can't predict or control anything about your environment, these authors report.

Observes Eoyang. "No one knows who will get the prizes in the end, and for what. And when people don't know what their next move should be, they shut down."

 Helping less-adventurous organizations move from where they are to where they need to be is what Eoyang and Holladay do for a living. They deploy their Adaptive Action model (thoroughly described in their book) inside big corporations, slow-moving school systems, and government agencies mired in bureaucracy. 

 Adaptive Action is as simple as it is powerful. It is a cycle of three questions that are repeated again and again. They are repeated in moments when a meeting goes off agenda, in hours when crisis requires rapid response, in days or years when plans are disrupted by unexpected events. Single people, pairs or teams, organizations, and whole communities have used Adaptive Action to thrive in flux-filled environments. 
  The three questions are not always easy: What? So what? Now what?

What patterns shape the current situation? What do you observe, see, hear, and know? What is happening? What did you and others expect? What surprises? What builds or releases tension? What is working or not working?

So what does the pattern suggest for action and future opportunities? So what do the patterns mean? So what do others think or see? So what might you do and what might be the results? So what are the interconnections that will cause ripples across these and other patterns? So what do current patterns mean for how people work and play together?

Now what will I do to change the pattern? Now what information should I share? Now what responses can I expect to my actions? Now what alliances might I build? Now what future paths might appear? Now what will I do to see how patterns change when I take my action?

These questions provide a lifeline for those who feel deeply uncomfortable with but nonetheless have to live in flux. Here are a few reasons why they, and Adaptive Action in general, seem doable as we seek to thrive in chaos and leverage uncertainty:

• There are patterns in chaos. Once we learn to see them, we can take action that makes sense.
Once the pattern emerges, you can make changes to tackle the root of the problem.
• You don't have to see the future. You only have to clearly see the present. A lot of anxiety is generated when companies prepare to compete in a future they can't see. And while a certain amount is inevitable-and actually beneficial as it creates the urgency that drives action-anxiety can spiral out of control if the plans made aren't firmly grounded in reality.
• Some of the old solutions still work. You don't have to start from scratch. Knowing that the entire system doesn't have to be scrapped comes as a relief to less adventurous souls who are overwhelmed enough about the new things they have to learn. The trick, says Eoyang, is to be able to see what fits with old solutions and what requires new. (That's why we call it Adaptive Action.)
• You can still plan. You just need to plan for a month ahead, not a year ahead (and certainly not five years ahead). When you're in flux, you can see some things very clearly and others not at all, says Eoyang. Planning processes must be agile enough to fit both. This means tight prediction and control for close and clear information horizons and broad-brush, directional planning for what is fuzzy and far away.
• It's okay to make mistakes. The way to mitigate risks is to try something, see if it works, learn from the experience, and try again. 
• You can give up your desire to "win." Winning is possible only in finite games. With a single goal and scorecard, and clear rules and boundaries, you can build a winning strategy and compete for the prize. In the world of flux, goals, scores, rules, and boundaries change all the time, so it is impossible to win. Instead, you have to play an infinite game where the goal is to keep playing. 
• It is fun. Remember the most exciting and satisfying and fun thing you ever did. What made it fun? For most people, the delight comes from discovering new surprises and overcoming seemingly impossible odds. The world of flux is full of surprises and impossibilities, and with Adaptive Action you will play the game and rediscover the delight of discovery.  ###

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