Career advice guest post

Harnessing Change Through Uncertainty: Citizens’ Stephanie Sleeper on Lessons She Learned Along the Way

If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that change is the only constant. For many, change can cause paralyzing fear. I am no stranger to change, as it has been the catalyst that has propelled my career.

I spent several years as a branch manager at various banks. Six months after I began my career at Citizens, the organization underwent major shifts. I knew I had a choice to make. I could sit by and passively let the change happen or take action and guide my own fate. I knew I had the knowledge and experience to help educate others on these changes, and I raised my hand for the opportunity. In doing so, it opened one door after another. By pivoting my fear to action, uncertainty to growth, and change to opportunity, my career was propelled from branch manager to SVP, Head of Third-Party Risk Management at Citizens.

If anything is certain, life without change no longer exists. According to the Pew Research Center, over 22 million jobs were lost during the height of the pandemic, and over 71% of the workforce shifted to remote work. Now, many companies are moving toward a hybrid-work model, and while it may still be a while before things return to “normal,” we all must evaluate how we’re going to navigate change in an intentional way. As we look to the future, here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way to harness change as an opportunity for growth.

Keep the Long Game in Mind

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” I have found that it can also be the most powerful way to propel your career. Look for the skills you need to reach your goals and take advantage of every opportunity to learn a new skill. I took advantage of many development tools and resources throughout my career that provided me with the foundational knowledge to navigate unexpected change.

At Citizens, I’ve partaken in webinars, online classes and bi-annual Development Weeks, which offer a chance for colleagues to sign-up for more targeted courses to develop new skills or hone existing ones. While companies are continuously upping their reskilling and upskilling opportunities, it’s up to you to take advantage of them. I have found that by increasing your foundational knowledge, hidden interests or skills can be uncovered, which can greatly improve your career trajectory and make you more competitive in the job market.

It’s also important to be comfortable seeking out new projects or even a lateral move that will help advance your career in the future. While it may seem daunting at the moment, these opportunities will not only help grow your skill sets but your network as well. With a more diverse set of experiences under your belt, you’ll be better prepared to take on new career opportunities and navigate unexpected hurdles along the road.

Programs like Citizens’ TalentUp invest in employees by creating in-demand capabilities, as well as upskilling and reskilling opportunities to ready employees for careers of the future. These programs are critically important to career longevity and trajectory. With recent dramatic shifts in the workplace, companies are increasingly offering these types of programs. If you’re in a position to evaluate your next move, it’s important to consider whether a company is looking out for your long-term trajectory as well.

Look for Career Advocates

Mentors and sponsors are critical to career growth and progression. Most companies offer employee resource groups, and I’ve found that these are an excellent way to find mentors. Being part of an Employee Resource Group has exposed me to a network of almost 3,000 colleagues that I may not otherwise have had the chance to work with.

It is critical that as we receive opportunities to learn, network and grow, we also provide rising professionals with the opportunities to do the same. Throughout my career, I’ve had incredible mentors who took a deep interest in helping me excel. A senior manager at Citizens helped me navigate leadership roles and took the time to introduce me to her fellow colleagues, allowing me to grow my own network. These introductions were a huge benefit as I navigated various organizational shifts, providing me with the connections to ask the right questions to the right people.

Now, as a female executive at Citizens, I am deeply committed to paying it forward. I helped launch a pilot program that allows executive women to mentor junior colleagues by providing workshops for skill development, one-on-one career coaching and networking opportunities with executives across the bank.

There are so many ways to get involved in mentorship programs, either as a mentor or mentee — and they can exist outside of your employer too. Consider researching local community programs or greater professional networks you can join to help grow your pool of potential mentors. Having multiple mentors and advocates can help propel your career exponentially.

Confidence is Key

Last on the list, but possibly my most important piece of advice, is to know your value and own your purpose. Confidence is key, and for me, the key to having confidence was knowing exactly what I brought to the table and my driving purpose at work. We must be intentional about how we show up at work because, ultimately, that will impact how we are perceived.

For example, I worked with a woman I knew was an extremely hard worker, intelligent and skilled. However, she did not have a college degree, which heavily impacted her confidence. I knew that she had something special, and I continued to coach her. She began raising her hand for projects, contributing to meetings and capitalizing on the skills and experience she did have, rather than focusing on what she did not. Slowly but surely, she built her confidence up, and it showed in her work. Long story short, she was recently promoted to Vice President.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for navigating these stressful times, but if there’s one silver lining, it’s that we can now more readily predict change and strategically navigate it. As hybrid-work plans fluctuate, we must also remember the opportunities that these changes can bring. Seize the chance to take on that stretch assignment, expand your skill set, or make that important introduction. You never know just how close you may be to your next defining moment.

Stephanie Sleeper headshotStephanie Sleeper is the Senior Vice President and Head of Business Services Risk at Citizens, North America. She is responsible for Citizens’ Enterprise Change framework and risk management activity related to Technology, Cyber Security, Enterprise Data, Integration and Third Party. She is a member of Citizens’ Business Services Operating Committee and former Chair of the PRISM Multicultural Business Resource group.

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