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Trump and his daunting change management challenge

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 one 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. 

After four years of speculation, two years of campaigning, three debates, and more than 127 million votes, we now know that Donald J. Trump will be the 45th President of the United States.  It was a hard fought race and the Trump campaign deserves credit for its success.  Congratulations!  But now the hard part starts. As George Washington says to Alexander Hamilton in the eponymous Tony-award winning musical, “Winning was easy young man. Governing’s harder.”

Now, the Trump administration is challenged with creating new goals and objectives for the executive branch.  The people of the United States will have a new president and the 440 Federal Agencies listed on the Federal Register will have new leadership.

There will be new leaders at all levels, as political roles will change at the top and bottom of every agency.  There will be new policy programs around a diverse set of topics, including defense, health care, the economy and immigration.  There will be new ways of doing business. And the new administration will leverage new technologies to bring efficiency to the work of the federal government.

Each of these new activities will create change for employees of the federal workforce.  Across all industries, we know that 60 – 70 percent of change efforts fail or are challenged.  So, how does the new leadership of the Trump administration bring their energy to the federal workforce and succeed?

The key to success resides in understanding the principles of change management.  In many ways, the federal government is similar to any organization undergoing change.  Each agency is a large organization with stove pipes that impact authority, decision-making and communication.  The executive branch has powerful external stakeholders (Congress) who, like stockholders, expect returns from their investments.  Moreover, the workforce is experiencing the same generational challenges of any industry including the new desires of an emerging workforce combined with the potential loss of institutional knowledge from a departing workforce.

Change in the government is different.  Priorities may change on a more regular basis, as public desires and the news media can quickly impact the direction of agencies.   Leaders in the government change on a more regular basis, as the average executive in the private sector stays in position for nine years, whereas the average federal executive maintains the position for two years.  Systemic challenges, such as the funding process, can shut down or delay projects for days, weeks or years.

The good news.  While all of these things are organizational constraints, the good news is that people are still people.  And the role of change management is to support employees through change.  Successful change management will measurably increase the probability of the usage and adoption of the new program, capability, technology, business process or leadership strategy.

This article is the first in a series to illustrate how change can succeed in the federal government by successfully using change management.  Over the next 10 weeks, we will introduce a series of techniques for leaders to encourage successful adoption of new initiatives with an emphasis on the people impacted by change.  As new leaders introduce new ideas, buy new technologies or integrate new processes—selling the idea is easy, getting it implemented is harder.

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