Navigating change management in any sector presents challenges such as maintaining employee engagement or training and communication. Regardless of sector, the overarching goals of change management are to increase the likelihood of project success and minimize risk and disruption. Implementing change management in the public sector does, however, come with some unique challenges.
Here are ten considerations when implementing change management in the public sector.
The public sector needs change management.
Get ready to be flexible. Being a change management purist in the public sector may not work. You will most likely need to adapt your strategy to meet the needs of government organizations by selecting the change activities that provide the most value. This is especially important as many public organizations were already dealing with tight budgets even before the COVID-19 crisis.
Find an appropriate project sponsor. Standard change management activities for the project sponsor may not be a good fit. Your project sponsor might not be the person at the top of the org chart, but rather a respected leader closer to the front lines, or multiple people may need to fill the role. Work with the sponsor to come up with a plan that is realistic based on the organization.
Know the stakeholders. It is important to understand the project stakeholders and what is important to them: elected officials, union workers, and employees with varying years of service or long tenures within a specific department etc. This will impact your messaging, training, resistance management and success.
Identify the people who drive change. Identify the key influencers who can be your ally. Developing strong relationships with these employees may decrease resistance to the change. Remember, influential employees may not be at the top of the org chart.
Departments have their own organizational culture. The public sector usually has shared services, but departments may have very different missions and customers, meaning the change management approach will need to vary.
Location, location, location. Within the public sector (i.e. county government), offices can be spread throughout a large geographical area. Your plan will need to factor in engagement and training for these employees.
Plan to communicate. All change communication takes planning. The procedure to get communication pieces approved in government can take two weeks or more depending on the approval process. There may also be specific types of communication channels that must be used. Be sure to document the process so that your communications can be timely.
Understand decision timing. Public sector workplaces often focus on reducing risk, ensuring that public funds are wisely spent and allowing public oversight. Think of the three Ps - Policy, Protocol, and Procedure – and how they impact decision making. Understanding how decisions are made and the time it takes will help you in establishing your change management plan.
Large-scale change for concern. Changes which impact the entire organization do not happen frequently. Implementing a large-scale change to an organization that lacks flexibility takes time. Resistance management may be the centerpiece of your plan. Be patient and flexible.
Change management in the public or private sector will have similar deliverables in the end. Understanding unique differences federal, state, and local governments have will help you to be successful and drive successful change.
About the authors: Corey Loucy is a consultant with almost 20 years of experience in the public sector. Michael Sponhour is a senior consultant with extensive experience evaluating programs and supporting change initiatives for the public sector.
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