There have been a great number of change initiatives in the federal public service in recent years, whether characterized as transformative change, reform, renewal, or reorganization, and new initiatives, such as Blueprint 2020, continue to be put forward. As a result, change management has become a significant part of managers’ everyday work.
There are numerous models and frameworks that we’re told will guide us through the change management process. But most if not all of these change models have been designed and built for the private sector, and do not take into account some of the realities of managing in the public sector, such as: the relationship with elected offi cials; processes related to the management and accountability for resources; and stronger measures to protect workers. In addition, most models are focused on managing project-based changes such as merging organizations or adopting a new IT system as opposed to managing ongoing change.
Despite these gaps, in our 20 plus years of experience consulting with the federal government, we have found that these models can provide some insights, by pointing to some key questions that must be answered to move any change initiative along. Here are our top 5:
1 – Why is change necessary? You have to be able to explain the reason for the change in simple, compelling terms that are relevant to your audience. It’s not enough that it makes sense to
you; it has to make sense to them.
2 – Where is the change leading? People are often afraid of the unknown. Giving them a sense of where you are heading will help overcome the resistance that comes from fear.
3 – How will you implement the change? For change to happen, you need a concrete plan of action with clear responsibilities and deliverables, and you need to monitor and adjust it constantly as the situation progresses.
4 – What is the level of commitment to the change? Commitment is measured in time and resources; if leaders in your organisation and other key stakeholder groups are not willing to invest in the change, it will not happen.
5 – How can others contribute? Nothing helps build commitment to change more than being involved in shaping the new direction. Determine what is negotiable and what is not, and involve people as much as possible in the decisions that are negotiable.
At the same time, we have seen many government change initiatives falter and fail, and there is little research evidence to say whether or not and just how private sector models truly fit government and other public sector organisations. To help close these knowledge gaps on change management in the public sector, we’ve decided to launch a research project, in partnership with the Telfer School of Management, to systematically review existing change models and research on change in the public sector. Our goal is to develop a validated “made in the public sector” change management model that addresses both the big, strategic-level changes and day-to-day operational level changes. With change becoming the only constant, it’s critical that the model being used truly fits the reality in which it is applied.