This year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo launched an initiative requiring local governments to prepare plans “for shared, coordinated and efficient services among the units of local governments contained within the county, excluding school districts.” The initiative is meant to keep property taxes under control while promoting more efficient operations. Meanwhile, governments outside of the state are watching closely in case their leadership moves toward similar models.
From cost savings to leveraging existing knowledge and best practices, there are many benefits of shared services. Especially in IT, where procurement costs are high and learning curves are steep, governments realize significant returns on shared services investments. While identifying the pros may be easy, change—especially change that requires the cooperation of multiple groups — is hard. In addition to being efficiency experts, government employees need to become marketing masters to successfully get everyone on board with their shared services plans.
If your shared services plan faces resistance, know that you aren’t alone. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 66-75 percent of all private and public change initiatives fail.
Technology change initiatives are notoriously challenging. They often require employees to learn something new on top of everyday duties — no small task considering public employees are increasingly being asked to do more with less.
So what happens when your shared services plan isn’t immediately embraced by everyone? A thoughtful change management approach can engage the hearts and minds of those involved, pushing employees along the continuum from rejection to openness. Change management focuses on people — ensuring change is thoroughly, smoothly and lastingly implemented. It pulls many practices used in marketing: identifying target audiences, understanding how they think and implementing promotional strategies to change their behaviors.
With this in mind, successful rollout of a shared service will require identifying specific change management objectives. Typically, these include:
- Sponsorship: Ensuring active, senior-level sponsorship for the change.
- Buy-in: Gaining buy-in from those involved and affected, directly or indirectly.
- Involvement: Involving the right people in the design and implementation of changes.
- Impact: Assessing and addressing how changes will affect people.
- Communication: Telling everyone who’s affected about the changes.
Readiness: Preparing people to adapt by ensuring they have information, training and help.
Change Doesn’t Have to be a Four-Letter Word
To find the best approaches for change, first connect the project with the people who have to do their jobs differently. Understanding differences in personalities allows leaders and managers to predict responses to change, and then deploy the correct leadership or communication style to smooth the transition.
For example, a municipality may want to implement a shared records management system to reduce time spent organizing and retrieving files, and reduce costs of compliance with records management statutes and regulations. Consider specific changes—how documents are stored and accessed, and how retention schedules are managed—and the people involved in every step.
Leaders should emphasize that the initiative is not just unavoidable, but urgent, strategic and beneficial. You may already have a sponsor (such as Governor Cuomo), but it’s helpful to also have sponsorship within the organization adopting the shared service. Educate sponsors about the initiative, outline expectations for their roles (which may include advocating and using the new system themselves) and involve them throughout the change process.
But executive buy-in doesn’t have to be a cold directive: For example, after one local government organization in New York purchased electronic records management software, the staff was working to scan documents into the system. The county clerk made neon T-shirts that said, “Ask me how we’re saving money!” for leadership to wear. It was a physical reminder that leadership was unified in its message and effort.
Engage all organizations early and often, and consider all input so everyone feels a part of the process rather than like change is happening to them — or worse, being forced on them. When we feel supported in our transition, it feels less like a personal attack and more like positive momentum forming in the organization.
Best Practices for Communication
It’s common for those undergoing change to experience denial and anger, especially when their organization is not leading the shared service. Combat this with information—and strategic ways to deliver it. Your role is to help people understand why change is happening and how it is helpful. Think of this as a marketing campaign—it’s your job to create a vision for the future.
Foster trust by maximizing in-person communication and embracing multiple channels of communication — emails, presentations or even meetings over coffee — and addressing any concerns by reiterating how the individual will benefit. At the same time, understand that it’s easy for people to become overwhelmed; give them a place to go or someone to contact for more information.
Here are some additional tips:
- Communicate consistently, frequently and through multiple channels, including one-on-one meetings, emails, videos, focus groups, bulletin boards and more.
- Communicate the reasons for change so people understand the context, purpose and need.
- Provide time for people to ask questions, request clarification and offer input.
- Recognize that true communication is a conversation; it cannot just be a presentation.
- Provide answers to questions only if you know them. Leaders destroy credibility when they provide incorrect information. It is better to say you don’t know, and that you will find out.
- Listen and act with thoughtfulness. Avoid defensiveness, excuses and answers given too quickly without thought.
Effecting Long-Lasting Change
Building a community of support will solidify your shared services initiative, positioning it to be scalable and enduring. Identify “champions” of the initiative and enlist their help to train others. Make it as fun as possible. When onboarding users to your shared service, for example, throw a kickoff party, host lunch ’n’ learns or establish an external user group. Center events on sharing stories to simplify abstract ideas and applaud shared successes.
Even after moving through the stages of change, your work won’t be finished. Be sure to limit access to the old system to reinforce the importance of your project. Your sponsors will need to stay informed and involved, and you will need to provide ongoing training, continue hosting user groups and add educational resources.
Finally, remember that change is a process, made up of small efforts over a period of time. Just don’t forget to celebrate the small victories along the way.