Change agents and the hiring dilemma

For hire

Here’s a working hypothesis:

The organizations that most need change agents probably are the least likely to hire them because change agents typically make people with non-change orientations scared or nervous. If the people within were already oriented toward change and innovation, their organizations wouldn’t be the ones in the most need of change agents.

So a change- and innovation-oriented job candidate has a steep uphill battle to get considered and hired. The challenge is how to get people on hiring committees in non-change-oriented institutions to recognize the value of hiring for innovation, not replication…

Got any thoughts on this?

12 Responses to “Change agents and the hiring dilemma”

  1. Agents of Change are a mixed bag. The only things worse than no change? Changing things that work for ones that don’t, or changing for the worse (NCLB to RttT anyone?). We get change with every new administration… everyone feels the need to put their grubby fingerprints on it (and pad their allies’ pockets) but it’s hard to think of any that actually made education better.

  2. Imagine this: A couple of people who want a change agent interview folks for a position. A year or two later the change is rolling along with the expected hiccups. The folks who hired the change agent are doing their job and protecting the agent from those who would resist change, when they find their career path changing.
    What will happen to the change agent now that the support is gone?

    • I don’t have to image that; I have been in that scenario twice in the past 7 years in K-12. When the leaders who set forth and developed goals and strategic plans for change and improvements and hired outside talent to help make that happen and then those leaders retire or leave and are replaced by folks who do not agree or like those plans, they scrap or replace those plans. In one instance, two of the new leaders were former employees who were hired to make things more like the way they were and almost all of the change agents, which were very marketable, left for other opportunities. In the other situation, the new leader was very new to leadership and was spending most of their time getting acclimated and could not defend the reasoning for the changes and allowed much of the work being done to be put aside. In total 11 of 14 (including both leaders who left) took new positions with two of those who remained staying put so they can retire at years end. Ultimately, those hired to replace them were hired as change agents too and typically undid much of the change that had occurred.

  3. Being a change agent is but one characteristic of an effective leader. Others include the ability to navigate a political climate and the relentless pursuit of a shared vision. I think you’re right in that prospective leaders have to play it safe during the hiring process because there’s no way of knowing if the audience will be receptive to the message. Once they’re hired however, leadership will depend on their ability to move forward.

    To tackle this problem from another angle, if someone is a true change agent, should they even want to join a district that is not receptive of change. Seems to me like that person may just be a glutton for punishment.

  4. Initial thought is that I could affirm this hypothesis with many example districts.

    2nd thought is that change agents don’t need to necessarily arise from positions that traditionally embark on leading change processes (read: admin). Grassroots change, perhaps starting with a single teacher or group of teachers, might also create the momentum needed to scare the hiring committee from the other side of aisle. Maybe then they pay attention to the disruptions enough before the next round of hiring so the changes aren’t so foreign?

  5. Thanks for this post. While change for change’s sake is not the way to go. true visionary change is truly not welcome in many organizations.

    I have experienced and seen this myself.

  6. I think that being employed as an agent of change when the change is being imposed from above rather than being sought from those who are meant to engage in it, is fraught with difficulty and doomed to fail. Change needs to be organic and come from within, not imposed from outside. I experienced this first hand when employed as an agent of change. Those whose attitudes and practices I was meant to change felt resentment at the criticism my position implied. While I attempted to walk alongside them, they had already placed me outside their world (and circle of influence) before they had even met me.

  7. It’s an interesting question, and having worked as a change agent in the business and education worlds I would say that a change agent and the organization he/she joins will both be happiest if the change agent works their magic for two to three years tops and then moves on to a new organization.

    Why? Because the skill set of effectively managing “creative disruption” becomes counterproductive when significant change has been achieved: management is happy with the improvements and wants to maintain them while the change agent is campaigning to make additional changes, even if they have minimal or even negative impact to the organization.

    Agree with Bill Bradley that change agents are a “mixed bag” for that reason: unless you work as a consultant, very few organizations can continue to nurture the change agent’s needs over the long-term.

  8. Put students or parents on the hiring committee. I think you will find that will shake things up a bit.

  9. The point of this to me is that administrators who are open to change and seek people who are open to change (read: have a growth mindset) can bring about change much faster than those who are not open to change. In my job, I have seen principals who are deliberate about hiring people with this mindset make huge change in a short period of time while others continue to hire people with “other skills” and get stuck in their current way of doing things.

    As for those who say change agents just keep making change for change’s sake, this has not been my experience. Change agents are not people who go looking for change, but rather recognize where changes could have a positive impact on the organization.

  10. I wonder if I am in an institution with that challenge on days when our instructional technology department is asked to implement changes which appear to be rooted in Personnel issues. How many policies or guidelines are put in place to create paths of least resistance? After hiring compliance oriented people, and further constraining them, we then need to consider maintaining their morale. I wonder if these things aren’t more work than just embracing change in the first place?

  11. This is an interesting hypothesis and even more interesting responses to the hypothesis. Each response provides a perspective worth considering. The response by dzukor resonates with me, “Change agents are not people who go looking for change, but rather recognize where changes could have a positive impact on the organization.” In my opinion, this perspective equates change agent with someone like a great athletic coach. It seems to me that great coaches are not great because they make changes just for change sake or to mark their territory. They make needed changes to create an even more positive impact than what already exits. The coach, or person hired to make a change, honors the strengths of the team or workers and utilizes their strengths to help them become even stronger and better at what they do not just replicate what they are already doing.

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