With budget crunches for the foreseeable future, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson says “Tough budgets should trigger innovation, not fear.” And for many government leaders, innovation means transformation of their work and their agencies. The IBM Center has released a leader’s playbook for guiding transformation.
The IBM Center report, “A Leader’s Guide to Transformation: Developing a Playbook for Successful Change Initiatives,” is by Robert Reisner, the former vice president for strategy at the U.S. Postal Service. Reisner interviews ten current or recent government executives in the midst of transforming their organizations and found five common actions among these leaders. These actions may be useful guides for the recently-announced trade reorganization initiative, as its leaders begin to act on President Obama’s announcement.
What Is Transformation? Reisner says “transformation” is moving from one state to a fundamentally new one that builds upon the DNA of the traditional enterprise. He notes that “a decade of experience with transformation initiatives has revealed the common characteristics of significant, transformational change. There are clear differences between the traditional, cautious, bureaucratic, siloed, command and control structures of the prototypical government agency and the agile, innovative, decentralized, technology-savvy character of a transformed government enterprise.
The goal of his guide is to give government managers the benefit of the experience and insights of government executives who have had first-hand experience in leading transformation.
The transformational leaders of the future will be at all levels in organizations, given the nature of the decentralized leadership style that is growing across networked agencies, so the case studies Reisner draws on come from different perspectives in the organizations in his study.
What Are the Five Key Steps to Transform? Reisner distilled five common steps from his intereviews, and found that they were interactive, not sequential:
Develop a compelling game plan. Transformation initiatives possess a sense of urgency. Yet controlling the timing of how they are launched is important. Key elements include:
- Seize the initiative to lead the change, in order to “own” the message about the vision and the reasons for the change.
- Choose when to launch deliberately, and use “burning platforms” judiciously.
- Use the power of an external mandate carefully, so external forces don’t overwhelm your ability to lead.
- Clear some space on your calendar so you can conduct an objective analysis and not be crisis-driven.
Align the plan with your mission. “Aligning change initiatives with a rigorous definition of mission gives you a tool for prioritizing change that matters,” notes Reisner. He say that to do this:
- Begin with mission alignment so you can clearly identify value and can measure progress toward your goal.
- Balance the need for cost reduction with the need for service improvement.
- Engage stakeholders – including employees — at every step, because they will engage on their own via social media if you don’t involve them from the beginning.
- Personally lead the transformation dialogue; it’s an opportunity to talk about creating mission value and legitimacy to act.
Focus the plan with an effective innovation process. “Transformation requires fundamental changes and a vision of an alternative future,” notes Reisner. But doing this means:
- Being realistic about the speed at which the initiatives can be implemented.
- Democratizing data to encourage stakeholders to co-create innovation.
- Carefully selecting the moment when radical change is required.
- Learning from the new Open Collaboration models to engage stakeholders.
Transform strategically. You have to “understand the trade-off between the line managers and innovators” when launching a transformation initiative. You need both on your side. To do this:
- Assemble joint teams of “young Turks” and line managers, because isolating the innovators may risk marginalizing them.
- Build joint ownership through regular progress reviews with stakeholders.
- Find the path to maximize consensus.
Build in sustainability. Developing a plan for action helps, but how do you keep the transformation going, especially if there are leadership changes? One step is to give explicit permission to employees to innovate. Other steps include:
- Explicitly recognize the inevitable barriers, and find ways to say “yes,” or the actions needed to get to “yes.”
- Design the change initiative from the start to be sustainable by using regular reviews, anchoring the reviews to mission, building a constituency for innovation, and creating “user groups” to improve on the changes in-progress.
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