Instituting Change - Canadian Government Executive
GovernmentManagement
November 26, 2018

Instituting Change

… SOAs are like icebergs approaching mainstream shipping channels … it is not the tips that are visible but the critical mass beneath the surface that will impact the mainstream and create the post-bureaucratic state. HONOURABLE ERIC STEFANSON, MANITOBA MINISTER OF FINANCE (1998)

Kotter International found that 90 per cent of managers and employees surveyed believe that responsiveness has grown in importance during the past five years. Defining, communicating, and repeating the connections between new behaviours and successes help embed a new culture. Organizations that embrace new ways of working with speed, agility, and innovation achieve strategic results.

Articulating the connections ensures that new behaviours thrive until strong enough to replace old habits. Initiatives and results spur on the spirit and collective belief that change is doable. They help people bring desire, curiosity, interest, and passion to their work.

Dr. John Kotter says, “Cultures that lack adaptive values at their core tend to behave like mattresses or sofas with inner springs; it is possible to change the shape of a part of these structures with the application of sufficient force, but as soon as the force is removed or lessened the original shape often returns.”

How can organizations institute change? Why should leaders persist in celebrating the wins gained from opportunities? How can managers sustain voluntary engagement and engrain new ways of working?

Anchoring new ways

Institutionalization is a more realistic strategy for building the capacity for change than restructuring. Turning individual competence into organizational capacity requires a cultural shift. Change does not survive without changing people’s shared values. Teamwork, quality and adaptability do not happen if the value system emphasizes selfishness, mediocrity and bureaucracy.

Success depends upon anchoring new ways of doing things in the culture. For example, semi-autonomous ‘tech-surge teams’ adapt business start-up culture to innovation. Whether at the line, central, or whole-of-government level, their mission is to respond to urgent technology failures by rethinking digital transformation processes and implementation strategies. They are agile, sustainable, scalable vehicles for repairing over-budget, behind-schedule, talent-short ICT projects.

Inculcating change

The case of Manitoba’s Special Operating Agencies brings us back to the future. Their submission as a finalist for the 1996 IPAC Award for Innovative Management stated:

“Special Operating Agencies are the principal means of alternative program delivery and financing in the Manitoba Government. Under the corporate leadership of the SOA Financing Authority, the Province is … institutionalizing change in legislation and in governance structures and processes. SOAs operating via a framework of enlightened entrepreneurship and strengthened accountability are achieving impressive results and are leveraging systemic reforms that are transforming government. SOAs are helping Manitoba to balance budgets, to continuously improve the quality of public services, and to test innovative management practices.”

During a golden decade 1992-2001, the SOA balanced scorecard reported world-class outcomes:

  • 17 SOAs in nine departments created in seven years, representing 5 per cent of the civil service
  • 61 per cent revenue increase and 21 per cent annual cost-savings, contributing $100 million to debt reduction
  • 2,752 new private sector jobs and $192 million in new business activity
  • 36 per cent volume increase, with 99 per cent on-time service and 96 per cent client satisfaction

Accomplishments were the product of a performance culture: “The SOA initiative is first and foremost about dramatic cultural change at the point of service delivery. It is about encouraging efficiency and improving service by allowing managers and employees greater opportunity to exercise initiative and enterprise to benefit their colleagues, customers, and the general public. The conversion process can involve clarifying or redefining mandates, restructuring operations, repositioning services within the marketplace, streamlining rules of operation, setting demanding performance goals, and measuring performance improvement. The end result is intended to be better government, built on self-directed innovation and a process for continuous performance improvement.”

The initiative was recognized in awards, publications, and by replication. It received ‘Special Honourable Mention’ as a finalist for the 1998 CAPAM International Innovations Awards. SOAs represented nothing short of a culture change in government.

Flash forward twenty years. Managerial entrepreneurs still steward public sector renewal and reform in game-changing ventures. They network government to develop capacity, institutionalize change, and account for results. More and more, leaders in the middle transcend boundaries and roles to make a difference. Middle managers are emerging as the true change-makers and disciples of collaboration.

About this author

John Wilkins

John Wilkins is Executive in Residence: Public Management at York University. He was a career public servant and diplomat. (jwilkins@schulich.yorku.ca)

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