Change Management in the Federal Workplace
Government agencies deal with a wide range of challenges – adapting to new technology, adjusting to new leadership and regulations, and dealing with a variety of employee issues like training and retention. Government agencies can use change management best practices to more successfully address challenges like these, while boosting employee morale.
Change management can motivate and inspire people to understand and adopt a change, thus overcoming our natural tendency to resist the change. It also helps leaders become more aware of and intentional about the change they want to enact, while minimizing possible negative outcomes. The slow nature of bureaucracies likely contributes to frustrated employees and constituents. According to the “Best Places to Work in The Federal Government Report“, the average government worker comes in 13 points below the average private-sector employee in terms of job satisfaction.
The most successful organizations in both the private and public sector are those who address challenges through change management best practices. Change management best practices recognizes and addresses obstacles such as employee buy-in and communication. In order to navigate these obstacles and maintain an efficient change management plan, government agencies should use the following steps as a guide to success.
1.Identify the Issue and Establish a Vision
Before developing a specific change management plan, leaders must have a collective understanding of the way things are today, the desired outcomes as a result of the change, and what changes must occur to achieve this vision. Staff should be empowered and motivated to act by the vision of the ideal future and the agency’s impact on the world.
High performing leaders resist the temptation to present a fully formed vision to the workforce and other stakeholders. Rather, they set the stage and invite others to contribute to the vision. By doing so, all who participate develop a deep sense of ownership in what they hope to create and own the responsibility for bringing it to life.
Furthermore, leaders must establish and communicate their vision, or the desired state after the change with employees. When stakeholders understand why the change is occurring and what the ideal outcome is, morale will likely increase and they will feel empowered to adapt to changes as necessary.
A governmental change efforts study conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton found that 75% of successful change leaders used a collaborative approach when developing and implementing change, compared to 33% of unsuccessful change leaders. Engaging both internal and external stakeholders is critical to developing an efficient change management approach.
Government employees typically work for their agencies for a long period of time, so they have seen first-hand how change efforts have been handled in the past. Agency leaders should look towards these employees, or, internal stakeholders, for useful insight on past successes and failures. Not only will leaders have a better understanding of how to implement the change, they will also gain employee support necessary for success.
External stakeholders should not be ignored either. External stakeholders are no different than internal ones – they can provide useful insight and ideas based on their experiences. When stakeholders feel like they have a say in the change, they are more likely to support the change.
This co-creation draws on the broad diversity of experiences and ideas across the agency and its stakeholders, and generates the buy-in that will be essential during implementation of the change.
3.Develop a Communication Plan
Visible engagement and effective communications is critical to all leaders involved in planning for change and implementing the change. Develop a communication plan about the change efforts to consistently engage in multi-directional communication with the workforce and stakeholders.
Leadership should demonstrate transparency and build a culture of trust and credibility. The workforce will benefit from greater insight into leadership’s vision for the future and how it ties to organizational priorities.
4.Manage the Change For Better Results
Once the agency has the right internal and external stakeholders involved and enrolled in the vision, it’s time to create and implement your change management plan. That plan will be different depending on the needs of the agency and the change involved, but it should always offer a detailed, step-by-step outline with date specific goals that clearly illustrates the actions to be taken. Check-points should be built in to assess performance and ensure that the plan stays on track as individuals work to implement changes in a smooth and satisfactory manner. An internal person with change management experience or an outside change management consultant can help the agency to stay on track and guide employees through the transition.
Keep in mind, however, that a consultant is just that. While a change management consultant will provide advice, support, and evaluation, the agency leaders themselves should still be engaged in the change effort by overseeing, monitoring, and addressing employee responses to the change.
At this stage, it is important that the agency’s change management team is prepared to address new challenges along the way, and refocus efforts as needed to avoid being sidetracked or derailed by interruptions.
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