During one of AT&T's many transformations, I interviewed the woman in charge of employee health services to find out what she'd observed about the most resilient people in the organization. I asked her if she noticed anything that these employees had in common that helped them deal so successfully with change: Did they work in a particular geographic region? Had they reached a certain level of the hierarchy? Did they perform similar functions? Were they male? Female? Younger? Older?
The manager told me that none of those factors made a difference. She said, "People who thrive on organizational change have two things in common: They take good care of themselves and they have outside interests."
As I continued talking with professionals in 30 organizations (and 7 industries), the same theme kept repeating in my interviews. People who were the most adept at dealing with organizational change, not only had a career—they had a life.
A definition of the word compensate is "to provide with a counterbalance or neutralizing device." Change-adept individuals compensate for the demands and pressures of business by developing counterbalancing activities in other areas of their lives. They engage in exercise programs and healthful eating habits, they cultivate interests outside of the workplace—sports, hobbies, art, music, and so on—that are personally fulfilling, and they have sources of emotional support. Because employees with counterbalance have fuller, richer lives, they handle business-related stress better and are more effective on the job.
They also have a source of stability—external to the organization—which many refer to as their "anchor" or "rock."
One of the most memorable interviews I conducted on this topic was with the CEO of a cellular telephone company: "I've got one of those 'anchors' in my life," he told me. "It's my sock drawer." I must have looked startled because the CEO continued quickly. "I mean it," he said. "All hell can be breaking loose at work, but when I come home at night I open my sock drawer to find everything in color-coded, neat little piles. I tell you, it does my heart good."
I've included this story in my speeches for years, and only once have I had someone take offense at it. I had addressed the national convention of a real estate firm in Florida. A sales manager from California came up to me after the speech and wanted to book a similar program for his division. "I really enjoyed your talk," he said. "But when you speak to my group, please don't make fun of the sock drawer."
I told the sales manager that I would be happy to do as he asked but was curious about the reason for his request. He looked at me sternly. "I don't want you to make fun of it because it works! I tell all of my sales people that if they are having a terrible day, where nothing is going right, they might as well go home and straighten out their underwear drawer."
After thinking about that comment, I had to agree. It doesn't matter if the source of counterbalance sounds silly to others; change-adept people know what works for them.
Leaders who encourage employees to develop counterbalance find that, beyond building a more change-adept workforce, there are additional business benefits. The president of CalTex in Kuala Lumpur told me that his company pays for any kind of training course that employees want to take—the only exceptions being martial arts and cooking classes. He said that the most popular course is singing lessons. This was not totally unexpected since Malaysian employees regularly frequent karaoke bars after work. What he didn't anticipate, however, was the degree to which employees' singing lessons improved their ability in giving work-related presentations. People conquered stage fright and became comfortable with standing in front of groups and expressing their ideas. In fact, the only complaint from the president of the company was, "Now they think they can sing!"
So, as the year progresses, remember to take good care of yourself. Encourage your staff, coworkers, and team members to visit friends, to play, to laugh, to straighten out their sock drawers—and to sing. Doing so will result in a more resilient organization. And that is very good for business.