Once seen as stable, even glacial, the public service is now in a constant state of flux, adapting to new business models and an economy that is a moving target. This change will only accelerate in the next few years. Building organizational agility, which forms the basis for effective and sustainable change, is a necessity.
As organizations go through change, it’s easy for staff to experience everything from cynicism, to resistance, fear and change “fatigue.” Organizations are constantly struggling with how to successfully implement change…and have people committed to it.
Is there a secret weapon for successful change? The answer is a resounding “yes” – two, in fact: “co-creating” the change and capacity building.
“Co-creating” goes beyond “empowerment” and feedback sessions; it actively involves the whole organization or team in the change (from visioning to implementation). “Capacity building” provides skills that enable people to participate in, and manage, change, both at the individual and organizational level. As a result, organizations are more agile and staff improve their capacity to implement and sustain change in the long term as well as to manage future changes more fluidly.
Here we present a case study of an effective and sustainable change that left a legacy of a culture of co-creation.
NRC Research Press is the scientific publishing arm of the National Research Council Canada. As Canada’s foremost scientific publisher, NRC Research Press publishes 15 scientific journals as well as books and monographs.
The Press was experiencing budget pressure and was looking for ways to do more with less. At the same time, new technology was available that could streamline the process as well as put it at the leading edge of publication.
A major technology project involving XML source files was undertaken, involving changes in the processes, procedures, and end-user software and making a significant impact on the day-to-day work of the staff. As the implementation date loomed, the Project Manager (PM) and the Manager of the Journals Program noted a lot of resistance among staff and felt this had to be addressed for the move to XML to go smoothly and deadlines for journal publication to be met.
The two managers were introduced to an external consultant, who agreed to work with them to ensure the successful implementation of XML. They were expecting the external consultant to come in and tell them what to do. But that’s not what they got! An expert consultant approach may be appropriate in some cases, but when staff is going to be significantly affected and their buy-in is critical, a different approach is needed.
This approach was process consulting in which the consultant acts as a facilitator while the organization executes the change.
One of the first major insights was changing the lens of “change management” to one of “change and transition management.” Referring to William Bridges’ Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, the managers learned that “organizations change, people transition.” Change is about an external process, product or thing. It can be broken down into pieces, stages, or phases. People, however, go through an internal process that includes emotions, reactions and sometimes subconscious behaviour. The managers realized that if the people being affected were unable to make an effective transition, then the change itself could fail.
The change and transition team consisted of three concentric groups. The primary core team (Diane, Carolyn, and Rebecca), the design team (a cross-section of interested volunteers from the functional work groups), and the entire staff affected.
From the beginning, the core team met regularly to review the project, to set context for it, to get up to speed on Bridges’ transition approach, and to plan next steps.
There were three defining moments in the change and transition process. The first came in the initial meetings with the core team. The two managers were struggling with this new engagement concept, hoping instead for someone with answers to help them through this quickly. The consultant, on the other hand, avoided being seduced into the expert role in order to empower her clients. There was an “ah hah” moment when the managers grasped what process consulting was and realized the difference it could make. At that moment, a real trust formed.
The process was not always linear and sometimes felt messy. In the end, however, there was such a high level of staff involvement and the change was accepted much more broadly and quickly than anticipated that, in hindsight, it was well worth the initial discomfort.
The next step was to understand what people were thinking and feeling. The consultant interviewed a little more than half the staff to try to identify the sources of resistance.
Rather than analyzing the data and presenting the client with recommendations – in a traditional expert consultant role – she formed a staff design team comprising self-selected representatives from each of the work groups. This team reviewed the raw data from the interviews and recommended an appropriate course of action. Part of its responsibility was liaison between the core team and the rest of the department. It was important that their colleagues trusted that the design team would be open and transparent with information, rather than communicating “management messages.”
The growth of the design team, both as a group and as individuals, was remarkable. Participation built confidence, increased project and organizational awareness, and improved commitment to the project. Additionally, these individuals gained experience in collaborative decision-making and transition management theory. Four members also volunteered to facilitate the process mapping session and gained invaluable facilitation skills.
Interestingly, the feedback from the interviews showed that resistance was not to the change to XML itself, but arose from concerns over job security, training, unknown responsibilities, and change in employee value to the organization. Such fear, frustration, anger, and concern are typical during the internal transition process.
The next defining moment was when the design team recommended a process-mapping exercise for all of the staff at Research Press, to engage everyone in the change process. Although the change was a given, how it was to be implemented, how it would change the publication process, and how it would affect the different functions could and should be determined by those who knew the process best – the ones who would be using the technology.
The process-mapping session was a two-day exercise that involved all staff at Research Press. To prepare, the consultant held a two-hour staff workshop on Bridges’ transition theory to normalize what people were going through. In addition, each functional group prepared a detailed map of its current process, which were collated into one complete map. When finished, the map was printed (30 feet long!) and hung on the wall of the plenary room, where it served as an interactive tool for discussion.
The session was voluntary, but the office was closed for two days to encourage staff to participate. Combined with commitment from management, this resulted in almost 100% attendance. The participants also came with an open and positive attitude. The result was not only a new process fully mapped out, but also a significant increase in staff support for the new system.
Before the session, there had been friction between editorial (“front-end”) and production (“back-end”) functions, with blame, resentment, and distrust. During the two days, the group came to understand the entire process a