Imagine a wall of water coming toward a city, rushing down a mountainside. To protect the city, as a reaction to the change in your environment, you decide to try to control the water by quickly building a wall between it and the city to keep the water back. However, water’s liquid quality makes your wall ineffective. The water flows around and over your wall, fighting the resistance to its movement. Despite your efforts to protect the city, water wanders its way through the city streets, houses, and fields. Now, the city has a new set of challenges.
Change is much like this water—it is a flow that demands our attention and response. Our culture has taught us to control and manage the change. But will this work? Unfortunately, like the wall, this old way of controlling change is generally ineffective. If these old approaches to change do not work, what response should we have? Citizen experience presents a significant change to agencies, requiring the response of building service cultures that provide high-quality experiences. Perhaps this water metaphor can provide a new way of thinking about how we need to respond.
There is clear recognition in agencies that change needs to happen for good citizen experiences to take place. New processes need to be developed that promote more efficient and effective handling of customer needs. New attitudes toward citizens that reflect empathy, concern, and care and build trusting relationships must be encouraged throughout agencies and enabled and permitted by agency policies. New technologies that enable better service and relationships must be developed and implemented. There is no question that change is needed and imminent.
We often mistake change for a series of discrete events that can be controlled, engineered, measured and driven from the top to the bottom of the organization. For changes that require compliance, involving safety and legal concerns, this method works well, because these changes are predictable, structured, and easily measured. For CX, the changes are not so clearly structured. They are fluid like water and require commitment from the whole agency. The change manifests itself as white waters of emotion, eddies of positive and negative reactions and actions, whirlpools of confusion and clarity, resistance and enthusiasm. In a fight to control the white water, the water will win and will overrun the organization.
Change for CX requires an approach that is much more facilitative and much more organic. It requires leaders not to drive change, but to enable it to happen appropriately, much as you would carve channels in which the water could flow in the direction you want. We are tempted to tackle change all at once and get the entire agency to change simultaneously. Such attempts at “drinking the ocean” often unleash large amounts of resistance from the organization or dilute the leaders’ ability to influence the direction of the organization. Slow, steady, bottom-up change, partnered with executive leadership support and championing, while slower, results in deeper, committed, and sustained change.
As agencies strategize about how to change for better CX, they should consider facilitating the flow of change in new ways, which may feel uncomfortable at first, but will increase their probability of success:
- Insist on organic change: Don’t look at the change as a simultaneous change throughout the organization, but rather as a flow of energy (like water) that starts at a wellspring and journeys through the organization, slowly carving out a new culture. The leaders’ job is to champion and orchestrate that journey; every employee is involved in carving the riverbed.
- Seek the wellsprings first: Look for small areas or groups in the agency that have energy for the change—those that are already committed and have the least resistance. Start the change there. This accomplishes three things: 1) it creates a place to experiment with the change in a group that is tolerant of failure; 2) it creates momentum through success that can help the rest of the agency to follow suit; 3) it creates a group of advocates that can help convince others of the importance of the change.
- Don’t try to change the unchangeable: There will be some people who will not want to participate in the change and will resist it at all costs. Do not expend energy trying to change these people. If they are not on board and are not getting in the way of the change, they will eventually either change or leave. If they are unproductively combatting the change, you may need to help them find a different agency in which they fit better.
- Recognize the power of peers: Leaders often think that they are responsible for the change and think that their voice is enough. In reality, a peer can more easily convince another about the importance and value of the change than a leader. Support advocates at the lower levels and let them be the mouthpieces for the organizational change.
- Call out successes: When a group or part of the agency successfully implements or demonstrates CX the way the change is meant to be, publicly recognize that group and explain clearly what they did and how it contributed to the success of the agency. Don’t declare victory too early though. One, two or even ten successes does not mean that changes has flowed through the organization, but it does mean that it has started.
Moving toward CX through this type of change is not a science, it is an art. By moving from trying to control the river of change to facilitating and working with it, leaders are more likely to gain superior citizen experiences and at the same time exemplary employee experiences.