Mark Hammer

I recommend the late Larry Terry’s excellent and inspiring book “Leadership of Public Bureaucracies: The Administrator as Conservator”.

One of Terry’s essential points is that public institutions accomplish some of what they do via their authorities, as instituted by law, but most of what they are able to do comes about via their authoritativeness, and perception by all stakeholders that these are the folks who are best informed, wisest, most thoughtful, are best-equipped, have the best perspective, and our best interests at heart, when it comes to X. In a mere 160 or so pages, Terry masterfully outlines the many things one needs to attend to to keep an organization on the rails and true to itself and its mission. The risk of not doing so is that the very folks you need buy-in from may simply feel “Well why should I listen to them?”.

This is the long way of saying that there is “change” which allows an organization to be more effective at being itself, and change which results in mission-drift and loss of identity and trust. Resisting that second type of change is one of the best and most authentic things a public servant can do for their institution.

One of the secrets to effective change management is persuading people that nothing has really changed about the big picture or the long-term objectives. All that is really changing are some of the superficial details. I think far too many who wish to champion and foment change in an organization forget that humans need justification…constantly. And if the way that “change” is being imposed has the air of “everything you did, and the way you did it up to now was stupid and wrong”, those employees WILL fight you. And they will fight you because they need to believe (and deserve to) that the chunk of their life spent on doing things the old way (unless that mode was forced on them against their will) was not wasted. Letting people know that the important things remain unchanged makes it easier for them to relinquish the details of the old ways, because it provides value to their prior efforts.