Recently, we welcomed our second cohort of Free Agents into the pilot. It finally prompted me to sit down and try to distill the basic framework I use when I enter a new workplace. It may also have general applicability to any Change Agent in the public service.
Success as a Free Agent (for me) is a four step process.
Acknowledge that you are a disruption to your new group
- You are an outsider touted as having superior expertise
- You are replacing someone they liked, or are keeping the job away from someone else they would prefer–possibly one of them
- You are asking them to change their beliefs or practices, without having historical or cultural context to appreciate why things are and how they came to be
- Don’t pretend. Find the reason to appreciate what everyone has to offer
- Put the most amount of relationship building into the people who have the most reason to dislike you
- Talk to people to figure out who has what skills and expertise
- Share time and knowledge freely; listen carefully, learn daily, praise often and openly
- Get the team involved in shaping initiatives that will ultimately affect them
- Lead when necessary, stand back when possible, boss never.
- Learn about problems, failed fixes, and potential solutions from everyone.
- Ask questions, suggest areas for exploration, encourage participation, and capture everything. There's untapped wisdom already in the organization.
- Accept blame fully but share credit widely
- (not that the project was ever yours in the first place)
- Prepare the team to take over the work after you go
- Prepare yourself that what you’ve let behind was a starting point for development.
- If they refine it, that’s success.
- If they replace it with something else because it pointed toward an even better solution, that’s success.
- If it remains unchecked, undeveloped, unchallenged… it’s not failure, but the innovative spirit didn’t rub off. Reflect on why that might be.