Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Ten Commandments" For Change Agents

Below are 10 distilled pieces of advice I've received over the past year or so. I'm sharing these with you in case they might be helpful. What they all boil down to is - do the basics well first, earn trust, and then do more. Let it be their way to begin with, so that eventually you can contribute to real, lasting, positive forward movement.
1. Do what is asked, meeting formal and informal requirements, staying flexible.
FIRST do what you have been asked to do, NOT what you think needs to be done.
2. When asking for action, give concise and complete background information.
NOT a dissertation's worth of paper - you are more passionate than most people, get over yourself - and NOT simply forwarding the most recent email - no they do not want to read the entire trail. 
3. Begin any communication with a "headline" - what is the purpose?
Your boss has about fifty million people breathing down his or her neck. If you interrupt them - you have three seconds to convince them not to shoo you away and get back to email. Avoid open-ended conversations! Avoid! Executives do not have those with regular people - do not annoy!
4. Everyone is overworked - minimize engagement to when action is required.
The rules differ from place to place. Find out how your boss defines "heads up" and only provide that. Definitely communicate if something is going wrong - crises multiply when you try to shove them under the rug.
5. Weekly update - work activities, progress, outcomes, notes. Calendar updates.
The update is verbal - you read it off your list during a meeting. A one-page handout is fine as a leave-behind. Day-to-day, try to get ten minutes on the phone in the morning to get on the same page. Avoid back-and-forth emails at all costs.
6. Quality = consistent, efficient, timely, standardized, meets requirements.
Give them the main meal first. That is NOT creativity, innovation, brainstorming, out-of-the-box. That is fun. That is for retreats - not regular day-to-day work.
7. Stay with the team. Maintain relationships, they're as important as the task.
Do not go off on your own. Even if you are right. Think in terms of moving incrementally toward a goal that all of you can see. The more you separate from the group and are an "outlier," the more of a distraction you become - and even counterproductive. Because instead of working together to make things better, the focus is on whether YOU as the self-designated change agent are correct, accurate, visionary, right, wrong or indifferent. Take the focus off of you.
8. Prioritize. Do the most important things first.
There is too much work. Do a quality job on the most important stuff. Don't try to do a crappy job of everything. Even though you may technically do more things, from the boss's perspective you are sloppy and can't be trusted with even the simplest of them.
9. Maintain work/life balance. Balance crunch time with down time. Avoid burnout.
Change agents work hard. Too hard. They tend to think that others can see it. They can't - they don't - they would rather you pace yourself and kept your good humor and relaxed attitude. When you get nervous and spun up, you make everybody else feel that way too. No good! Especially when everyone is under pressure anyway.
10. Keep the vision in mind, but build from the bottom up. Walk before you run.
Big-picture thinkers tend to want to start with the strategic plan and then implement. In government it's the opposite - you actually have to start with a bit at a time, and then fill in the pieces of the puzzle. Keep a list of the things you will do when the opportunity presents itself - your wish list - your dreams. But do not confuse them with a work plan.
Got any advice to add to this list? Let's hear it!