Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

In a time of transition, focus on the basics of change management

Bloomberg Government regularly publishes insights, opinion and best practices from our community of senior leaders and decision-makers. This column is written by Dr. Victoria Grady and Dr. Patrick McCreesh. This column is part two of a ten part series on the change management and the federal government. Be the first to see future articles by signing up for Bloomberg Government’s weekly newsletter. 

The Trump Transition Team is tasked with filling approximately 4,100 jobs in less than three months. Change is coming—and it’s never easy. Trump is now confronted with a daunting change management challenge, but there are ways of running this process that increase its probability of success.

What is change management? Change management is the engagement, education, and encouragement of stakeholders throughout the change process to maximize the potential of the change effort and the likelihood of sustained change.

Why does it matter?  Simple: If no follows your new approach, your investment of time and effort is wasted.  Leaders consistently cite that 60-70 percent of change efforts fail, but why? Over budget, blown deadlines, and scope creep are among the most common reasons cited for change failure. But we believe the foundational reason change efforts fail is because they fail to understand the people side of change.

There are five key components of a people-focused change management strategy:

1. The Plan – Change management is not a project plan. Each change initiative has its own project plan to make sure that the desired change is completed (e.g., the system is built or the process redesigned). Change management requires a parallel and integrated plan that supports people through the change.

2. Communication – There are many different stakeholders in a change process and each person experiences change differently. The key to communication is that nobody will change if they don’t understand what the change is and why the organization is doing it.  Even if the change is happening merely for political reasons, the people need understand the change.

3. Training – All change, even simple process changes, requires a re-orientation. This shift in mental model requires an investment in educational resources to ensure people know how to make the change.

4. Performance Incentives – “What gets measured gets managed,” right? The same is true with change management.  If an agency decides to reprioritize work in a new way; all the planning, communication and training in the world will mean nothing if there is no way to enforce the adoption. People will perform, they just need to be motivated.

5. Leadership – Leadership is one of the top three factors for successful change in the private sector. This is no different in the federal government. The common misperception in government is that most agencies are hierarchical.  Few are.  Most agencies have the same informal leadership structures found across all large bureaucratic organizations.  Identifying the right leaders at all levels of the organization and preparing them with the right tools is critical to the people side of change.

The challenge is significant. As new leaders establish their plans for the administration, they can increase the rate of adoption, and ultimate success, by developing a strong change management plan.