How to survive a riptide … Professionally!

While this may seem like a crazy title for a blog essay, I wanted to share some insights that are both practical for beachgoers as summer approaches and hopefully helpful to professionals dealing with changing dynamics and “dangerous tides” in their workplaces!

I had the chance last week to be in Florida for a board meeting and after the opening night board dinner, went out for a quick stroll on the beach as the sun was setting.  A warm and lovely night, a beach filled with shells and other walkers but no one out swimming in the very warm night air and water.  I asked my host why no one was out in the surf and he mentioned the dangerous riptides in the area and pointed over to a warning sign.  While not exactly that sign I have included in this essay, nonetheless a notice a warning to swimmers of the dangers and precautions of riptides.  the sign stuck with me and thus this story of oceanic metaphors.

While I am hopeful that few of us have encountered actual riptides in the surf, I am certain that many of us have dealt with dangerous “tides” in our companies and organizations.  I had the chance to be part of three or four major corporate restructurings during my last few years at Coke and I now have a number of clients and friends dealing with major upheavals professionally.  In these circumstances, I want us to reflect on and apply the advice from the sing above and work hard to “Break the grip of the rip” in the ever changing landscapes of our work environments.  Lets look at each point of advice from the “Rip Currents” sign and apply them professionally:

1.) “Don’t fight the current.” After just a bit of research I found out that the huge majority of rip tide linked fatalities comes from swimmers trying to “fight the current” and swim directly back to shore, ultimately becoming fatigued and drowning in the waves.  The same seems true in the landscape of corporate restructurings.  Don’t try to “fight the current” and “swim against the tide” of what the company had decided to do.  Organizations so often come to these inflection points for reasons of lack of growth, innovation, lack of competitive differentiation, or lack of productivity and see organizational restructuring as the only way to cut cost and boost EBITDA and EPS.  While we can debate those issues in another essay, in these circumstances organizations are often desperate to cut jobs, save costs and improve profitability (and hopefully productivity) and it’s rarely productive to try to “fight” those trends/decisions.

2) “Swim out of the current, then to shore.”  As you can see from the helpful diagram, it recommends swimming or floating “with the current”, looking for “escape points” to be released from the tide and head to shore.  Often “riptide advice” includes the idea of swimming or floating “parallel” to the beach in order to find a weak spot or a release point of the current.  Such good advice to apply professionally!  Once in the midst of organizational turmoil, find spots or moments when you are “swimming parallel to shore,” looking for new structures/constructs that you might find productive for yourself or your team.  As the sign shows, it may take some time and some”swimming” before the escape points are found, but the only way to find them is to “go with the tide/current” as you are looking for a safe release!

3) “If you can’t escape, float or tread water.”  Don’t exhaust yourself needlessly fighting the current!  Our ability to float or tread water professionally never feels very productive, but it may be REQUIRED to get yourself in position to find that release point a bit later in the process.

4) “If you need help, call or wave for assistance.”  Too often our pride gets in the way of “asking or waving” for help in the work environment.  If you don’t feel good about any sources of help from inside your company or enterprise, look outside for coaches, mentors or others that are not “in the rip current” with you, who might have a “fresh perspective” and the strength to help you navigate your way to shore.

Well that’s enough of the “rip current” metaphor for today, but remember that you aren’t in the surf alone, so many have had to deal with this same dynamic, these same dangerous and destabilizing “tides!” Try to remember a few points of this advice and find ways to “break the grip of the rip” professionally!!