The major events of the first half of 2020 – including a worldwide pandemic and massive protests over racial injustice – created a pressing need for government transformation. Like nearly everyone, government agencies faced significant disruptions to “business as usual.” They are also addressing new demands around how citizens want to be served and how some agencies should be structured and funded. While many government agencies have worked to transform into more modern organizations over the years, the need to improve government programs and processes has taken on new urgency.

This is good news for government agencies. While the pressure to reform and adapt can be overwhelming, it also offers an opportunity for organizations to reassess and refine strategies, transform thinking, and evolve processes. That’s even more critical as budget reductions post COVID-19 compel agencies to find smarter, more efficient ways to work. In addition, many people believe this won’t be the last time we face a major disruption due to a pandemic or other event. Going forward, agencies need to ensure their operations are as cost-effective, efficient and resilient as possible.

Challenges to Successful Government Transformation

The opportunity to transform the way government services are delivered has never been more critical or timely, but that doesn’t mean transformation is easy. Numerous studies show that, regardless of the organization, approximately 80 percent of transformation efforts fail to accomplish their objectives. Organizations are made up of people, and people typically resist change unless they have a significant reason to work toward it.

There are six common inhibitors that can slow transformation. During times when a major transformation is required, any one of the inhibitors, if not adequately addressed and overcome, can derail a transformation effort.

The most common transformation inhibitors include:

  1. A cautious management culture. Leaders tend to keep their heads down, protect their business, and try to avoid big mistakes by sticking to the ‘tried and true.’
  2. A “business-as-usual” management process. The day-to-day management process is already overloaded, and there's no room on the agenda for anything new or different.
  3. Initiative gridlock. Too many separate initiatives have already been thrown at the organization and its people. Most people assume a “this too will pass” mentality and ignore new initiatives.
  4. Reluctant leaders. One or more leaders remain unconvinced and uncommitted to the organization’s transformation agenda.
  5. Disengaged employees. Employees are always one big step behind leaders, putting the organization out of alignment. If you don’t have a leader pushing the agenda forward, agency heads or department heads can ruin the whole effort.
  6. Loss of focus during execution. The shift into the execution phase is susceptible to “slumps” in energy and focus.

While these inhibitors are consistent across every type of organization, they are even more challenging for government, because government leaders and managers are generally trained to be more cautious and risk adverse than their commercial counterparts. Bureaucracies are built to inhibit change. Making transformation happen in government therefore requires an artistic balance.

Overcoming Transformation Challenges

There is some good news. Each of these inhibitors can be addressed and systematically overcome with a strong transformation methodology. To be effective, that methodology must focus on four key areas:

Speed: Most government organizations have a two-year timeframe to achieve meaningful change before a new administration takes over. A strong transformation methodology compresses the typical transformation timeframe to achieve results faster. This is critical, because the longer an agency drags out a change the more resistance tends to build up.

Focus: An effective transformation methodology simplifies and focuses on the most critical elements of the transformation as well as efforts that help prevent the organization from falling victim to the common inhibitors listed earlier. A good transformation methodology will focus on the most critical steps, ensure they are accomplished, and leave the less critical elements to be addressed later.

Employee engagement: Strong employee engagement is essential to a successful transformation. A strong transformation methodology will engage employees throughout the organization early so they are looped into the process and have line-of-sight between the goals set at the top and their duties and performance at their individual jobs.

Partnership: Working with a transformation specialist focused specifically on the government environment can help agency leaders accomplish the change they seek. After all, transformation isn’t something the typical government employee tackles every day. A competent guide can help a government executive focus in the right areas and ensure his or her efforts don’t go to waste.

There is a hunger for fundamental change right now. This is the time to seize the opportunity and accomplish government transformation that will enable agencies to provide citizens the services they want and need, to do more with less, and to ensure they can continue to do so despite whatever disruption comes next. Armed with a proven methodology and an experienced guide, agency leaders can greatly improve their odds of achieving that transformation successfully.

Potential to Reality’s Rapid Government Transformation (RGT) methodology was explicitly designed to engage and overcome inhibitors to organizational transformation. Find out more at https://makingitreality.com/.

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