Whether considering moving to more digital means of providing a service, relieving budget pressures, or responding to the Office of Management and Budget’s memo on government reform (pdf), organizations across the US public sector are thinking critically about how to make the most of their future resources.
Most of them are undertaking some kind of “transformation” to change the way they are organized, as well as the work they do and the way that they do it. For these kinds of transformations, the first step – setting the vision – is often the easiest part. It’s the implementation (the “how we get there”) that’s hard. These types of change initiative tend to succeed only 34% of the time, according to CEB analysis, and this challenge is even more acute in government, where the organizations involved are designed to be highly bureaucratic and stable.
So senior public sector staff need to take a short and long term view for transformation implementation. They need to push their organizations as quickly as possible towards the future state – the aim of the transformation – while always making sure they provide the right service. In particular, leaders will need to anticipate and manage staffing gaps as services are being shut down, while also building the new services over time.
The best way to “build the ship while sailing it,” as the management cliche goes, is to use the concept of continuity management. This is a process by which organizations switch resources as needed across organizational silos (e.g., departments, divisions, branches) to provide temporary stop-gap support to meet the most critical service needs. There are three fundamental steps to take.
Prioritize the most critical service needs: As organizations transform, their employees are in transition as well. Given most have staffing infrastructures that are inherently inflexible, agencies will need to think critically about the services they provide, and the services that they don’t.
The goal here is to force rank the most critical work across the agency using criteria that assesses the mission risk of stopping the service. The result is an agency-level understanding of what has to get done, what type of support is needed, and what could be left behind.
Start with a data collection questionnaire that asks for details on the specific support needed and the quantity of services, coupled with a standard interview to review and clarify responses. Specifically, data collected includes a list of business processes where support is needed, how much support the customer needs (i.e., workload), what skills are needed to do the work (e.g., warrants), and are defined in the construct of a project – a time-bound effort that has a start and a stop.
Identify existing capabilities in the agency: It’s crucial that an agency’s leaders and the HR team can look across the whole organization to see what capabilities employees possess and what capacity they have.
Some combination of a standard questionnaire and manager interviews should be used to document what teams can take on work. Specifically, data collected should include the available capacity employee have to service customers (i.e., what processes, how much capacity, what staff, and for how long), and their ability to adapt and flex to work on other projects. Agencies should certainly use any talent analytics capabilities they have to do this as well.
Match resource demands with resource supply in an agile and responsive manner: Undertaking continuity management requires a fair amount of negotiation across business units to align the right staff with the right activities. Once projects are assessed and prioritized and the skills and capacity of all employees is recorded, individuals can be assigned to support projects or activities.
The trick here is that agency leaders need to shift and adapt who goes where with the needs of the work, making mid-project adjustments as the work gets done, and keeping employees, senior managers, and customers informed and as satisfied as possible. Agency leaders should also periodically assess and redeploy available capacity based on where the expertise will add the most value.