Five Pillars of Change Management Can Help Your Public Sector Organization Thrive
Section: NASACT

Change has always been a constant for public sector organizations. But a new reality has dawned over the last several years: Anyone who bets against an acceleration in the pace of change is bound to be caught off guard.

Not that a faster working environment should come as a surprise. Key technologies are evolving at exponential rates. When they interact, as they often do, rapid improvements in one area often lead to steep changes in another. Many public policy challenges are becoming more complex, while public stakeholders demand faster service delivery with greater transparency.

And all of those simultaneous, often intense pressures are focused on a sector where resources are limited, and likely to become more so.

The good news for public sector managers is that change management is a tried and true concept, backed by a couple of decades of visionary thinking and hands-on experience. Which means that when the going gets tough, the tough can fall back to first principles, making maximum use of in-house knowledge and technology to get the job done.

Pillar #1: Start by Looking Inward

The first pillar of change management is continuous assessment. You should never stop asking yourself and your team what your organization does and why, how you can do it better, and what you would do differently if you had the chance.

You can gather valuable information by comparison and imitation, finding out what similar organizations do, or using your wider sector as a benchmark. At every step, your own business intelligence (BI) systems—the software that collects and analyses the masses of data available to you, then brings it back as actionable intelligence—is the not-so-secret weapon that can help you decide the best path forward.

Pillar #2: Build Executive Buy-In

The second pillar of any change management process is to gain the agreement—or better still, the enthusiastic buy-in—of your senior executives. Your job as a team leader is to keep open lines of communication, deliver the analysis and feedback your decision-makers need, make a clear-cut case for the change you envision, and build the network of support that will make it a success.

This is an area where the wrong information technology can hold you back, but the right system will help you fly. You’ll get farther, faster in your efforts to sell your program with the ability to assemble internal and external data, analyze it in-house, and deliver it to key decision-makers in easily digestible form through intuitive, user-friendly dashboards.

Pillar #3: Make It a Team Effort

Gaining approval for a change initiative isn’t the end. It’s just the end of the beginning. Once you’ve built buy-in for your program—and set expectations for what you plan to achieve—you need to organize and motivate your team to carry on with day-to-day duties and processes, while simultaneously developing and introducing a new product, service, or process.

It’s a given that your transition team will need the right people skills—the optimism, persistence, and day-in, day-out dedication to build something new, and build it with their bare hands. But you can make the job more manageable, their success more attainable, by giving them the tools to do the job. In today’s public sector workplace, that begins with in-house collaboration tools that support interaction and information-sharing, provide a handy record of discussions, decisions, and resources and, once again, integrate with business intelligence systems that help team members put their work in a broader context.

Pillar #4: Developing the Plan

As much as the actual transition team depends on interaction, information-sharing, and pertinent, up-to-the-minute business intelligence, those precious resources are even more important as your plan takes shape. The actual drafting is just the first step: to make your change strategy anything more than a paper exercise, you need everyone in the organization to adopt it as their own.

This is where you need the right data and systems to support your team’s resourcefulness and communication skills. With the end objective always in view, your change team’s mission is to define their deliverables, develop realistic timelines and budgets, communicate with colleagues and stakeholders, identify sources of support and pockets of resistance, and come up with messages or program adaptations that will ensure the smoothest possible implementation.

Pillar #5: Delivering the Goods

A variety of IT systems, all operating in concert, should be able to support the effort once you move from planning to implementation.

You’ll need training for employees who are taking on new tasks.

Practical information and motivational messaging for the people who are expected to implement the change.

Information, support and, if necessary, incentives for end users to adopt and adapt to the change.

Ample praise and recognition as the short-term gains start accumulating.

And a continuous flow of reporting to the senior managers who first approved the initiative.

At this stage, you mustn’t lose track of the power of small wins. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you can,” Theodore Roosevelt once advised. By using those wins as confidence-builders, and as an early proof of concept, you can set the stage for the wider transformation you’re trying to achieve.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

There’s actually a sixth pillar of change management, and it might be the most important of all: To keep your organization current and relevant, you have to recognize that change never ends. And that means the work of a change manager is never done. It’s a good bet that, by the time you’ve completed today’s effort and assessed its impact, it’ll probably be time to start planning the next one.

It’s a lot of work. And sometimes the task is a bit overwhelming. But it’s the surest way to gain executive buy-in and citizen support for the 21st-century services you want to deliver. And it’s doable when your IT systems are up to the challenge.

Our citizens deserve no less.

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