On the Road to Government Transformation: Five Firsthand Lessons for Effective Change Management

Feb 16, 2018 1:40 PM ET

Booz Allen Hamilton is passionate about working with government leaders to transform government services and capabilities. Since the Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government was released by the White House last year, agency leaders are now responsible for new and potentially massive change management initiatives. Along with the Partnership for Public Service, Booz Allen brought together government leaders to share lessons and firsthand challenges related to change management—here are excerpts from their key takeaways. You can read the full article here.

1. “Transformation” is different 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.

2. 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.

3. 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. 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).

4. 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.

5. 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.

Success is about knowing who the stakeholders are, prioritizing efforts instead of disrupting healthy progress, and staying focused on the agency’s mission at every step of the way.

Read the full article, written by Dorothy Helfenstein, Stacey Selenfriend, and Ben Marglin, here.