Sunday, July 22, 2012

Making Change Happen in Government - A Theory in 5 Steps

1 - Clarify the goal

Often leaders assume that employees know what the mission is and what leaders’ priorities are. This is not necessarily true. State the mission, provide a forum for asking questions and clarifying answers, and encourage dissenting views so as to respond to them intelligently. For the band to be on the same song sheet, there must constantly be team practice. In the absence of discussion about the issues, the perception arises that some topics are taboo or that some know more than others for a reason. This destroys teamwork.

2 - Articulate the importance of empowering employees to achieve the goal

At Management Xchange (, Prof. Gary Hamel has initiated a conversation around new and better ways to manage. Primary among them is the idea of getting out of people’s way and eliminating needless bureaucracy and power politics so that they can collaborate and get the job done. Articulate the goal over and over again and provide a tool for achieving it.

3 - Develop a clear model - visual and mental - of a new way of working

One idea Hamel has shared for more effective organizations is the notion of employees entering the organization, choosing a project, and getting to work without “approval” by supervisors. Performance appraisal is achieved through peer review rather than supervisory fiat. This can supported by a physical workspace that promotes innovation and by visual imagery in the workspace, such as banners and posters, creating a look and feel that promotes newness, such as the Google “play” workplace model.

4 - Officially support a pilot project to create effective innovation

How do you get from here to there? In “Who Really Matters” Art Kleiner posits that you start with a small group of innovators (or insurgents) who band together to develop alternative and better means of doing business, then slowly incorporate members of the dominant group. The premise is that the unit of the organization is the decision, rather than the person and that to effect positive change one has to influence the key decision-makers. By starting with a small group one can avoid “initiative fatigue” and the perception of always starting new things rather than fixing the existing ones.

5 - Embrace new technology through a risk management approach

Many organizations suffer from a managerial digital divide in which younger employees uncritically embrace technology with insufficient consideration of risk, while older employees fear and block technology while overstating it. Adopting a risk management approach is a means of evaluating logically and critically which technologies stand to bring the most benefit and minimizing the potential insecurity to the organization. Evaluating risk is ideally done by a group of objective parties, minimizing the chance that one or a few powerful individuals will exercise disproportionate influence.