You Are Standing In The Way Of Justice System Change
March 27, 2023 – In criminal justice settings, there is a constant flow of good ideas, better data, and opportunities for improvement. Most of us have been drinking from the change firehose for some time. And yet…not a whole lot has changed in the system.
When ACJI talks to justice leaders about what gets in the way of implementing change in their corners of the justice system, we hear about many of the same challenges:
- unhealthy organizational culture
- leadership changes
- budget cuts
- job vacancies
- too many competing interests
All valid obstacles to change, no matter if you work in the justice system or elsewhere. However, we think there’s more to it.
8 Ways You Are A Roadblock To Organizational Change
1 – Knowing Isn’t Enough
If you struggle at the dinner table to skip seconds on dessert even when you know all that sugar is bad for your health, how can you expect government agency workers to say “no” to a shortcut and “yes” to a more difficult way of doing things?
Perhaps if you skipped dessert just once and lost five pounds right away you’d be more likely to do dinner differently. But change is slow and uncertain. So…you eat the cake and hope for the best. The same is true at work.
Solution: Your environment and influences tend to pull you in the direction of status quo, not change. You might say, “just this once,” and then do it over and over again. Knowing your values, goals, and non-negotiables and having a team to keep you accountable will help you stay the course. (By the way, ACJI can help you with this. Ask us how.)
2 – ‘We Already Tried That’
No matter where you work — in a prison, a community-led reentry org, a courthouse, the list goes on — you have likely heard, “but we’ve already tried that.” Maybe you said it when the new hire joined the team and suggested the same thing you did 12 years ago. Or maybe you’re the new hire with enthusiasm to “do it right this time!”
Solution: If the idea is coming up AGAIN, it’s probably worth exploring. Given the nature of change in our industry — fast, unpredictable, and ever-changing — the context you tried something in last time is likely no longer relevant. Somewhere in those recurring good ideas are nuggets worth mining and pursuing. Have an open mind.
3 – Out With The Old
On the flip side of “We already tried that” is “Let’s start fresh.”
Talking about change can give the impression that what exists is no good. This will likely create defensiveness and resistance from those who have been around for a while. No one likes to feel wrong, especially if it means you’ve been wrong for years or decades.
Solution: If you are new to the team, ask lots of questions. Get buy-in from the people who tried your idea before. Don’t assume you can do it better and have all the answers. Instead, persevere with curiosity.
And if you aren’t new to the team, remember that you can always learn new tricks.
And if you are a leader, create environments that foster and celebrate learning and development.
4 – It Was Fun Until…
Ever have an exciting new idea and then your boss says something like, “I’d like to see more data” or “Write up a plan and I’ll consider it”.
Talk about a buzz kill. It’d be so much more fun if you could just wing it and forget the structure. But, the truth is, without a plan (you know, goals, checklists, and guidelines), work often ends up with inconsistencies and overinflated views of what is actually being done.
Solution: Take a breath. You’ll feel re-energized in the morning. If not, let people know you need support to make your ideas work. Plans can help get things moving and keep people on task. The fun is in the learning.
5 – Energy Drain
It is exciting to build something. And it feels good to pass the torch to someone else when you’ve done your part. Problem is, the torch often goes out because the new team members don’t share your enthusiasm. They’ve only just now heard about it and don’t feel as energized and invested as you do.
Solution: Apply the infinite mindset when you address potential problems like this. Buy-in should be thought of as a dynamic and infinite process rather than a single finite event. Recruiting others’ hearts and minds to define the work BEFORE it lands on their desk is a good strategy.
6 – Help Your Future Self
Most solutions address the acute symptoms of a big problem. What is happening in this moment doesn’t touch the long-term, adaptive, people-related challenges that permeate. In other words, solving for today doesn’t help you tomorrow.
Solution: Identify technical vs adaptive problems and apply the right approach. (We cover this solution in a recent blog post here.)
7 – You Don’t Need A Pat On The Back, But You Need A Pat On The Back
Humans like to be recognized for their efforts. While some people like kudos and others like gift cards, acknowledgment matters. Because change initiatives are rife with challenges and take a long time, team members often grow resentful, comparing their effort levels to that of others.
Solution: Shift your mindset away from an external reinforcement (pat on the back) to an internal sense of purpose (your “why”). A successful change leader uses internal direction as fuel. Encourage your team members to do the same.
8 – Keep It Simple, Sonny
Often, complicated things are perceived as better, more highbrow, thorough, smart…you get the idea. Problem is, this all-or-nothing mentality puts tremendous pressure on our organizations to do everything at once through an overcomplicated process.
Solution: Before finalizing any process or document, take a step back. Simplify what you can.
You are hardwired to behave in particular ways to keep safe. Problem is, those hardwired ways can interfere with modern-day change requirements.
To counter that…make yourself uncomfortable. The next time you find yourself resisting change in your justice organization, consider the solutions we’ve provided.