Is Your Agency Selling Lemons or Lemonade?

By Matt Webb

We’ve all heard of the proverbial phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  The roots of this expression can be traced back to the early 1900’s, and it has been morphed, modified, and used over the years by many in its current form. 

At the core of this sentiment is a belief that when you face adversity turn that experience around, learn from it, grow from it, and turn a negative into a positive. In today’s public sector environment, one can easily find many piles of lemons especially when agencies look inward at their internal teams. Keeping and attracting talent are two of the largest producing lemon trees as leadership teams and human resources departments struggle to stay afloat, harvesting the loads of lemons that exist in today’s work environment.  Add in the lemon piles created by the number of open positions caused by long-term staff who are deciding to retire or staff choosing to leave public sector work all together and the pile grows. 

These compounding issues can result in the promotion of or hiring of less experienced or less “ready” staff, and can often feel like agencies are taking several steps backwards to continue forward progress.   

An emerging positive trend we are noticing across the industry shows agencies are seeking more Leadership Development and Executive Coaching services. Executive leadership training has become more important than ever as the world continues to adapt to post-Covid-19 workplace realities. Today’s public agency leaders must “expect the unexpected of tomorrow,” asking:

  • How do we deal with the new remote workplace model?
  • How do we manage change without experiencing crises in leadership?
  • How do we think about customers?
  • How do we think about delivering amazing service?
  • How do we think about skill development and employee recruitment/retention?
  • How do we think about courage and decision-making?
  • How do we think about benchmarking?
  • How do you think about delivering value, versus just doing what you have always done?

Answering these questions requires commitment and investment in leadership development services; and outcomes can drive consistent agency culture, both internally and externally, as existing faces go and new faces emerge.  We have seen first-hand the value that strong leadership development coaching programs offer in:

  • increasing employees’ capacity to lead as they become more productive and engaged,
  • achieving greater organizational success, and
  • providing increased levels of external facing customer satisfaction.

When leadership teams intentionally leverage insights and best practices, and build tailored leadership coaching programs around the unique challenges and the specific needs their agencies are facing, they are taking steps to change the environment and conditions they are dealt. Pivoting the context of tasting sour lemons, they instead become focused on building a culture that serves lemonade to their customers and more importantly their workforces.    

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcomb Gladwell makes the point that people naturally are wired “to think of ourselves as autonomous and inner-directed, that who we are and how we act is something permanently set by our genes and our temperament.”  But in reality, he points to numerous examples and trends over history that prove out that people “are actually powerfully influenced by our surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us.”   

Is your public agency investing in managing piles of lemons or busy making lemonade?

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