Whether it’s a new leader, or a big budget cut, or even a funding increase, governments live in a state of constant change. Change for the sake of change is a bad idea, but there are ways to make needed changes easier on everyone. Here are some ideas.
1. Treat people, the organization and the process with respect. Explain why change is needed, what the goal is, and what success will look like.
2. Make it clear that the goal is continuous improvement, which is the best way to achieve quality performance. The change at hand is one step in a process that will continue.
3. Nurture people within your organization by working with them directly and giving them tasks beyond their usual set of responsibilities. As a way to reach more people, evaluate your training program and participation in professional organizations to instill motivation for personal improvement.
4. Celebrate achievements in the process of continuous improvement as a way to keep the process moving forward. Make sure your employee recognition program is accomplishing the goal of recognizing effort that goes above and beyond expectations.
5. Lead by example. When staff members see an emphasis on change as continuous improvement, they’ll look for ways to reframe their own work in that light. And make change part of the planning process by asking managers to create a current improvement plan.
By conveying an expectation for continuous improvement, and setting up a framework to encourage it, leaders can create an environment in which change is sought after, valued and constant.
First, let me say that Jerry’s points are excellent, spot on, so I mean no criticism by what I say next. Think of it as the complement; the Yin to his Yang.
I am a big big fan of Larry Terry’s exquisite little book “Leadership of Public Bureaucracies: The Administrator as Conservator”. One of Larry’s central theses is that public institutions have two central sources of being able to carry out their mandate: the legal authorities granted to them in law, and their perceived authoritativeness as the locus of wisdom and sound judgment in those matters under its purview. He depicts the latter as more critical. Any diminuition of that perceived authoritativeness will undermine and even undo whatever legal authority empowers the organization to do. (Sadly, in recent months I think we have seen a disturbing illustration of what loss of authoritativeness does to the functional capacity of a public institution, involving municipal police forces.)
One maintains authortitativeness by the institution essentially being true to itself. Veering off from its mandate/mission by engaging in change for change’s sake, by eagerly striving to be the flavour of the month, by stepping well outside the perimeter of its expertise, and by not inculcating a consistent institution-wide culture and sense of common institutional history (and among the book’s finer features is a detailed enumeration of all the things you need to take care off to accomplish that, from hiring and on-boarding, to corporate communication, to communication with the legislative side, to occasionally saying “No”).
So, as much as one needs to engage in change the right way, equally important is engaging in, and leading constancy; the conservation of institutional values and mission (the basis for Terry using the term “conservator”). I cannot stress enough that this does NOT imply or exalt stagnation, or getting lost in the weeds. Constancy implies remembering the purpose and vision of the institution, and holding true to that vision and mission, despite the superficial variations in how that is manifested. It implies reminding your colleagues about “What we’re here for”, and teaching the new folks the same thing. It means connecting, wherever and whenever you can, *today’s* work with the ongoing mandate/mission. It means defending your institution to “regular folks” on the basis of what the fundamental purpose is, and the constitutional basis of that purpose, and reminding them in a manner that gets them to think “Yup, I’m glad someone is taking care of that on behalf of my nation, because it’s important, and who we are as a people”. Personally, I think conveying a sense of constancy of mission is a critical part of leading change. “We’re still the same us, with the same values” is a very comforting message to all stakeholders. In that sense, leading change is often accompanied by leading constancy. “Change” can be a distraction when done poorly. We need constancy to keep us on track. Citizens deserve that.
Mark: All excellent points, and I think they provide an effective complement to my post. Discerning and communicating the central mission of the organization, keeping a steady hand on the tiller, while always looking for what needs improving and how to achieve that, is the central balancing act of leadership. Thanks for your thoughts.