The Obama Administration is calling upon federal agencies to implement meaningful changes that strengthen government operations and performance. To help agency leaders meet this challenge, Booz Allen teamed with Harvard University Professor of Public Management Steven Kelman to identify the common methods—the best “leadership practices”—used by successful government executives to transform their agencies and achieve mission goals.
The federal government can be a large, intransigent bureaucracy that is slow to change. Even when an agency’s mission is clear, accomplishing that mission can be difficult. Current economic conditions, however, leave no room for error. Agency leaders must carry out and implement successful public strategies without delay. Often, this is easier said than done. While some government leaders have succeeded in bringing about change to their organizations, many have failed. Understanding key differentiators between leaders who have succeeded from those that have not is an imperative step in getting government to change effectively.
In an 18-month research effort, Booz Allen, collaborating with Professor Kelman at the Harvard Kennedy School, gathered evidence to explain these differences for success and failure. Focusing on the leadership of 12 federal cabinet and sub-cabinet level agencies from the administrations of former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush, the study determined which organizational strategies worked best for delivering effective, meaningful change in government—and which did not. More than 250 interviews were conducted with federal agency leaders and their employees, career executives, congressional staff, unions, media, customers, and interest groups. The result is “What It Takes to Change Government.”
This research provides a unique roadmap for avoiding common pitfalls in government leadership as well as a valuable tool for empowering leaders to work more efficiently and effectively. And, though focused on the federal government, the lessons learned from this study, highlighted below, offer telling insights for senior management across both the public and private sectors.