There is widespread agreement on the need to improve public sector efficiency and effectiveness and, for the most part, the tools and the brainpower to do so are extensively available. So why are Public Sector Management (PSM) reforms so hard? The primary reason is that the process of implementing reforms implies not only developing their technical aspects but also changing the behavior and culture of key actors to adopt new policies, procedures, processes, systems – and not the least of which – new mindsets. The adoption of new ways of working and thinking can be accomplished through effective change management.
So what is meant by change management? For the purpose of this blog, we adopt a simple description:
“Change management is the process of helping people understand the need for change and to motivate them to take actions which result in sustained changes in behavior”.
The change management perspective is that people don’t resist change – they resist being changed. The reality is that people want to participate in change, some resistance is natural, and individual resistance can be reinforced or diminished by group or organizational culture. Figure 1 shows the stages that individuals go through when they are confronted with change.
The goal of a successful change management approach is to help people let go of their current work patterns and behavior to embrace and advocate for the new approaches and behaviors that support the reform effort. Evans applies the following high-level heuristics to its approach to change and to the process of managing change to ensure that impacted stakeholders are committed to PSM reforms.
1) Change Starts and Ends with the Individual: People must know where they are going and why, and leaders have a responsibility to re-define the norms and priorities, live by them and inspire others to follow. This involves on-going clear and consistent communications with active listening and periods of reflection. Everyone must clearly understand their unique role in the change. Effective change management serves to disarm change resisters by managing stakeholder expectations and clearly communicating the implications of a reform on the individual and the way they work so that the reform is not feared – it is embraced.
2) The Broader the Impact of a Reform the Greater the Need for Effective Change: Reforms that cross multiple organizations, multiple levels of Government and entail numerous technical solutions are inherently more risky because the number of impacted individuals and potential points of organizational resistance are so high. Complex reforms require an engineered change management strategy and tactics that are commensurate with the level of organizational chaos and upheaval associated with a broadly and deeply impacting PSM reform.
3) Trust is the Key Enabler of Change: The primary deliverable of any change is demonstrated changes in behavior. To successfully bring about behavioral change, individuals driving change must engender trust. There are multiple dimensions to trust, but at a minimum contractual trust needs to be established. This deals with an individual’s faith in another’s integrity and ability to keep agreements. As such, individuals need to understand the boundaries and expectations of them and see consistency in word and action from those leading the change.
4) Benefits and Change are Inseparable: To fully realize business value, change and benefits are inseparable – benefits cannot be delivered without change and change cannot be sustained without benefits. Just as the explicit articulation of benefits is part of every reform, dealing with the ‘human factor’ is fundamental for success. As such, change is not an event but a human-centered process that must be managed. To expect people to behave differently, change must be facilitated and rewards must be aligned with results and expectations associated with behavioral change.
5) Leave the Organization more Resilient. We target long-term change capability by building competencies in dealing with change, rather than restricting the focus to the assimilation of a single change effort. We take a holistic approach that considers all the impacts, including the cumulative effects of multiple changes occurring concurrently or in quick succession. Sustainable change is about accepting and being prepared for resistance, removing barriers and building both organizational and individual resilience to change. It is also about building organizational capacity to assess their own change management capabilities and manage their own change programs (meta-change capacity).
Managing the Process of Change…
6) Apply a Diagnostic Approach: There is no “one size fits all” process for change management. By characterizing the organization in terms of its reform scope, pace and focus (internal behavior) and the government and donor intent that drive a reform (external behavior), we aim to build a change risk footprint that covers both the current and desired state. Analysis of this ‘change corridor’ helps build a “pin-point” plan of change interventions designed to best deliver the “required state” capability to achieve targeted outcomes.
7) Integrate Change Management within the Reform Effort: To be fully effective, change management cannot be run separately from the reform effort. It also requires dedicated and sustained support throughout the lifecycle of the initiative. Consultants and the human resource department may provide training, coaching and support, but the change sponsors and change agents must consist of leaders and managers whose own behavior is expected to change. They thus feel and demonstrate commitment to the change and are in the best position to engage with other staff to enlist their support.
8) Sequence Change Management Programs to Align with Technical Phases of a Reform: The decisions around the sequencing of technical reforms generate significant attention. Equally important, though, is the sequencing of change management programs so that the timing of change activities, interventions and communications can be executed in alignment with the phases of accompanying technical reforms. Change programs must be broken down into manageable ‘chunks’ to effectively manage anticipated and unanticipated pockets of organizational resistance that may surface at various stages of a reform effort.
9) Recognize and Reinforce Change Successes: The best way to get commitment to a change is to demonstrate that it is successful. Therefore, it is important to demonstrate that the change is being implemented; it is happening with frequent incremental improvements; and, the stakeholders involved have bought into the new way of working and are reporting on the benefits. Quickly demonstrating change impacts or ‘quick wins’ shortly after the start of a PSM reform effort is also key to the overall success of a reform effort and can have long-lasting, positive impacts on the perceptions of impacted constituencies.
10) Mitigation for Human-Centered Risks: When the program plan for the reform effort is built and the risk analysis is complete, for every risk that is associated with people, it is the change management program that will mitigate or remedy the human-centered risks.
 The Dance of Change – Peter Senge (1999)
Richard Hudson has over 30 years’ experience in management consulting focused on ‘structuring change’. He has managed many large change projects, including virtual teams spread across multiple continents.
For the past eight years, he has worked on projects involving international donor financing agencies working with The World Bank, The Global Fund, UK Department for International Development (DFID), Asian Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. He has lived and conducted projects in a number of countries around the globe and these experiences have provided him great insight into the unique challenges of implementing projects in developing countries and the significant benefits that be derived from well-structured and managed change projects.