I was a “risky” hire. Not quite cut from the same cloth. A slightly irregular education. A different sort of professional background. An advocate for better, maybe not anonymous enough…someone with an opinion.
The system, like any mature system, naturally tried to reject me. I failed exams for subjective reasons. Was disqualified based on narrow interpretations. Limited opportunities due to my background and maybe even gender and age. In fact, I am pretty sure that if the HR System was a person I would have grounds for a complaint. Alas, the system is not a person and harassment only applies to people.
The people I have met are polite, concerned and friendly. Most of them want to do a good job. Some of them have seen beyond the risk and helped me, and I thank you very much for that.
Now that I am in the system, I realize that I am a bit of a deviant for the same reasons that I was a risky hire.
If you imagine government organizations as living organisms and apply some biological logic, it is not hard to see how they would naturally try to reject anything foreign. And in some parts of government culture, I am definitely foreign. Luckily in other parts of government culture, I fit right in, in fact, I am not as “deviant” as some!
Nevertheless, the places where I do fit in are generally bucking the system, or at least trying to hack it. Their directors and managers are committed to finding a way to do the right thing today, even when the rules are trying to force them to do the right thing for yesterday. It is not easy, they have to work hard, be persistent and continually challenge existing thinking. All before getting on with their mission.
There is a point to this rant. In his seminal book on organizational culture, Organizational Culture and Leadership Paperback, Edgar H. Schein talks about how people that first exhibit new traits become different than their co-workers. In most groups of people, this deviance from the norm results in marginalization—cultures by their nature seek the harmony of homogeneity. Because of this human dynamic, if an organization wants to change it needs to protect the positive deviants from the forces that would see them banished.
The forces that marginalize deviants come in all shapes and sizes. Some are hidden in cognitive biases, others come out as classification, age, level, gender or discipline discrimination. Still, others manifest as well-intentioned policies and rules with narrow interpretations that result in prejudicial side effects. Risk aversion plays a role here as well. Managers often equate risk with being challenged and the easiest way not to be challenged is to do things the way we have always done them. Deviants are risky by definition, even if they are positive, so the logical path is to get rid of them or not hire them in the first place.
I think of myself as a positive deviant, and I know there are hundreds, if not thousands of public servants that feel the same way. If the public service is to remain relevant in a different world, it must be different and to be different it needs positive deviants, not former employees.