The ability to navigate change in today’s unpredictable business world is a skill that can help give you a leg up and advance your career. “Navigating change can involve making tough decisions and not being afraid to take risks,” says Lisa Witte, vice president and general manager of portable analytical instruments at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Here, she provides her perspective on how to ride the waves of change and come out on top.
Q: How have you successfully navigated change at your company?
A: I didn’t go in with preconceived notions. I went in and listened. I assessed the team, observed how they worked together and then determined what changes needed to be made to ensure success for the entire team. In times of change, you have to make decisions and they need to be done pretty quickly. Otherwise, it can be hard to make further changes down the road.
When I started at Thermo Fisher, I didn’t know the technology and I didn’t know the specific kinds of customers who use the technology. But I surrounded myself with a great team of true experts. In addition, Thermo Fisher has a strong formula for running a business, which I think strengthens the company overall and allows new managers who aren’t experts in the field to be set up for success.
Q: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in times of great change in your career?
A: I’ve learned that you need to be patient. When I came into this business, we had three small companies coming together as one to form what is now known as PAI. We brought them to one site, our PAI Center of Excellence in Tewksbury in two stages. When we did that, I didn’t at first realize how hard it was going to be to build a new culture for those three groups. We had to come up with a common structure and we had to address the challenges of becoming part of a large company. Some employees liked working for a small company and they weren’t willing to take on bigger responsibilities or manage different company dynamics.
You also have to allow the change to take hold long enough to make an assessment. You have to allow people to make changes and allow them to fail and celebrate the failure so that people understand it is ok to fail. But then you have to move on quickly after failure. Some people become so invested in a certain project or plan that they’ll do anything to make it succeed. When something is not working out, you have to recognize that and move to the next option.
Q: How have you successfully readjusted or reset when goals and priorities you’ve set have been upset by change?
A: During one point in my career, I was working for a company that was undergoing a lot of change. The market landscape was quickly changing and I realized it was never going to be a growth market. So I took a leap of faith and left that job for an opportunity in a different industry that truly excited me. The challenge was that I had signed a non-compete from a previous job not to work in that industry for a number of years, so I had to set up a special arrangement with my new company where I had to work off campus and on special projects until my non-compete was up.
Through these experiences, I’ve become very adaptive. I’m also optimistic. I’ve always believed that if you work hard, good things will come your way. I’ve worked hard and made tons of connections, which have opened opportunities for me when I needed them most.
Q: What are some words of advice you could give businesswomen about navigating uncertain times?
A: I mentor several employees at Thermo Fisher and people always ask me, “How did you plot out your career?” The truth is, I haven’t plotted out my career. I would also say you have to take chances and be willing to take leaps. Being willing to make a change—internally or externally—and being willing to move for your career can certainly increase your personal stock.
Finally, I don’t take myself too seriously. Sometimes you have to sit back and relax and let the chips fall where they may.