“We have to create a culture and atmosphere where people are able to try things. We have to innovate at the pace of the environment around us.”
– Joe Pugh, Deputy CIO at Chesterfield County
For local governments to thrive, they have to keep up with the populations they govern. For a county government in central Virginia, the community was changing fast, but the county’s perfectionistic operations became a hindrance to meeting the community where they were. ALR was challenged to inspire a new mindset to help leadership see that the risk to doing nothing was greater than the risk of trying something new.
THE ISSUE WE FACED
Chesterfield County in central Virginia has been nationally recognized for its total quality management. Their focus on improving processes and creating efficiencies had created a culture adept at pursuing perfection. But there was a problem. Perfection was getting in the way of progress.
Meanwhile, the world was changing around them. The political and social landscape of the community was evolving every day: new population demographics, rapid technological shifts, and dramatic cultural changes. These leaders needed to catch up and keep up with the change while continuing to be effective in serving the community. But being more responsive and agile in their approach demanded a different mindset. The approved processes of perfection didn’t allow for a more adaptive method of problem solving.
Joe Pugh, the Deputy Chief Information Officer, part of an innovation task force for the county, was charged with inspiring a new way of thinking within the local government. He needed something that would break the perfection paradigm and chart a new way forward. He wanted a program that would shake things up and found it with ALR.
HOW WE SOLVED
In the Spring of 2017, ALR led a creativity workshop for the Management Services Division leadership retreat for Chesterfield County local government. It included seasoned decision makers, operational leaders, and perfectionists of all sorts.
We introduced participants to our signature Big 7 practices that we use to continually innovate and grow in our work, including “let go of perfectionism,” “work with the unexpected,” and “embrace limitations.” It was uncharted territory for the group, challenging a way of thinking and - more unsettling, a way of working – that had been made habitual after years of efficiency training and risk aversion.
Throughout the workshop, we surprised the group with challenges, exercises, and storytelling that first rattled them, and then engaged. We pushed them to rethink their perfectionistic tendencies, inviting them to embrace a mindset that sought out possibilities before obstacles and inspired them to find solutions collaboratively.
We invited them into the unexpected, calling on them to play the role of the artist, using a creative approach to show how perfect isn’t always a friend of possibilities. We made it real for them, illustrating the impact they could have on the real people in their communities through the roles they occupied. The result was a change in perspective, an understanding that authentic exploration beyond “the way things are done” can reveal new processes and rules of engagement.
Our creative workshop helped draw out the potential of the leaders. By having participants practice freethinking without the barrier of doing things perfectly, they were able to see that things could be done differently and still be effective.
Leaders took the first steps toward retraining themselves to embrace possibilities. As decision makers and civic leaders, participants came to the understanding that they had the power to lead change in their community; but to do so, they had to change their perspectives first.
Leaders for Chesterfield County local government had a tangible experience with how to do things differently, a vital component in understanding that change is a real possibility.