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Do you need a big fancy title to transform Government IT?

The idea that change can be initiated at every level of an organization is the cornerstone of our corporate and government philosophy. We agree and herald the idea that in our organization, noone’s voice is too small, no title is too low, no person is too insignificant, and that change and transformation can start anywhere and at any level in the organization. Or at-least it should be able to.

But does it? More importantly, can it?

Looking back 2-3 years of #gov20 efforts across all levels of government across the country, even across the world, we see a tremendous amount of of innovation, transformation and modernization. Especially in areas such as outreach, openness, transparency, engagement, and efficiency (I put #cloud, #opensource, SaaS, etc. in the category of efficiency, even though they can belong in different categories). I have no doubt that many of these initiatives start at some middle layer of the bureaucracy – A middle manager trying to cut costs, a customer service rep relying on input on Facebook/Twitter, a developer getting the job done quicker, cheaper and more efficiently using Drupal or Ning. But at some point, the CIO, CTO, COO or some other CxO heard the idea, liked it, supported it, championed it, told others about it, (and probably took credit for it).

Would that idea have blossomed and taken root if the CIO/CTO/CxO had opposed it? Or if the CSO had decided it was too risky? Maybe, Maybe not. Would this idea have caused a transformation in the way that agency or branch of government operates? Most likely not.

What many don’t realize is that although the gov20 initiatives themselves are shaped as grassroots movements, government agencies still operate as hierarchical, top-down bureaucracies. Bridging the gap between the small group of “lawless” hackers breaking all the rules, while keeping the bureaucracy satisfied, even supportive, is the ultimate job of a CxO in the gov20 era. Ultimately, the CxO must recognize the business value of the gov20 initiative within their agency, and understand how it would further the mission of the agency in a way that traditional IT initiatives cannot (cheaper, faster, more effective). Without this business value proposition, gov20 initiatives end up being “That cool thing we tried out when we were not so busy”.

So what do you think? Does transformative change in government IT require a big title to be successful?

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AJ Malik

It’s more about transformation leadership and ownership than fancy titles. Bringing about Gov 2.0 transformation requires new leadership skills that include listening, influencing, collaborating, and stakeholder inclusion. The key difference in the Gov 2.0 era is in the need to be inclusive, engage with others, to convert value from the network into meaningful work products/services/knowledge, and to identify practical solutions to challenges. Transformation agents also need to operate within multiple networks, customers, partners, employees, citizens, etc., to create compelling organizational value.

Gov 2.0’s transformational change is here to stay. In fact, ongoing change has become a defining characteristic of the new norm. However, most of today’s organizational change management frameworks are static in nature and top down in structure. They were developed during an era that valued top down, internal to a target audience. This approach works for a mandated roll out of change, where change is pushed out to a target audience. Change Management in the Gov 2.0 era, is peer-to-peer and viral. Change is facilitated by inclusiveness: participating constituents, employees, customers, etc. In addition, new key transformation agent roles (e.g. community evangelists, community management moderators, digital liaisons, brand managers, database analysts, etc.) are required to promote, leverage, and manage the performance of new Gov 2.0 initiatives. None of which have a fancy title.

Henry Brown

Sure doesn’t hurt! but this is nothing new. Believe that MOST organizations still operate as hierarchical, top-down bureaucracies with the overwhelming majority of the power, or at least veto-power, at the top regardless of whether it is a public sector or private sector organization.

For something to catch on, which is new, needs a leader who not only is insightful enough to realize the value of the “new” project but will have the communication skills to be a advocate for the “project” and has the “power” to bring others “on board”.

Doesn’t matter if the “project” is something as work place changing as a PC on every desk, Internet access for all employees, email for all, and other employee empowerment initiatives.

Many who are opposed to these and other initiatives will only “come on board” because they are “directed” to by someone who has a title, or power over them.

And these folks usually are not the most positive advocates of the new process and will continue to “back slide” at every opportunity. A couple of examples could be: Since the late 80’s PC’s have been a cost effective tool to empower the employees to perhaps be more productive yet every couple of years someone comes up with a way that they think will remove the PC from the employee desktop: First there was expansion of the dumb terminals, then thin clients, then virtual machines, and now the cloud. Internet access for everyone has been opposed for various reasons over the past 20 years, Access was to slow: employees cannot be trusted to NOT get malware installed on their machines: employees, if left to their own devices, will spend all their time being non-productive: “the infrastructure cannot support the downloads.

Sonny Hashmi

Harlan: I agree with what you are saying wholeheartedly, except for the last sentence. We hear about ideas and projects that dont work all the time, many times in a very positive light. Its called spin and marketing. Not only until way late in the life cycle, do we ever find out that the project was a failure, the system never worked, the budget was blown etc. etc.

However I do agree that long term sustainability of an idea, process or technology in government can ONLY be achieved when there is a direct connection to business value

Craig Petrun, Ph.D.

AJ Malik: As you point out (and I agree) it take more than just a “Title” to create lasting change within an organization. It also takes leadership skills, passion and an “understanding” of the complexity of creating transformational change. While I believe that most leaders have good intentions when announcing major changes into their organization they do not always have a clear understanding (and assessment of the strengths/gaps in their org. to adopt the change) of the complexity of change. For example, when trying to transform an organizations one needs to take into account many of the following factors in that change effort: 1) Leadership; 2)Strategy/Mission; 3) Culture; 4) Org. Structure; 5) Skills/capabilities of staff; 6) Reward systems; 7) Processes 8) Impact of External Environment; 9) Available Resources/funding; etc. Of course there are additional factors one could add to this list but the underlying assumption is that creating transformation requires a systems approach and an understanding of the complexity involved in creating transformation. All of the factors mentioned above must be in alignment and supportive of the transformation and where they are not aligned, leadership must work to close these gaps thoughout the transformation effort. While change can start at any level in the organization, at some point it will require the support of the leadership/heirarchy in order for it to take root and be sustainable.

Steve Radick

I say this all the time – it’s driven by the person, not the position. As Henry mentioned in his comment, every initiative needs a leader. Sometimes that leader has a fancy title and the project is that much easier when that happens. However, I’ve seen a ton of projects fail because the manager (note that I didn’t say leader) had the title, but no leadership qualities, and I’ve seen a bunch more succeed where there was a leader, yet no title. Ultimately, I think you need the support of someone with a big fancy title to sign the check, but change doesn’t have to just come from above.