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Government IT

Changing Change Management

Managers can't just impose change from above, it alienates employees and leads to poor results; an 'open source' approach is far more productive

Asking employees of any organization to work with different people, on different priorities, or in different ways is never easy. For government employees this can include navigating an administration transition, implementing a new policy, or adapting the organization in the face of funding changes.

In the public sector, the challenge is especially acute as organizations are rooted in a certain way of “doing things,” and managed by laws and regulations that make change even harder to achieve. With 89% of public sector leaders saying they anticipate an increasing amount of change in the future, they need to improve how they manage it.

For those working in government IT, there are even is even more pressure as digitization pushes the pace of technological change. This means that IT teams are well placed to help their organizations make big strides with technology, but only if they learn how to manage all the change that comes with that.

Don’t Just Tell Staff What to Do

Traditionally, organizations approach change management from the top down. Leaders generate a plan for managing the change, put it into place, and then communicate the change to employees. It’s seen as consistent, efficient, and fast. But, this leaves little room for employees to influence the change that will affect them, and can understandably leave them feeling alienated.

Put simply, a top-down approach sends employees the message that change happens to them, not with them. Three things happen to employees during top-down change.

  1. They wait. Most employees (64%, according to CEB data) wait to act on top-down change directives until someone clarifies the change.
  2. They waste their time. Most employees (71%) are at risk of misdirecting their effort toward the wrong activity because the leader-created plans do not easily apply to employees’ day-to-day work.
  3. Perhaps worst of all, some employees (28%) actively resist the change because the top-down approach makes them angry and anxious.

Switch to ‘Open Source’ Change

To better weather the storm of change sweeping through the public sector, leaders should borrow from software developers, and take an “open-source” approach. This uses the broader workforce to design and implement change in the organization. An open source change management strategy vastly outperforms a top-down strategy, according to CEB analysis.

In fact, open source change increases the likelihood of change success increases by as much as 24 percentage points, the amount of “resistors to change” among the workforce decreases by as much as 19 percentage points, and the implementation time actually decreases by one-third.

The underpinning philosophy of open source change is that change happens with employees, not to theme and is achieved by three important steps.

  1. Include employees in change design: It can be hard to make employees feel included in a change that is politically determined from above.

    Although it is not always possible to include employees in shaping change strategy, it is possible to seek their input on how the change should be operationalized. Keeping people involved increases their sense of ownership, which will increases the chances of success.

  2. Activate employee ownership: Our research finds that employee-owned implementation is far more likely to succeed than implementation led by leaders or managers.

    Employees will always know best how to assimilate the change into their own workflows. So by partnering with employees during the implementation process, leaders can make change more relevant and improve outcomes.

  3. Prioritize communication for capability: Most change communication is designed to win employee “buy-in” for the change. But our research indicates that helping employees understand the change is more important than convincing them to support it.

    Communication should enable employees to discuss their questions and anxieties about change and arm them with personally relevant answers. Such communication will not only help employees understand how the change affects them but also make them feel less apprehensive about the change taking place.


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