If it’s really about culture change…

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This topic contains 19 replies, has 16 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Megan Megan 4 years, 8 months ago.

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  • #92667
    Profile photo of Lucas Cioffi
    Lucas Cioffi

    If it’s really about culture change, then what exactly are the elements of the current culture that are preventing government from becoming more transparent, participatory, or collaborative?

    For example:
    • Individuals/offices/departments/etc fear that collaboration or openness might make their role less relevant.
    I’m wondering what others in this community see as the culture that needs to change. What do you think?
  • #92705
    Profile photo of Megan

    I think we still rely too heavily on top-down approaches to decision-making. I find that even the Senior Executives at NASA say things like ” I have to check with management first”.

    Rather than “checking with management”, why not use the same approach in-house that we are using with the general public via the IdeaScale tool (and other crowdsourcing/polling s/w)?

    Make it easy for everyone to get involved in key decisions (what projects should be funded, what the Agency priorities are or should be, whether or not a proposed technical solution is viable/optimal, etc.)

    Independent reviews, 3rd party analysis (Gartner, etc.), tapping into outside consultants and unbiased experts are approaches that are far less likely to lead to poor decisions, or decisions based on “how we’ve always done it”, “who we are and who we know”, etc.

  • #92703
    Profile photo of Bob King
    Bob King

    Two words and the relationship between them: Trust vs. Control Also, an inherent and near insurmountable resistance to change.

    I just returned from 2-1/2 day workshop in DC about the Army’s milWiki project. We face considerable challenges across many categories: organizational, cultural, procedural and legal. This was the first of three workshops over the next couple of months.

    The core purpose of the initial meeting was not about the technology, but the entire process will revolve around the technological solution. Ironically, while we were meeting about how to implement a collaborative solution, we were not ourselves able to collaborate online.

    Our meeting was in a conference room with one workstation, no available network drops and no wireless access. The system was running Internet Explorer 6, which led to some minor issues in trying to demonstrate various products.

    At the end of our workshop, it was decided to setup a limited access area behind the already limited access milWiki portal for future collaboration. Many of the participants were uncomfortable doing any “collaboration about collaboration” where others, not directly involved, could see it.

    Everyone knows the old adage, “bad news doesn’t get better with age.” If the boss could look in on a process at any time and not like the direction, why would anyone assume he’d be any happier with the outcome resulting from following that direction of effort?

    You either believe in this process or you don’t. Trying to implement it without buy-in is like asking a group of agnostics and atheists to revamp your Sunday morning worship service.

    Related References:

    MilWiki receives Army’s top knowledge management honor

    Want to Change Army Doctrine? Do Something!

    Wikified Army Field Guide (Video @ White House site)

    Four Star General Martin Dempsey interviewed by McGill’s Karl Moore (Video) – GEN Dempsey, TRADOC CG, talks about Trust and Control issues.

    GEN Chiarelli on Communicating More Effectively (Video) – GEN Chiarelli, Army Vice Chief of Staff, talks about flattening organizations and fighting the bureaucracy

  • #92701
    Profile photo of GovLoop

    Much in any large organizations, there is also some internal competition of who gets the most credit and who is in control.

    So for example if HR has their own knowledge mgmt solution, a business unit wants to implement a low-cost quick solution, and IT has a complex solution coming. These are all competing interest somewhat. And there is 2-ways to let it occur – 1) ask for permission and no one can move until the person in charge moves 2) let everyone do their own thing and some stove-piped solutions. The real great change occurs when you get both of them going – quick decentralized innovation that we put some central pipelines, structure, lanes to operate in

  • #92699
    Profile photo of AJ Malik
    AJ Malik

    Cultural change can only be successful when there is a understanding of the difference between the current culture and the culture you are trying to create. Clear and objective measurement is required for successful cultural change, that is, defining in precise terms the culture you are trying to create in order to determine the change that needs to take place. Regular follow-ups, including cultural audits, employee feedback, etc. are tools to assess the impact of culture change. However, empowerment and motivation are required for real change to take place. Changing people in influential positions can expedite culture change, as can a new or modified motivating mission/vision.

  • #92697
    Profile photo of Bill Brantley
    Bill Brantley

    I agree with the previous posts that argue that trust is the most important issue. To me, the second most important reason why the change to open government will be difficult is that employees will have to realize that sharing knowledge is better for their careers than hoarding knowledge. And for this to occur, the incentive systems will have to be changed to reflect this new reality.

  • #92695
    Profile photo of Jeffrey Press
    Jeffrey Press

    We spend a lot of time in our organizations trying to get everyone to buy-in, when in fact, there are some people that are just never coming. That’s why we have big kick-off meetings, mugs, t-shirts and all the other fare. We spend so much of our time trying to get the folks that are never coming that we often forget to focus on the people who were with you from the beginning. Don’t teach a pig to sing, it doesn’t work and it annoys the pig.

    We go by the 20/60/20 rule. There are 20% of people in your organization who are never coming. Not now, not ever and not after you give your initiative a fancy name or a t-shirt. There are 60% of people in your organization who will believe it when they see it. They are not against you, but they aren’t going to actively help either. They will come on board when they see success. Often times the approach we take with these folks is “Will you believe it when I tell you how great it is?”. How about now? Or now? Once again, they will believe it when they see it, not hear it. Then there are the 20% of people in your organization who were ready to go yesterday. These are your change agents and the people who will lead the initiative to success.

    There are 2 potential problems. 1) What if the coalition of the important are not the same as the coalition of the willing? Now you have a leadership problem and there is no silver bullet for that 2) What do you do with the bottom 20%? We like to promote exclusion. If you’re not coming that’s ok, you can wait on the sidelines (once again, if these people are in leadership positions you will have problems moving forward). Often times when people aren’t involved, and they see the great successes, they will naturally look over their shoulder and wonder why they aren’t a part of the great things you are accomplishing.

  • #92693
    Profile photo of Eric R. Payne
    Eric R. Payne

    You could fill a Doctoral Thesis on this, but initially I would focus on Trust and Respect (or Trustworthiness). If I’m more transparent with my plans, actions, and results I’m expecting others to provide support. But I think folks are fearful that others will use transparency as an opportunity to blame, manuever, and gain power (because that has been their past experience).

    @AJ I’m a fan of the Denison Culture Model as a way to be able to describe in concrete terms the culture that you are trying to achieve.

  • #92691

    I’m not seeing fear of change itself as much as I’m seeing fear over the logistics of implementing change: Who’s going to get the unfunded mandate to manage new pieces of work? Who’s going to do the communications work that lets people know what they need to do differently, and why? Who’s going to think about what’s going to actually change about our business practices, our data, our systems, and how those change will impact our organization? Who’s going to design and deliver training to affected folks that helps them actually integrate new ideas, tools, competencies, business processes into their everyday working life? It’s a lot of work. It’s so much easier to just say: hey, I’ve got this great new app., or wiki, or blog, lets throw it up and see what happens. It becomes the tech version of shelfware.

  • #92689
    Profile photo of Brandon Jubar
    Brandon Jubar

    I agree that “change the culture” sounds vague, but the only way to get more specific is to dive right into the details. The complexity of this is almost mind-boggling because you’re not talking about a single culture and therefore a single plan for change. From what I’ve seen, “culture” is often very different from agency to agency, and sometimes different programs within a given agency have developed a culture of their own. The idea of using a tool such as the Denison Culture Model is certainly a good idea… but every agency will need to conduct their own evaluation and create their own plan(s) to reach the desired state. And the desired state must be common if true collaboration can ever occur.

    Based upon my experience (in private industry, religious organizations, federal government, and online communities), collaboration seems to work extremely well when (1) participants are empowered to make decisions, and (2) no one needs to “protect the kingdom”.

    The best collaborative efforts I’ve been involved in have been where us “worker bees” from various divisions/departments/agencies/etc. have been delegated a task and told to just get it done. Every participant is used to working hard and offering up ideas that may or may not be utilized, so we’re used to the give-and-take that naturally occurs in a collaborative environment.

    However, throw a big-shot “decision-maker” into the mix, and that person expects to lead… and be followed without question. That crushes collaboration. Or throw in some people who need to “run it past management” before they can agree to anything, and your process becomes so slow that other participants abandon it as a waste of time.

    But perhaps the biggest problem that many organizations run into is that some upper level people view collaboration as weakening the kingdom they’ve built. Let’s face it… if you need ideas from some “nobody” at another agency, you and your folks must be incompetent, right? On the other hand, getting a good idea from “outside” might give your kingdom an advantage, provided that you don’t give away all of your hard-earned secrets in the process!

    This is going to be a long, difficult journey.


  • #92687
    Profile photo of Alex Schual-Berke
    Alex Schual-Berke

    I think many agencies operate on a basis of fear of reprisal.

    Despite having innovative and creative ideas, many mid-level employees don’t share them or try pushing back to drive change because it’s perceived to be too risky.

    Questioning old practices/status quo and implimenting better practices provides the atmosphere for a culture of acceptance and empowerment.

  • #92685
    Profile photo of Sonya

    My observations on barriers to change:

    1. Success is often perceived as a suspicious red flag, not something to celebrate and replicate.

    2. Opportunity is a threat.

    3. Out of date ways of working, e.g. only doing one task at a time, start to finish, instead of being able to juggle multiple priorities. And never being expected to do more than that.

    4. Addiction to group-think, which bogs down any kind of rapid thinking or reasoning capability. If everyone is waiting on total consensus, hard decisions can not happen – especially in time to be effective.

    5. More emphasis on the process than the outcome. Sometimes I wonder if anybody even knows there’s supposed to be an outcome.

    6. Long-term insulation from the way private industry gets things done to stay afloat and vital. I encounter folks who have only ever worked in government and they know no other ways. Therefore, they can not take the best of both worlds and come up with a better way.

    7. Total lack of urgency around anything.

    8. Reliance on methodologies, templates, and process to replace or compensate for missing skill or expertise. Forms do not replace thinking and judgment.

    9. Retirement-itis. Well, there’s no use in starting something new because I hit the rule of 90 in 2005, and am probably going to retire in 2012.

    10. Compartmentalized thinking vs, generalized thinking. This is the inability to abstract concepts and apply them to new situations. Practically speaking, it leads to redundant efforts, repeated efforts, and a lot of wasted time reinventing the wheel, when there are 10 or 12 wheels sitting in the closet that would work.

  • #92683
    Profile photo of Karen Anne Malkin
    Karen Anne Malkin

    Most of us have been taught to operate under a heirarchical structure and only specially designated persons are authorized to communicate with the public. We need new rules of conduct and engagement, so that employees feel safe and comfortable to collaborate.

  • #92681
    Profile photo of Brand Niemann
    Brand Niemann

    A CIO told me “the coefficient of friction of fingernails across the table increases exponentially when loss of control is sensed/perceived” and an astute observer told me that “all good ideas go through three stages: 1. Ridicule; 2. Resistance; and 3. Obvious.”

  • #92679
    Profile photo of Jay Johnson
    Jay Johnson

    I’m partial to John Kotter’s Eight Step Model from his book Leading Change:

    1)Establish a sense of urgency
    2)Form a strong Guiding Coalition
    3)Develop a compelling Change Vision
    4)Communication that Change Vision
    5)Empower people to change
    6)Generate short-term wins
    7)Sustain your gains
    8)Anchor changes in corporate culture

    John Kotter visited Puget Sound Naval Shipyard last month, and remarked that our organization was on the leading edge of change and in the top 1% of organizations trying the implement change. He also said not to let up or we’d become complacent, and stop our change momentum.

  • #92677
    Profile photo of Scott Span
    Scott Span

    Great question. As a organization development consultant, working to help cause positive change in government, I often find that the culture is the biggest enemy to positive change! Some elements of the current gov culture that I see impede gov from becoming more transparent, participatory, or collaborative:

    – Lack of open and honest communication, in all directions
    – Low trust in leadership
    – Slow to embrace innovation and new technology (not all agencies)
    – Cubicle land and office organization by hierarchy does not increase collaboration
    – Fixation with level (GS 9, oh no you can’t brief our SES!)

    Many of those in Gov do have a natural fear that changing these thing may put them out of a job or minimize their importance, and mainly because benefits to positive culture change are not clearly communicated..

  • #92675
    Profile photo of Chris Jones
    Chris Jones

    Jay, I’m partial to Kotter too – glad to see you’ve still got the edge to achieve change, and that John Kotter’s 8-points are still resonating. Was afraid everyone had given up on them. It’s hard work. I find those who leave out steps fall short. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

    I’d like to hear more about PSNS – success stories are always welcome news.


  • #92673
    Profile photo of Eric R. Payne
    Eric R. Payne

    @Lucas re: Government culture. Do you have a particular department or program that is going through a transition? Its one thing to generalize about the ‘Government culture'; in any organization there are many ‘tribes’ each with its own culture, so you need to narrow your focus in order to select the right change levers.

  • #92671
    Profile photo of Chris Jones
    Chris Jones

    Excellent insights Bob, you are definitely experiencing the many trials (and frustrations) of culture change, first hand.

    Curious. Do you see any progress or sources of momentum for change in your efforts?

    I’ll continue to follow & post to this thread, but we’re starting to explore and identify case studies of breakthrough results here (on GovLoop) as well, as part of the Open Government Playbook (a workshop & discussion series). With your energy on driving change, you might be interested in the conversation.

  • #92669
    Profile photo of Chris Jones
    Chris Jones

    Hey Scott, good to connect again.

    Trust comes up over and over. Great book by Stephen M.R. Covey: “Speed of Trust” which talks about how fundamental trust is to relationships. It’s very difficult to collaborate without it.

    Do you see (or can you imagine?) any specific actions taking place in the Federal arena to address the trust issue as a foundation to the necessary culture change? Could argue that Handy’s silo culture, which is core to Government SOP, is problematic.

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