How to Deal With Change at a Huge Company

June 9, 2016, 8:52 PM UTC
Young businessman on phone with head in hands
Photograph by Leonora Saunders via Getty Images

The Fortune 500 Insiders Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. John Donovan, chief strategy officer at AT&T, has answered the question: How do you deal with change at a large corporation?

When you’re a 140-year-old company, you’ve been through a few changes. Time and technology wait for no one. Demand for data and video has grown more than 150,000% since 2007. And now, more than 130 million hours of HD video cross our network every day. That’s why we made the decision to re-skill—not retrain—our massive workforce for the digital, software-driven world and shift AT&T (T) to becoming a software company.

Change can be scary at first. Imagine being someone who’s spent the last couple of decades becoming proficient in one area of technology, but then realizing by 2020 the skill may not be necessary in the changing technology landscape. However, I’d argue it’s the company’s responsibility to provide help—whether in the form of educational resources, career guidance, or people—for employees to deal with this change. From there, it’s up to every employee to determine what new skill he or she would like to learn.

It may sound cliché, but I’m a firm believer in a “keep-it-simple” philosophy. It’s one that my mother believed in while raising 11 kids in a three-bedroom, 1,700-square foot house in the inner city of Pittsburgh. And it’s one that has allowed me to deal with changes along my own career path.

I believe the best way to deal with change is to realize the new heights you can reach personally, but also to not overlook the impact it will have on others. Whether it’s colleagues, your children, or your significant other, there’s something extraordinary in developing your own framework and its ability to influence those around you each day.

Build your personal approach
It’s not magic: You just have to think about it and build it. Establish a long-term vision, create a plan, and ensure the discipline is there to adhere to benchmarks along the way. Every day won’t be an easy one, but if you understand your plan, you’ll realize each one builds toward a greater good—both for yourself and the company.

Look beyond yourself
I’m a believer in striving for results, not accolades. Find your role on the team. Success nor failure happens alone in a company. Understand how you can affect change within yourself and your team, and then factor this into your personal approach. Don’t be shy to ask questions or make suggestions, and absolutely grab hold of the learning opportunities offered to you. They are there and can only benefit as change occurs.


Bring your soul to work
Be who you are. This is what’s going to make you great and able to effectively manage and influence the change happening around you.

I know we’re asking a lot of our employees, but we think the opportunities for them are great, too. And there are some amazing stories coming from our employees going through this change. One woman told me her reason to work so hard in earning a nanodegree was to inspire her kids. It inspired me.

I’m frequently asked if it’s really possible for all of our workers to do this. The truth is, it will take us years to complete this transformation. But this is clearly where we need to go. There’s something exciting about knowing how you can leave your mark on this type of change. The good news: Everyone can affect change, no matter the size of the company.

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