The Change Formula – Start at the Top?

Most of the work I do involves business transformation, which inevitably involves change. For many, it’s their kryptonite. Whether or not they recognise the value of, and even participate in the events leading to the change, when the rubber hits the road, more often than not change is stalled due to one (or more) of the following conditions:

  • Lack of buy-in from the immediate group that needs to implement and practice the change.
  • No one has time to do things differently. Disruption requires overhead, even if the participants have spent x days in workshops inventing the plan for change.
  • Change doesn’t have a plan or objectives.
  • The tools or decisions required to progress do not exist.
  • There is no support from leaders/influencers/rule-makers.
  • There is no supporting community.

Roughly every excuse fits into one of those categories. John Moore (@JohnFMoore), one of (in my opinion) the more relevant Open Government/Gov 2.0 writers in the movement today, posted tonight a short opinion piece on change in the Open Government movement, related to discussion around the next US Depty CTO. John suggests that the change required to see sustainable progress in the Open Government movement requires support from leadership. He’s partially right, and it’s a discussion I hear over and over again, whether related to Open Government or any other initiative that is synonymous with change.

I have long held the opinion that sustainable change requires movement and progress on both levels. Without leadership buy-in and support to clear the way and create an environment that permits and enables change, transformational efforts are unlikely to be successful. However, just as important is what I often refer to as ‘guerrilla warfare’ – small, incremental grassroots activities that demonstrate success at the micro level and demonstrate to those that are most likely to be affected by the change that it is achievable and is worth the effort and is relevant to them.

Far too often I have seen programs in place because there was a document circulated that outlines the leadership team’s strategic plan for a program or business unit, including initiatives that may very well resonate with the employees who are meant to deliver said programs but without involvement in the planning process, this employee group struggles to find its way in the program, and are left just implementing yet another directive.Speaking of social capabilities including alignment and trust… these are not perceived to exist in the top-down scenario and limit the longevity of the program.

Now, of course, organic bottom-up programs will often reach a limitation without the eventual support of the leadership, and it is appropriate for this group to pick up and support those initiatives that reach this threshold, or any others for that matter. But, timing of that lifecycle is important.

It is my belief that the recipe for success (or the best chance for success) involves organically grown initiatives that bubble up from the folks who have their hands dirty in the business of the organisation, whether that is public sector or otherwise, that are monitored and measured informally by the leadership through continual and open dialogue with the folks designing and driving the programs.

When it becomes clear that the initiative has traction and is generating interest or results, it is appropriate for the leadership to step in to help clear the path to support further growth and sustainability. These programs may become embedded within greater organisational initiatives, or become a foundation for new strategies. Of course, in order for this to happen, organisations need the foundations in place to ensure this flow and lifecycle can be perpetuated.

In case you haven’t guessed, this foundation includes appropriate communication and collaboration tools, innovation programs and tools, engaged employees, trust relationships and alignment of objectives. These are not achieved singularly in a top-down or bottom-up environment, but in a middle ground where the two meet.

I believe this is where the open government movement is at now. Much groundswell at the line level, bubbling up. Leadership should be well aware at this point that there is extensive interest and engagement with its staff and customers (citizens), and should be preparing for enabling these initiatives to reach maturity.

To illustrate the concept, I had these two pieces created for a presentation I did recently and thought they were a great visual representation of where much of the public sector is still at in terms of open government, and where we need to be. One of the most significant changes I see is the role of the leadership, from orator to path-clearer.

I welcome your perspective.

Life before social capabilities:


And utopia:


(Images by the insanely talented Kevin Langdale)



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