Change is a fickle beast. Whether there’s too much change, not enough change, or just the right amount of change, there will be people who are inherently unhappy. Being a change agent can be challenging, especially when you find yourself in a new place as a new professional.
Learn the Culture You’re Entering – Quickly
Part of being a new professional frequently involves starting that new position at a new institution. Every institution has a different culture, and each division, department, and office has a different culture, as well. There will be similarities to other places or experiences we’ve had, but we need to remember that we are somewhere new.
It’s essential to do everything we can to learn about the culture we’re entering as quickly as possible without stereotyping or making assumptions. This can be accomplished through researching, observing, and asking questions. Talk with supervisors, co-workers, or students to learn more about the new environment. Refrain from throwing the following into every conversation: “Well, at such and such university, we did things like this, so if we just changed this, blah blah blah…” It’s great that you have experiences, but you need to learn about where you are now. Before we can implement change, we need to have an understanding of why things are presently the way they are.
We also have to be respectful of the fact that we’re the ones entering a new culture, so we need to be respectful of it. Other than general respect, we aren’t owed anything by the new culture. We can’t – and we shouldn’t – expect it to change at the drop of a dime because of our own cultures and backgrounds. A personal example for this relates to experiences I’ve had with some new people entering conservative universities and warnings I received when I joined those communities. It pains me to see people who outright disrespect the culture of a university and the student body based off of assumptions that conservative means “close-minded, un-inclusive, hateful, and bigoted,” when those assumptions are what are actually close-minded, un-inclusive, hateful, and bigoted.
Challenge the Process – Appropriately
Some processes have deep political roots. Some people get caught up in saying, “Well, we’ve always done it that way…” Other people forget that we can benchmark against similar institutions. We all think our institutions are unique sunflowers, and while that is true to an extent, we are not always as special as we think we are.
Once again, respectfully researching, observing, and asking questions are vital in challenging the process. We should never feel so stifled that asking questions about processes or decisions makes us nervous or fearful. We need to be okay with the fact that we won’t always get the answers we want (sometimes we won’t get answers at all), but that shouldn’t stop us from inquiring! We have to know who we’re talking to, how they best respond to challenging questions, and how we can utilize that information to challenge effectively and appropriately — we can ask questions without being jerks.
Advocate for Change – Realistically
Advocate for change that has a purpose, not just change for the sake of change. Be realistic in what you’re looking for and with your expectations. The reason “we’ve done it this way forever” isn’t an excuse to change or remain the same.
Evaluate each situation individually ask:
- Am I still meeting the purpose?
- Could I be more efficient or more effective?
Then decide if something needs to be changed. Advocate for changes you’re passionate about and you’ll know it when you feel it.
Finally, we need to DO things to actually create change! Be thankful for small wins. They’ll add up before you realize it. Looking back, you could be in a completely different place than you were when you started. Being an agent of change doesn’t mean swooping in one day and changing everything. It involves analyzing where you are and the situation you’re in, educating yourself, being respectful, being realistic, and getting your hands dirty.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Paul Pyrz on Leadership Programs