Monday, August 13, 2012

One Tip For Fostering Change In Organizations

Today I received an inquiry from one working inside a large government human service agency.   As is frequently the case, they were feeling frustrated by a work environment which is more concerned with maintaining the system rather than bringing about real change in the lives of the people they're suppose to serve.   They asked what they could do to get supervisors and fellow employees to focus more upon successful outcomes for clients rather than just going thru the motions.
My response:

Thanks for your question.  It's one I get a lot. Especially from those in the public sector.

In public bureaucracies, people get rewarded for 'checking boxes' and punished for rocking the boat (I interact a lot with public schools and see this all the time). The incentives are wrong. Employees rise up thru the system by 'follwing the rules' and thus senior leaders are the ones who've mastered the art of living 'inside the box'.

I find for the most part that the staff in public organizations aren't bad nor indifferent, mostly just beaten down by the system. Morale is poor. I bet if you asked a dozen of your fellow staff to describe a time when they tried to do something different in order to help a client, they'll report the result was getting their hands slapped. Wanting to keep their job, they won't do that again. Or they decide there's more to life than this and move to another organization.

Yours is not an uncommon concern.

One of the strategies you might want to try is asking 'Why?" 'Why' is a powerful question, for it gets people thinking about Business As Usual. So much of what goes on in organizations happens because that's the way it's always been done. We operate with policies and procedures crafted in 1995 or 1975 because no one stopped to ask 'Why are we doing it this way?'

Another positive to asking 'Why?" is that it's not threatening nor demanding. It's not 'We should do it this way" or "You don't care about results". It simply prompts people to think about their work and can get a great conversation rolling.

Give it a shot.

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