Kicking the Ant Pile

by John Reaves Whitaker, VP – Talent Acquisition at DentalOne Partners.

I think most of us would admit that being a control freak is a frustrating (and ultimately losing) proposition. At work, our ability to “control” things is usually more dependent upon the company cruising on auto-pilot, business as usual, allowing us to have some sense of security in our ability to manage our day. But the reality is that your employer has the same tenuous grasp on control as we do – it’s all situational; it’s an illusion that gives you a false sense of comfort. So what happens when the company is turned on its ear and “business as usual” gets rocked?

In the mood for some social experimentation?

Try this (Texans will truly appreciate this) – go outside, find a fire ant pile and give it a good kick. Note the immediate reaction as 10,000 little creatures scramble madly to action – there’s no plan, they just know it’s time to move, and the structured “pile” now becomes a morass of jumbled, frantic activity. You have just successfully witnessed a metaphor for a company during a crisis. It’s not pretty, there’s no clear direction or goal, and you have a lot of confused creatures running around full of fear and anxiety to the point they may bite each other while seeking the “real” cause of the issue. [Authors note: it’s best not to try this experiment with flip-flops]

The downside of this kind of chaos, of course, is that a crisis usually comes with a price before it turns around. But there is an upside, and believe it or not, there are several revelations that can only come during times of duress.

So there you are, one of the ants in a pile that just got whacked. My Pop had a saying, “You don’t know what’s in a tube until you squeeze it.” As a new company works through a crisis situation, it’s critical that you come to clear & immediate terms with these facts:

  • Things are not the same. To continue to do things the way you always have is tempting fate (yours.) You’re more creative than you know. Have you tried everything? Of course not – times like these are when innovation is born.
  • Despite appearances, you just assumed more control of your career. They don’t hand out medals in times of peace; now is your opportunity to make a significant impact on your career arc.
  • “Strategy” becomes a compromised luxury – your long-range plans need to be truncated to the point of days instead of weeks or months.

And what about the other ants? Yet another benefit of stressful times – You’ll get an unfiltered view of what’s inside the “tube.” Watch, learn, and make a mental note of those who:

  • Run silent, run deep ~ People who do their best to become invisible, hoping to lay low until the crisis is passed.
  • Play politics ~ You know these folks, right? They work as hard passing the buck as they do addressing the situation.
  • Roll with it ~ Ridiculous, right? Not necessarily, but the impact of your attitude during a stressful situation is a proven commodity. Being positive, charging forward, and embracing the opportunity gives you the best chance to succeed. Find others of the same mindset, and there’s no crisis than cannot be overcome.

This is your moment ~ think of the awakening you’ll have as you not only discover more about yourself, but of your colleagues as well.

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