A Book Apart

Meet the Book: Surviving Change at Work by Vanessa Gennarelli

Jul 31, 2023

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Portion of the light teal Surviving Change at Work book cover and a black and white badge that reads Coming Soon.

Surviving Change at Work

by Vanessa Gennarelli

We can’t wait for you to read Surviving Change at Work, a new book by Vanessa Gennarelli, launching September 12.

In the meantime, we’re giving you a peek into the book with our Meet the Book Q&A series. Read on to learn how Vanessa helps empower employees to step into their power at every level, who she wrote this book for, and what the secret is behind her unique change management framework.

A Book Apart: What was the initial spark that motivated you to write this book?

Vanessa Gennarelli: I wrote this book to help employees at rapidly-growing companies. Because as a manager, I spotted two patterns:

First, for millennials, and even more so for Gen Z, we’re motivated by mission. We want to work for companies that have a positive influence on the world. In practice, holding that expectation can result in a lot of heartbreak when the company doesn’t live up to our ideals. I noticed that folks would get really attached, and react emotionally any time the company changed. As an industry, we have few to no tools to cope with this experience.

Second, we’re hired for our expertise in a certain domain—engineering, product, marketing, etc. But to succeed in a company structure, there are all these other skills outside of your core domain that you’re just expected to know. Skills like knowing how to: get buy-in for your ideas, assess the business environment, collaborate with leadership, or decide to leave your current role (and what to say when you do!).

I wrote this book to fill in those gaps.

ABA: How long did it take you to write this book?

VG: About two years—I started with a collection of patterns I’d noticed during my experience leading teams, then conducted original research for the book. I interviewed dozens of tech veterans, from CEOs to investors to engineering managers. I was also lucky to have excellent peer reviewers from different disciplines in the tech industry. Each chapter focuses on a common theme that happens during a company’s lifecycle, and readers will hear a number of perspectives on each theme.

ABA: When/where did you feel most in a state of flow while writing this book? Least?

VG: Most: Developing a change management framework that is agile enough for tech teams to actually use it. I call it AMICUS—because it makes change more friendly—and it’s already helping teams adapt to change around reduction-in-force, the focus on AI, and coping with leadership changes. I’m really proud of the workshop that came out of the book, and hope we can help more folks see opportunity in change.

Least: So, anyone who says that editing is easy is lying. My editors at A Book Apart are brilliant, and their expectations for quality are high—our readers are discerning and expect the best. This book is not an MVP—it’s a full version release that’s been bug-bountied.

ABA: How did you come up with the title for this book?

VG: 😬 ChatGPT came up with it. I’d read about another author who came up with his book title by running ads, and thought I’d try it out.

ABA: In one sentence, what is your book’s driving, or most important, idea?

VG: Organizations are going to change, but you can make those changes work for you—and I’m going to show you how.

ABA: Who did you write this book for?

VG: This book is for the folks who are in their first, second, or even third rodeo at a tech job, and find themselves frustrated. While work can be a challenge, it doesn’t have to be so hard. If you feel like every meeting is a ten-round boxing match, or you don’t feel heard, or you complain about your job to folks at home, this book will help.

For leaders at tech companies, this book will help your teams efficiently find clarity about what’s coming next, and build the muscle to adapt to change. It will also give you a clear, authentic framework for rolling out change to your team.

ABA: What part of the book was most challenging to write?

VG: The very end, the chapter about when to move on from your role. I feel like as an industry we’re in a period of transition—from the pandemic, to returning to offices, to the attention AI is getting—and transitions are challenging. At the same time, so many of us are questioning what work is for, and if our priorities are the right ones. It’s a cloudy time for decision-making, and I hope the tools I’m sharing will help.

ABA: Why will readers want to learn about this topic from you?

VG: This is a path that I’ve tread well. I’ve been a part of seven rapidly-growing organizations, led teams that grew from four to forty people, and also have a business degree from Stanford.

My background is as an instructional designer and I did my graduate research at Harvard and MIT, so I bring that experience to bear in the structure of the book, and in the insights I provide.

ABA: How do you hope the web will change once people read and apply lessons in your book?

VG: I might abstract the question one layer up—how will the organizations that make the web change once people read and apply these lessons.

My mission is to change organizational thinking from adversarial where it’s often “us vs. them” thinking or management vs. the rank-and-file—to collaborative where employees are empowered to step into their power at every level, and they treat their relationship to the company as a conversation.

Through that mindset shift, there is more ease, clarity, and informed decision-making. It also makes negotiation more approachable, and working with leaders less scary.

ABA: How did you choose the cover color for this book?

VG: It’s the blue on the walls in my dining room. It’s called “Dix Blue.”