- “Transformation” is different-in-kind from improvement initiatives. Brilliant ideas for improvement pop up organically in pockets of every organization. Those ideas are critical for the health of any entity. But the major challenge for agencies today—when systemic change is required and questions of identity are on the table—is how to create an army of change managers across the organization. To start, strategies for large-scale restructuring need to be articulated from the top, with the executive team fully on board with the plan. Without a unified leadership setting the tone, it’s extraordinarily difficult and potentially impossible to create that culture of change.
- The action plan must be defined and communicated broadly. Once the political leadership is in place and engaged, a strategic action plan must be designed to include clear objectives, scheduled milestones, and a framework for accountability. From the very beginning, leadership should assign a taskforce to handle communications across the agency to ensure employees at all levels can participate in education sessions, provide feedback, and feel enfranchised as part of the change process.
- Even the most airtight plans are subject to change. The White House directive for agencies to become more “efficient and effective” requires an upfront resource investment, but this is all happening while budgets are getting tighter. Today’s climate requires leaders to continually reprioritize based on budgetary demands; and remain open to changing course as needed. For example, hiring practices must be adaptable as time goes on to support both short- and long-term goals. What’s important is that the journey should be driven by the purpose of transformation, and not by the original plan. (For more on how to approach your agenda with a purpose, here’s our framework to get started).
- Naysayers may always be naysayers. Charles Rossotti, former IRS Commissioner who led the agency’s modernization, shared that there are three typical groups of people when carrying out organizational change: The early adopters who are ready to jump on the bandwagon and can serve as helpful leaders and allies; the “wait and see” employees who have genuine concerns but can be persuaded over time; and the naysayers who oppose change at all costs. Rossotti’s advice? Learn to live with the naysayers and don’t devote too much energy toward getting their buy-in. He stressed that leaders should talk to as many people in the organization as possible and then mobilize the core group of engaged employees to help manage the change.
- The pros learn how to be effective—not political. For agency leaders the status quo “is an oxymoron,” according to keynote speaker Thad Allen, former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard during a transformational period. To navigate a dynamic environment as a leader, Allen spoke about the importance of emotional intelligence and the value of learning from and relating to fellow peers and employees. In any given leadership exercise, the goal isn’t to “change the weather” – those things we cannot control – but rather to identify what employees need to be successful under the current conditions. Allen pointed out that responding to the environment and keeping emotions at bay are lifelong efforts, but they can help leaders avoid (at least a few) political landmines.
Whether a change management program involves designing an innovative technology infrastructure or maximizing workforce capacity, transformation is much more than achieving technical milestones or shifting lines on an organizational chart. Effective leaders isolate a finite number of priorities to focus on, socialize, and continually measure to understand progress and opportunities.
Success is about knowing who the stakeholders are (one participant told us she identified 51 stakeholder groups), prioritizing efforts instead of disrupting healthy progress, and staying focused on the agency’s mission at every step of the way.