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How to Be the Change You Want to See in the Workplace

I had a discussion with a colleague recently, who expressed how behind the government is compared to the private sector technologically and perhaps culturally in many ways. This may be true. But I believe the gap doesn’t have to be so large.

Private companies are like speed boats and small yachts. They can move and adjust quickly due to their small size. In the end, they can “fail” and start over without widespread consequences.

But governments are like ocean liners. They are meant to be stable and consistent; the sheer size makes them less nimble. They can’t afford to take as many risks as private companies because they can’t afford to fail. They don’t serve the bottom line; they serve the public.

For good reasons, governments are naturally late adapters to technological changes. But that doesn’t mean governments can’t learn to adapt more quickly and efficiently.

So, how can you help your organization get better? Be the change!

The Secret Ingredient

The secret ingredient is you. That’s right. Organizations are made of people just like you, who either help maintain the status quo or push the organization forward.

We’ve all been there. We see something we don’t like and we wish it would be different. But then time passes and everything stays the same. Unless…

 “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better it’s not.” – Dr. Seuss

We all know this, along with a myriad of similar adages that put the responsibility for change on the person who wants it. That can seem overwhelming. You have the power to change the system because you are a part of the system. So, how can you – one person – make changes to a system that seems immutable? Let’s have a look at how staff and managers can influence organizational change.

How to Be the Change

People

Have you ever met someone who was just so full of energy that you felt like anything was possible? Or have you worked with someone so generous that you were touched enough to pay it forward?  Believe it or not, those people have influenced you, and they have influenced the culture. Sure, negativity can spread just as easily, but when actively countered by people who consistently bring the sunshine, the overall culture starts to brighten. Slow at first and then all at once, like the sunrise lights the day. Be the change you want to see in the workplace. Consistently show up as that change and eventually, the sun will rise.

Example: We have an administrative assistant who sits at our front door.  She always does her job with a smile and has a nice word to say to everyone. She’s always talking about how grateful she is for everything. She doesn’t realize it, but she helps everyone start their day off right. She contributes to the culture of kindness and positivity, which increases productivity and job satisfaction. She is a part of the culture, and despite her limited official power, she has a significant influence on our culture.

Processes

Processes can sometimes be like sacred cows that no one wants to touch, even though most people think some need to be modified.

If you are a part of a process and notice a significant issue or inefficiency, you should point it out. But more importantly, you have to identify the solutions, and sometimes you have to build the solution.

Example: Despite the agencywide goal of going paperless by 2017, we were not close to that goal by 2017. We still used paper to do the most basic function in government: review and approval. We’d recently gotten Sharepoint, but it wasn’t being used to its full capacity. I decided to learn it. And at about the same time, I befriended a few newer staff who were motivated and immensely talented. Together, a team of us four non-IT women developed the first full-fledged electronic sign-off system by 2018 – a system deemed more suitable than the contractor’s model. It became the model for the entire region and the “real” IT crew was quite impressed. Only a few other divisions adapted it, to their eventual dismay. When 2020 hit, our division barely missed a beat, while others had to scramble to find makeshift solutions for document approval.

Products

People make the products and people can change them. Depending on the type of deliverable and the issue you’d like to change, it can be a small tweak or a big change.

Example: I hired a bright and brilliant young lady in my first year as a supervisor. She came from another division but quickly learned the ropes. She was assigned a high-priority target that most people struggled to accomplish. But she found a way to do it! Then, unprompted, she developed a training to help others accomplish it too. She influenced people, processes and products all in one project. In fact, she influenced me greatly throughout her time on my team. In watching her work, I learned to develop trainings, make better presentations, and most importantly, saw how one person can influence dramatic and lasting change.

Practical Tips

Sometimes people can’t see the solutions as clearly as you can, so simply explaining an idea may not get you the traction you need. Here are a few ways to increase your sphere of influence.

  1. Be it. If you want to work in an environment where people are a certain way – say technologically savvy, kind, innovative, responsible, logical, etc. – focus on being just that in everything you do. Be that change.
  2. Build it. If you see an inefficiency or something you can modify with little effort, just do it. For example, make a training, a template, etc.
  3. Bring it. Share the concept with others so you can build a team around your ideas. This can help improve your idea and help you engage your colleagues. This is especially important if making the change is a big lift technically or requires significant buy-in from outside your current sphere of influence.

How can you be the change you want to see in your organization?

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected] And to read more from our Spring 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort.

Nefertiti is a Supervisory Life Scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She is passionate about employee engagement, mentoring and helping people and groups achieve their goals. Her leadership mantra is, “Prioritize people. Simplify processes. Celebrate progress.”

In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing and writing. Nefertiti is the mother of a curious and compassionate seven-year-old, with whom she enjoys rediscovering the world.

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