The 3 Options

I guess this is part four of my one part series (parts one, two & three) on layoffs and reorgs. For the record, I was right about the reorg following right behind the layoff.

In part three, I talked about the loss of control that layoffs cause. Reorgs just pile on to that, and then, every change that happens after that just makes that feeling worse. We get more and more defeated until we just can’t manage change at all.

In my first startup, I had a coworker who was like this. Every change was the end of the world and they were miserable for weeks, even about the smallest thing. I think I was so jaded after 13 years at AOL, where I think executives changed things just so they could justify their existence, that change just… doesn’t register all that much. Unless it impacts my actual happiness, I usually just adjust and move on.

I’d never thought through my personal calculus for how to react to a constantly changing workplace, so, to help my friend, I came up with a framework for how to handle change. I hope it helps you.

Given any change, you have three options:

  • Accept it
  • Fight it
  • Quit

That’s it. The more time you try to spend between those options, the more you will suffer. You need to intentionally decide which option you’re going with. You can decide to fight it and then give up and accept it. That’s fine. You can’t not fight it and not accept it, because you’ll just be miserable. You can’t not fight it and not quit… again, misery.

Accepting it doesn’t mean you like it or agree with it. It just means it’s not a big enough offense to fight it or quit. It means you might still be upset about it, but you’ll move on. It means you need to let it go and prepare for how you’ll exist within the new change.

Just complaining about the change is not fighting it. Complaining is between acceptance and fighting.

Fighting is strategic. Fighting takes a plan. Deciding to fight it means gathering allies, coming up with a counter proposal, working your connections and trying to make a change. Fighting means getting organized.

Complaining is a good way to make yourself a target without any upside, so be careful who you do it in front of. If you’re going to do it, tack on a proposal to the end so you can move into fighting mode.

There’s strategic complaining, which is a different topic, where you can complain publicly in an attempt to gather allies for the fight. That’s a calculated risk, and you need to be very careful about how you do it.

You should definitely let management know how a change has impacted you, but I would recommend doing it privately, and only as far up the management chain as you have influence. If you’re 12 managers away from the CEO, firing off a thousand word missive to them (or anyone more than one layer above you) is a great way to have some conversations you don’t want to be in (ask me how I know). Even if you’re only three layers of managers away, be careful.

Quitting is the last straw, but we need to remember that it is an acceptable option. We get so invested in our jobs that we forget that leaving them and finding something else to do is fine. It’s a good thing to move on. Now, quitting can take some time, but making the decision to dust off your resume and start job hunting can give you back some of the power you felt you lost.

There are whole books that could be written, and maybe have, about how to do all three of those options, but after 28 years in the industry, I haven’t found any new options to add – those three pretty much cover it.

By Kevin Lawver

Web developer, Software Engineer @ Gusto, Co-founder @ TechSAV, husband, father, aspiring social capitalist and troublemaker.