How to Embrace a Culture of Change

Change can be exciting, but also hard to implement. It can be especially difficult to adjust to new initiatives or mandates when your agency’s culture has yet to embrace the idea of change. It’s also important to remember that change isn’t just structural, but emotional too.

At this year’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit, retired Senior Federal Executive, Carmen Medina spoke about creating an environment that embraces change. Medina has had 32 years of experience in the Intelligence Community and is co-author of Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from WithinAs someone who is used to an environment that's constantly changing, Medina has learned how to adapt and get others around her on board as well. Here are some of her favorite “change hacks.”

Tip 1: Communicate better by listening more.

“The most effective communication you can have is to listen very closely to the issues and things people are bringing up,” Medina said. This requires you to talk less and listen more. Change happens when you listen to people’s ideas and not just your own. Start by creating an environment where people feel like they will be heard. Offer brainstorming sessions and meetings that allow for more discussion. Don't move at a faster speed than people can keep up with.

Tip 2: Find allies.

“Before you bring an idea up to your boss, find other people who will support your idea. Try out your idea by getting others to support it,” Medina suggested. “The number of supporters is more important than the purity of your ideas.” Talk with others and find like-minded people who will support your ideas and offer their own. The more support you have for an idea, the more likely you will be able to push for your ideas to be heard from your bosses and other leaders.

When it comes to your presentation, you do much better if you’re not presenting every single idea as your own. Create an environment where ideas are a collective movement. Don’t worry about the credit of an idea, and focus instead on the work. The more you focus on personal credit, the less effective you’ll be in getting supporters and advancing your actual goal. Remember that your idea isn't meant to benefit just you, but the entire group.

Tip 3: Stay positive.

“People tend to fall in love with the problem. They harp on what's wrong and lose sight of the solution space, which alienates people,” Medina said.

In many workplaces, “negative change agents” succeed. These are people who like to dwell on the bad things and continue to perpetuate what’s going wrong instead of trying to fix things. Instead, practice resilience. Remember the things you are passionate about and why you want to make a difference. Focus on how you can accomplish your goal and not what's standing in your way. Find someone you trust who you can talk to when things get hard. Remember that change can take a long time and the path isn't always easy. Change can take a toll on you, so make sure to take care of yourself physically, too.

Tip 4: Accept conflict.

You want to include people with different points of views. This increases the diversity of thought. “You want a little conflict,” Medina said. Remember that every person that asks you a question is showing a level of interest.

Engage people and recruit them as supporters. Encourage interruptions. Engagement is the best response to questions and critique. This gives you an opportunity to understand where you aren’t seeing eye to eye.

Medina encouraged everyone to be a “change agent.” This is someone who makes active decisions and resists being pulled along by his or her superiors with no opportunity for input. “Don’t be afraid to be negative and realize that failure is acceptable, because it shows that you have taken a risk,” Medina said.

This blog post is a recap of a session that took place at the recent Next Generation of Government Summit. Want to see more great insights that came out of NextGen? Head here.

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