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Agents of Change: Harnessing External & Internal Pressures as Opportunities for Change


Today, I was lucky enough to sit in on a panel about harnessing external and internal pressures as opportunities for change at the Next Generation of Government Training Summit. The panel consisted of:

  • Steve Ressler, Founder and President of GovLoop,
  • Joseph Lovett, Producer and Director of the film Going Blind,
  • Linda Jacobs Washington, President and CEO of the Washington Consulting Team, and
  • Marylouis Uhling, Associate Assistant Administrator for Management in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention at the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The panel was moderated by Teresa Shea, Relationship Manager with the National Institutes of Health at the Center for Information Technology (CIT), and David Bray, Executive Director and Senior National Intelligence Service Executive with the National Commission for Review of Research and Development Programs of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Each offered great insight into how to make real changes in federal government. Below, I outline five key topics that they cover (1) mustering change to deal with pressure, (2) making change with outside pressures, (3) creating external pressure to foster change, (4) pushing forward and navigate the system without upsetting the organization’s political environment, and (5) handing off organizational change after it is already rolling.

Mustering Courage to Deal with Pressure 

Marylouis Uhling asserts that you need to “speak truth to power.” What does this mean? You must establish yourself as someone with integrity in your organization and not simply be a yes person. Individuals may not always agree with you; however, they will want to hear from you if they know that you are speaking with integrity. When working for change in your organization and going against leadership, think about what the worst thing that can happen to you in this specific situation. If you really think about it, it probably isn’t that bad, maybe you don’t get promoted or have to find a new job. It is probably more important to speak up instead of letting an idea or issue fester inside you, ultimately causing you to leave the organization anyways. If you speak truth to power, you will build a reputation of change within the organization.

Making Change with Outside Pressures

Linda Jacobs Washington states that individuals need to be proactive in looking at outside pressures and assessing how they will either change your organization or inhibit your ability to make changes. Your team needs to think about what can potentially happen in a situation, what you can do to avoid or solve potentially problems, and come up with innovative ideas to make changes that will be accepted by outside pressures. It is extremely important not to think about what cannot happen, but to think about what can happen. Ms. Washington, as a senior executive, finds that she truly enjoys listening to employees about issues, as long as they present the problem with a solution. If you know an issue is about to happen from an outside pressure, you can do something about it by thinking ahead and brainstorming solutions.

Creating External Pressure to Foster Change

Marylouis Uhling finds that you need to create a group to foster change and conduct research to find numbers that support your change. Agencies respond well to groups because it shows that a large number of people desire the change, and to numbers, as it portrays that the change is both wanted and will be positive for the organization. It is essential to look for the issues that are truly important for you and what you want to see changed, talk about potential solutions to these, and bring them as a group to a leader in your organization.

Pushing Forward and Navigate the System without Upsetting the Organization’s Political Environment

Steve Ressler notes that you need to know when to play your cards. Change is good, but you need to prioritize the issues that are important to you or the things that need to be changed sooner than others. Individuals must identify the big ideas, know the solutions for those, and push hard on them. Also, when presenting the change to your boss, as stated before, it is important to find a group that supports you. If you really want to make a change, it may be better for you to make it seem like it was your boss’s idea! In the end, all good things take time. The idea is 1-percent, but the hard part is execution and putting the change in motion.

Handing Off Organizational Change After It Is Already Rolling

Linda Jacobs Washington asserts that you need to be a champion for change in your organization. You are going to have to identify someone, either a current employee or new hire, you can hand off the change you put in motion. It is time for you to give back and be the champion for someone else, specifically by mentoring a future leader in change.

What Do You Think? 

How do you harnessing external and internal pressures as opportunities for change?

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Tags: career, human resources, leadership, miscellaneous, nextgengov, project management

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