When school ended in May, I switched my workout from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. For some of you, that may be no big deal, but for me, it’s a big commitment! I’m not a morning person at all. The first few weeks, it was a struggle to get up at 5:10 and drive to spinning or circuit training in the pre-dawn chilly dark. My dog and cats didn’t even lift their heads from their pillows! Ten weeks later, the physical and mental benefits of early morning workouts are starting to show and I have more time after work to walk my dog or cook, but every morning I still want to hit the snooze button.
Organizations need to change, and that’s really hard, too. Budgets shrink, technology changes, and people just think of better ways to get the job done. Honestly assessing your current systems, brainstorming new ideas, persuading the bosses to let you try, and implementing the changes for long enough to see if they work—that’s a long hill to climb, whether your bike is on a road or in a gym.
Government is often accused of resisting change. Without competitors like a for-profit business has, there’s not always a sense of urgency around process improvement. Without true performance-based compensation, there’s not much incentive to change, either. New technology can be daunting, new processes can be complicated, and higher-ups can be resistant.
Even when we know that change is needed and we can actually see the potential or actual benefits of doing something differently, the swirling vortex of “We’ve Always Done It This Way” can flush any good idea right down the virtual toilet. There are lots of risks associated with change—will the current way be criticized if the new way works, will the new way give someone else an “in” with the boss, will my new idea fail to the tune of “I told you so” from co-workers and bosses? And even if the new way is great and effective, will I get any reward or credit for my idea? These are all real barriers to opening yourself and your office to change.
But if we are going to make government responsive to the changes in our society and entice smart young people to work in the public sector, we have to be open to new ideas and ready to change. We are constantly challenged to “do more with less”, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon. Innovation and Intrapreneurship are two words we hear a lot these days in a public sector context.
Feeling stuck? Here are a few ideas for opening your office to change:
- In any important staff meeting (budget kickoff, performance review), select one person to be the Designated Debater, with the responsibility to argue the other side of any idea expressed—especially the ideas that are the same as it’s always been done.
- Create the expectation that staff will challenge the status quo. Maybe the current way is the best way, but make sure that your staff feels comfortable asking “Why Do We Do It That Way?” without fear or concern.
- At least once a year, have an open brainstorming session where all staff can talk about things that they would change about the office, without judgment. Write them down and commit to assessing each situation sometime during the coming year.
- Pretend to be one of your “customers” and go through the process from their point of view. Can you identify awkward interactions or inefficiencies? In my office, we log into our system as a student and assess the effectiveness of our messages to them.
Time will tell if I’m fully dedicated to my new fitness regimen—especially once it gets cold—but I’m going to try my best to make that commitment to positive change. Hope you can, too!
Donna Dyer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
Awesome post, Donna, as usual. You raise so many excellent points that I’m not sure where to begin. Thus I’ll offer the following brief observations:
1) One aspect of life in general, and work in particular, is that the only constant is change, especially in today’s fast-evolving mobile/digital/virtual high-tech Information Age. This is true regardless of whether one works in the public or private sectors. Thus being change resistant or not even giving serious consideration to suggested positive change is a poor management practice that should be condemned.
2) One big problem in the public sector is that too many old-school managers not only still change resistant, but a subset of these folks are micro-managers who may in fact retaliate against staff for suggesting new and innovative ways of working. Employees who think “outside the box” may be labeled by recalcitrant managers is “not being team players” and thus shunned from priority projects — which stifles any current or future positive change.
Again, thanks for another superb post, Donna!
Thanks, David–I agree that it’s tough to “manage up” when change is needed and the manager is reluctant. Maybe that employee should seek out a new manager!