I remember as a young Airman being told, “The only thing constant in the Air Force is change.” The things and processes that have changed over the years is something I couldn’t quantify if I tried. However, I don’t recall ever seeing the scope of changes with which we are dealing with right now. I have learned we can’t undo things from the ground level; all we can do is help each other get through it and become better on the other side.
This latest sweep of changes began with the draw-down DoD-wide that made us the smallest we have been since inception. Even though the mission didn’t change, we were losing great people again who were desperately needed. This sucked because we didn’t know who was going and who was staying. Those with quality issues had a really good idea they were gone, but those in the AFSC’s getting butchered didn’t know what was going to happen. The standards were not clear here. Those who applied for TERA were ran through the mud with missed deadline after missed deadline and there was zero communication from above. I applied for this and was on a 4-month emotional roller coaster. Those who made it through this era were left with a bitter taste in their mouth and with the realization they were now replaceable cogs in the wheel. This was very uncomfortable working next to the guy who the wing commander told was second fiddle to someone else in the same shop.
Before we really had a chance to bounce back from this (although, I don’t think we really have yet), we again found a way to make it happen and continued to move the ball forward. It was not easy, but it did force us to be smarter and more efficient. And…then…came the Forced Distribution and SCOD EPRs. We were just told we are replaceable and then immediately told we are going to be a ‘3’ or a Promote. Even though, I agree we need to get rid of the 3-, 4-, or 5- mindset; they put 5 ratings on the EPR and expected us to not associate this new rating system in the same manner. The communication throughout this process was very clunky and created a lot of anxiety. Again, this was another change that continued to flip the culture and caused a lot of people to separate. I don’t even have the energy to start with our new EPME, so let’s move on.
This history lesson may not have been required for most of you, but it provides context for how we deal with change. If you are on our Facebook page, you know I am a book nerd and my favorite book on this topic has been played out in front of me for each of these events. The book is Who Moved My Cheese? and it features four characters dealing with change in a very simplistic way. I have read this book at least 7 times and have learned something new each time.
Hem, Haw, Sniff and Scurry are two mice and two mice-sized people trapped in a maze hunting for cheese. The maze symbolizes the world and the cheese is a symbol for our careers and livelihood. Sniff was a mouse who used his strong sense of smell to sniff for the new cheese or the coming changes so he can take advantage it. He was like those who could see what was coming before it actually happened. He would be one of those rare people who was already prepared before the change happened.
Scurry was also a mouse and he would scurry to the new change without fighting it. He knew the quicker he accepted this new reality, the quicker his life could move on. He would be the person who was getting his run time down before fit to fight became official. He would have been working on his resume during the cuts just in case he was gone and he would be the person working on the right things to get promoted during this new forced distribution world.
Then there is Haw who is a little person who had trouble accepting this new reality and eventually was able to laugh at his resistance to change and adapt. He was able to learn from his mistakes and ultimately find a way to thrive in the new system. Haw represents most of us. We push back in the beginning hoping things will return to how they were. We eventually see the writing on the wall that it will not return to “normal” and adapt.
Finally, there is Hem who is the other little person who refuses to change. He remained in his old funk wondering were his “cheese” went and felt he was entitled to getting some more of his old cheese without changing with the times. He represents those who refused to lose the belly or stick with “I only run when I am chased’ mentality. He would be one of those who refuse to change anything to make himself more promotable in this new system. Hems are those who get left behind because they can’t stomach the change.
I have been one of these four at different points in my life and career and have learned there is not a best choice for everyone. There are certain things I was passionate about and scurried to them hoping to build the momentum needed to push the change. There are those things I was a Hem with hoping they would not succeed. Most of the time though I am the one laughing at my folly as I stumble through the new change.
Instead of worrying about your old cheese, weigh the options you have and take control of the change. Do not let it take control of you.