As the federal government seeks to maximize resources amid mounting deficits, organizational change is a top priority. In the private sector, the slow economic recovery is forcing companies to reevaluate their current business practices and explore new approaches for enhancing productivity and increasing profitability. Performance expectations across the board are higher than ever, and we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for real reform.
One of the chief challenges in improving human performance is leading staff through the myriad changes that are necessary to implement the appropriate solutions and close performance gaps. Each of these solutions must be carefully considered in terms of individual roles, competencies, expected outcomes, and more specifically, how to transform an organization systematically from point A to point B so that the benefits of a higher performing workplace can be fully realized.
But government managers and business leaders who need to improve human performance within their organizations often struggle with developing a strategy for making changes that can actually be executed. More often than not, precious little time is spent considering an organization's unique change needs. In Harvard professor John Kotter's book, A Sense of Urgency, he contends that a "winning strategy combines analytically sound, ambitious but logical goals with methods that help people experience new, often very ambitious goals, as exciting, meaningful, and uplifting - creating a deeply felt determination to move, make it happen, and win, now." In other words, not all change strategies are created equal. And a good change strategy is not good enough if it isn't supported by those whom it affects.
At the same time, change managers who may be competent in a single discipline, such as human performance improvement or project management, may not understand the interplay between other areas that are directly relevant to a transformational effort. Because change is multidimensional in nature, a holistic approach to managing change requires a foundational understanding of nine primary disciplines and how they are intertwined: stakeholder relationship management, leading change, change strategy, communication, human capital management, learning and training, process and infrastructure, project management, and performance management.
1| Stakeholder relationship management
Having a clear understanding of the many individuals or groups affected by a change (and what exactly that effect will be) is a critical first step that is often given short shrift. And perceptions are as important as realities here. Managers need the skills to map out the multiple layers of stakeholders associated with the proposed change so that they can skillfully address the needs and concerns of each group.
2| Leading change
A question often left ambiguous is, "who is going to lead the change?" with the "who" often being more than just one person. More likely, it is a group of people who enable the change through a combination of inspiration, influence, facilitation, and resource allocation. The leader's ability to articulate a clear and compelling case for change is crucial to any successful change.
3| Change strategy
Having a clear plan for how the change will be executed is as critical as having a blueprint for building a house. A plan that consists of merely developing a technology solution and then throwing it over the wall to the end users is a failure strategy, not a change strategy. Involving the stakeholders at every step is one of the lessons learned in making the change, as Kotter says, "exciting, meaningful, and uplifting."
From the beginning, it's crucial to engage key stakeholders at all levels of the organization, from C-level executives to frontline staff. Using well planned and timely communication, the change manager's goal is to ensure that every person who will be affected by the change has a thorough understanding of the change and why it is occurring. Without the right communications and stakeholder engagement approach, as well as securing buy-in and a sense of ownership from employees, public companies or federal agencies risk the kind of public disapproval and loss of trust that has characterized many ill-conveyed high-profile reform efforts.
5| Human capital management
Understanding how a change will affect the roles, responsibilities, job descriptions, and numbers of staff is only one of the ways human capital is critical to a change effort. The Government Accountability Office's 2003 report on mergers and organizational transformations determined that "implementing strategies to help individuals maximize their full potential in the new organization, while simultaneously managing the risk of reduced productivity and effectiveness that often occurs as a result of the changes, is the key" to sustainable transformations. By looking at the flow of talent and skills within the organization, a change manager can methodically address training and development needs and recognize where business restructuring is necessary.
6| Learning and training
While it is tempting to see "training" as the bulk of an implementation, it is in fact a tool to be used throughout the change. From the time the idea for the change is hatched, learning opportunities can be designed to involve affected groups and make them aware of what possibly lies ahead. By influencing mindsets, in addition to teaching specific skills, learning and training plays a major role in the success of a change.
7| Process and infrastructure
Why is the organization shifting? It could be driven by legislative policy, new technology (such as a new computerized HR benefits system or electronic medical records), market forces, or the departure or arrival of a leader. Change practitioners have to understand the context of an organization before they can institutionalize the change, making it part of the fabric of day-to-day business processes and operations.
8| Project management
Project management methods, skills, and techniques are central to executing change. A change manager must draw upon project management to facilitate successful relationships between the key groups who are driving change, and deliver transparency around decision rights. Weaving project management into change ensures that planned results will be achieved within the time, cost, and scope parameters of the initiative.
9| Performance management
Senior executives are constantly balancing priorities and trying to find consensus as they manage multiple, often conflicting, goals. This is happening right now, as leaders in numerous federal agencies are working to reform performance management to make it credible across the federal government. Part of performance management is understanding measurement methodologies such as the balanced scorecard and Six Sigma, but a true change management practitioner also knows how to address the overlap with human capital management and bridge the silos of separate methodologies.
Achieving human performance improvement through organizational change is about managing people. And just as every person is unique and complex, so is every agency and organization. When it comes to implementing true change, there is no cookie-cutter approach, no five-step method, and no silver bullet for success. Not only is it important to use multiple methodologies, but knowing which methods to use and when to use them is priceless. t+D