July 2016
Issue Map
The Public Manager

Are Your Experts Ready to Be Change Experts?

Even highly skilled employees may need training and support to manage change in their agencies.

Technological advances and the public's increased expectation and desire for new products and services require federal agencies to innovate and respond to change at a pace that was once not thought possible. We're seeing this across all agencies, regardless of their overarching missions, not just the typical suspects such as the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services. Compounding the pace of change are congressional and presidential mandates, Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports, budget pressures, and external threats that compel agencies to modernize and transform the way they do business. In this current environment, the one constant appears to be continued change in the public space.

As captured in the recent Management Concepts research report, Successful Change Management Practices in the Public Sector, the federal workforce responds to and adapts to this increasing pace of change in as many varied ways as there are agencies. Effective change-management practices motivate and enable the workforce to deliver on organizational goals. Specific best practices observed in effective change organizations included:

  • aligning the change effort to mission-critical goals
  • leadership action planning
  • aligning a training plan to the change plan to support the change.

Additionally, effective communications strategies addressing the whole organization with push and pull elements were reported as important factors in successful change. It also was clear from the study that effective change requires organizations to leverage their people to ensure success. However, according to the data, only 31.4 percent of organizations were able to deliver on successful change.
Like any organization experiencing a large change initiative, a federal agency's ability to adapt greatly depends on the skills of the workforce being asked to lead and manage the change. Fortunately, many of our federal workforce's most productive and influential members are highly skilled professionals with advanced degrees in science, research, technology, and engineering. Although many of these individual contributors never anticipated or desired the role of manager, they have taken on supervisory duties as government budgets have continued to shrink. Given the continued challenges with successful change, agencies may be failing to equip these leaders with the skills to manage the people side of change.


Flawed communications, organizational silos, and lack of stakeholder buy-in are the top three roadblocks to organizational change, as evidenced in the 2016 Changing Government Workplace Survey. Federal personnel are ready and able to develop new skills, but we can't assume that their educational background and early professional experiences will have equipped them for the challenges of effective change management.

What can agencies do? The report's findings reveal that the top three strategies employed to minimize the negative impact of change are:

  • providing training
  • improving processes for efficiency
  • improving the workplace culture.

What's more, building the core competencies of change leadership is an essential, but often overlooked, element of successful change. An agency's response to large-scale change should include an enterprise-wide change management plan, communication plan, and professional development that includes change leadership skills for the workforce charged with leading the change initiative.

About the Author

Andrea Lee serves as the managing director for organizational change management for the People and Performance Consulting division at Management Concepts.

About the Author

Richard Lashford serves as a consultant for the People and Performance Consulting division at Management Consultants.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.