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Do You Have What it Takes to Change Government and Create Gov 2.0?

As I’ve said many times before, Government 2.0 isn’t about technology, but what that technology enables. When the TSA rolls out an initiative like the IdeaFactory, developing and implementing the technology is the easy part (disclosure: my company has supported the IdeaFactory project). When the GSA implements the Better Buy Project, getting UserVoice up and running was probably one of the easiest tasks on the whole project. No, when a government agency decides to use technology to try to become more transparent, participatory, and/or collaborative, the technology isn’t what’s keeping the project leads up at night. The hardest part of all of these initiatives is figuring how to change the way the government operates.

Managing change in the government is HARD, much harder than in the private sector. Leadership and, consequently, leadership priorities are constantly changing as administrations change. Because of this, employees suffer from change fatigue (if you don’t like how your department was reorganized, wait a year and it’ll change again), middle managers don’t invest in the change themselves, and leaders all too often push forward with their own agendas and goals, current organizational culture be damned. It’s no wonder we’re still talking about how the best way to create Government 2.0 – we’ve been way too focused on the easy part of this, the technology.

But if changing the government is so difficult, then why have some government leaders succeeded in bringing effective changes while so many others have failed?

To try to answer this question, Booz Allen Hamilton teamed with Harvard University Professor of Public Management, Steven Kelman to identify the common methods—the best “leadership practices”—used by successful government executives to transform their agencies and achieve mission goals. By studying 12 federal cabinet and sub-cabinet level agencies from the administrations of former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush, the study determined which organizational strategies worked best for delivering effective, meaningful change in government—and which did not. More than 250 interviews were conducted with federal agency leaders and their employees, career executives, congressional staff, unions, media, customers, and interest groups.

So, why are some government leaders able to innovate and reinvent themselves and others stagnate? At this year’s Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC, some of the findings from this study were discussed at the “Do You Have What It Takes to Change Government?” session. If you’re responsible for a Gov 2.0 initiative, here are some of the key findings that you should keep in mind as you attempt to change government.

  • Use a collaborative strategic planning process – This isn’t going to happen via a memo or directive alone. If you believe that your employees will become more open or collaborative because the boss said so, think again. Involve your employees in the strategic planning process. Sure, it takes a little longer, but you’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn and your employees will have some ownership in the change instead of feeling like they’re being told what to do.
  • Develop performance measures – what does success look like? Can you explain how becoming more open and collaborative will help your agency/team/department/group/division better achieve its mission? Ten thousand Facebook fans isn’t a goal – your goals should be tied to your organization’s goals and objectives, and your employees should be judged on their ability to achieve those goals.
  • Be proactive in building relationships with external groups – Your agency doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Identify other groups who may be impacted, positively and negatively, and proactively go and meet with them. Talk with them, listen to them, and involve them wherever and whenever you can.
  • Re-organize if you need to – Assess the current organization and determine if you can achieve your goals within the current structure. Are there impenetrable stovepipes? Are there too many layers of middle management? Are there personality conflicts and “turf-guarding?” Don’t be afraid to shake things up and move people around.
  • Focus on 2-3 goals – The majority of successful leaders in the study had 2 or 3 goals that were action-oriented and quantifiable. Unsuccessful leaders typically had jargon-filled, tactical, action-based goals that described the effort, rather than the outcome. Gov 2.0 goals should be focused on an outcome – improving customer satisfaction levels or decreasing FOIA requests by making more data available online, etc. Unsuccessful leaders typically use goals focused on an action – “implement a new knowledge management system” or “use social media more effectively.”

Here’s the full presentation as it was given at the Summit:

For more information on this study:

*Image courtesy of O’Reilly Conferences on Flickr

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Profile Photo Heather Coleman

Steve – Great piece of work and nice use of Prezi! I certainly hope the answer to this question is yes for me because I’m staring down implementation of some change and adoption of social media/social networking technologies at the gov’t organization I’m currently working with. Thankfully I do have support from leadership and I’ve set it up to be a slow transition, while leveraging new staff coming on board who won’t know any different. I’m not sure I’ve set a clear enough definition of what success will look like, so this has prompted me to do some more thinking. Thank you for sharing.

Profile Photo Steve Radick

Thanks Heather – haven’t used Prezi too much before, but I like how this one turned out so I’ll likely use it more often now! I think anyone who’s doing anything with social media in the government is dealing with change, sometimes large, sometimes small, but it represents a change for virtually every organization. A change in policy, process, culture, behavior, attitude – whatever it is, just don’t discount the power of people who are resistant to change to completely torpedo an initiative, even if the senior leadership “mandates” it.

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

Love the concept of focusing on 2-3 goals. I think most people (myself included) have a hard time focusing on a few things rather than a lot of different ideas. But in the end – you need to move from the abstract, and focus on clear 2-3 goals to get anything done.