Updated: Aug 2, 2019
(Originally published on Bloomberg Government, January 2017)
By Dr. Victoria Grady and Dr. Patrick McCreesh
On Friday, we saw the inauguration of our new president. In his address, President Trump vowed new jobs, new infrastructure programs, and guaranteed that change is coming. Each change will have a profound impact on the employees in the federal government. We hypothesize that the peaceful transition of power will likely be followed by a democratic process of bringing this administrative agenda to reality.
Now is the time for the new administration and federal employees alike to hear the words of C.S. Lewis: “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
Over the last 10 weeks, we have offered the outline of an approach to change management that is based on a strategy for change and includes four key components: leadership, training, communication, and performance management. We have also shared some thoughts on how to get started by: exploring the culture of the agency, understanding the employees within the agency, getting some resources for change management, and building a capability.
We have provided an outline and a solid foundation to get started, but how do we bring together a divided team and move ahead?
Understand the Benefits. Often change management gets discussed in terms of costs, but that is the wrong way to think about it. Yes, there is a cost to supporting people through change, but there is a greater benefits in supporting people through change. Each time an agency spends money $1 million to develop a new system and $0 to support people through the change, the program has lost $1 million.
Bureaucrats are the Key. The outcomes of change initiatives within the federal government are heavily anchored on the backs of career civil service employees, not the President or his presidential appointees. A failure to support these individuals to understand, adopt, and integrate the new administration’s change initiatives will result in failed change.
Keep an Open Mind. There is no doubt that the new administration wants to do things differently. Is there red tape, waste, and abuse that can be cut from the system to create a more business-focused and effective government? Yes. And these approaches can bring significant benefit to the current workforce and to the American citizenry. But it will require be a different way of doing business that requires effective change management to understand and support the perspectives of all stakeholders.
A few agencies in the government have built capabilities around change management. Development of change management specialization and capabilities should be top priority. After all, the average tenure of a politically appointed federal executive is roughly 2 years, which means that federal career civil service employees have a unique perspective on how to deal with change. They outlast it.
Change management could help employees of the federal government have a better orientation to the change coming from leaders and build new programs from a place of strength.
If President Trump really wants to be different, he will not just call for change, but will manage it.