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Diagnosing the Change Readiness

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

(Originally published on Bloomberg Government, December 2016)


By Dr. Victoria Grady, Dr. Patrick McCreesh, and Dr. David Clare

As the presidential transition team continues its efforts, we are getting closer to the day when the new political leadership will meet its career bureaucratic counterparts. Last week we focused on the challenge of leadership and change. Now let’s look at federal employees and change. Our team has conducted extensive research on how federal employees react to change. Resistance to change is often considered so toxic it has the potential to end an agency’s ability to succeed through change.

In our research, we found that federal employees often demonstrate symptoms of organizational attachment that make it difficult to change. In research on change management, many believe that the biggest impediment to change is the employee’s desire to change. We agree and furthermore suggest that the resistance to change is often due to a positive attachment the employee has to something in the organization. It can be a leader, a mission, an office, or even a red stapler ;).

Dr. Grady has defined six symptoms that represent organizational tendencies toward attachment that can will complicate the ability of these organizations to change. We have applied these symptoms to federal agencies through the use of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) to yield a Federal Change Management Index. Through the lens of attachment behavior, the index (FCMI) identifies those agencies that are ready and willing to change versus those agencies that might experience challenge with change.

The six symptoms for measuring an organization’s readiness are: motivation, productivity, morale, absenteeism, conflict, and turnover. Each symptom has different questions that reveal the presence of that symptom within an organization. Collectively, the symptoms tell us whether an agency is ready for change or unready for change. If the agency is unwilling to change, then the approach helps identify what symptoms need to be addressed within the agency.

We have applied our approach to the 2015 FEVS study using representative questions from the survey that serve as a measure of the symptoms. We used these findings and created a web-based application where leaders can see their agency’s challenges with change. This application provides three different views of the data.

The first is an agency profile, an example is below for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The agency profile is based on the presence of the representative agency’s performance in all six symptom areas.

Federal Change Management Index Application

The second view represents how all of the agencies perform against each of the symptoms. They are color-coded by department and the user can click on any one agency to see how they perform across the symptoms compared to all agencies.

All Federal Agencies Across Symptoms

The third view of the data allows the user to compare any two agencies in the survey on any question in the study. Additionally, this view provides the average response (by all agencies) to the question, as another point of comparison.

Comparing Two Agencies on the Same Question

Collectively, this tool supports a new (or existing) leader understand the challenges that might be waiting for them in the agency they are about to enter. When these leaders understand the symptoms challenging their agency, they can create a proactive (customized) approach to more appropriately sustain the team (the federal employees) through this transition and beyond. #attach2change


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