Academic journal article The Public Manager

Achieving Strategic Change in Government: A Small Group of Senior Government and Private Industry Executives Share Their Experience and Thoughts on Strategic Change and How to Achieve It-Including Practical Tools to Get Going Quickly and Keep Things Moving

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Achieving Strategic Change in Government: A Small Group of Senior Government and Private Industry Executives Share Their Experience and Thoughts on Strategic Change and How to Achieve It-Including Practical Tools to Get Going Quickly and Keep Things Moving

Article excerpt

  Change is certain. Progress is not.
  --E.H. Carr, From Napoleon to Stalin, and Other Essays

Everyone is "transforming" these days, but will these efforts produce a better government? Virtually every federal government agency has a transformation initiative in progress. They can immediately produce a PowerPoint briefing that describes its virtues. Change is in the air everywhere. Five years from now, where will these transformation initiatives be? Will the agency be better aligned with the nation's needs? Will they be delivering their services at world-class levels of effectiveness, efficiency, and customer satisfaction? Will the transformations result in lasting, positive, strategic change?

Unfortunately, in spite of best efforts and genuine hard work, most agencies will never achieve the goals outlined in the PowerPoint briefing, much less the promise of real strategic change. Many transformation initiatives will not survive changes in leadership and the gravitational pull of the status quo. The initiatives will be diluted, fall victim to "malicious implementation," (1) or be overcome by a new transformation initiative from a new leader. The government will be forced to settle for incremental change and an agency that does not efficiently deliver the best possible service to its customers and our citizens.

There have been successes. It is possible to achieve positive strategic change in a bureaucracy and genuinely improve the performance of organizations. The process is difficult, but there are lessons learned from both the government and private industry that can be applied to improve the effectiveness and long-term success rate of major transformation initiatives.

The LMI Executive Forum

What is real strategic change, and how do you achieve it? This question was put to a small group of senior government and private industry executives at the inaugural LMI Executive Forum in February 2005. LMI Executive Forums bring together top-level officials to discuss a critical issue in the management of the federal government, and strategic change was the focus of the first event. The group was diverse--current and former executives in private industry, civil and defense agency heads, and representatives from virtually every major functional area. Their record on transformation was mixed--in a few cases, the participants had been key players in large and successful government and private-sector transformations. Other participants were struggling with their current agency efforts. These were pragmatic people: the discussion was not academic or theoretical. The dialogue focused on the difficult realities of making transformation happen and making it "stick." This article summarizes the insights and thoughts of the group, as they presented them during the Executive Forum. There was a policy of "no attribution" made during the Executive Forum, so the participants will not be identified in the article. The quality of the discussion was so outstanding it made this article hard to write. The discussion that follows is the author's attempt to summarize the discussion without diminishing its quality and to capture the energy and commitment of the group. In keeping with the practical perspectives of the participants, the article follows a very simple structure, beginning with a description of what is meant by "real transformation" and why it is needed, followed by thoughts on how to actually achieve strategic change in government organizations.

Real Transformation and Why It's Needed

  There is certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to
  worse; as I have found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is
  often a comfort to shift one's position and be bruised in a new
  place.
  --Washington Irving, Tales of a Traveler

The term "transformation" implies marked change. One definition is "an act, process, or instance of change in structure, appearance, or character. …

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