Culture of Bureacracy: Managing Change in the Federal Government-Part II: What Opportunities for Change Exist, and What HR Tools and Strategies Are Most Effective in Supporting Such Efforts?
Winchell, T. E., Sr., The Public Manager
Part I of this series contrasted differences in private and public sector management and established some baseline assumptions regarding internal federal administrative operations.
Part II provides the sequence for assessing opportunities and barriers that affect change in your organization. It is divided into four sections:
* evaluating current delivery capabilities
* identifying how your programs align with agency priorities
* determining how to best use your human resources tools to support program development,
* getting employee buy-in.
Part III, which will appear in a future issue, will give readers the opportunity to provide comments and ideas online for improving the management of federal organizations.
Evaluate Your Current Delivery Capabilities
Evaluating your internal organization's ability to absorb change is the critical first step in any change process. A sure formula for failure is to superimpose new requirements on an organization that is currently hanging on by its fingernails. The immediate result is the almost inevitable loss of your best and brightest as they move on to less stressful environments.
The internal administrative assessment process can be surprisingly simple: make sure your policy guidelines are up-to-date and your processes are efficient, take advantage of available technology, and ensure your team possesses the competencies necessary to meet customer requirements and expectations.
Staff cannot overcome outdated and contradictory policy guidelines, antiquated processes and technology, or the lack of training funds. Only top management as the "process owner" can address infrastructure problems. The steps of program assessment in administrative organizations are straight forward.
Review your local policy instructions and other published guidelines that affect your program area of responsibility.
The lag time for policy changes mandated by Congress or the Executive Branch to be implemented through an agency hierarchy virtually guarantees that at least some local policy guidelines are out-of-date.
At worst, agency regulations have become so out-dated that supplemental local written (typically in the form of emails) or oral interpretive guidance has regularly been issued that is not well known to new staff who initially make "mistakes" by referencing outdated published policy. These "mistakes" condition a behavior of avoiding risk by coordinating even routine decisions with experienced staff or the supervisor, which slows processes and frustrates customers.
This is more of a problem than may be imagined, particularly during times of high staff turnover. I remember the frustration of one of my superiors when she found that a high percentage of staff (including the newly arrived me who was managing that staff) were not following very clear published procedural guidelines. That these guidelines had come in the form of an email four years earlier that one of my team leaders finally tracked down solidified my point that we needed an online procedures manual accessible to all staff, including the 70 percent who had arrived in the previous two years.
Assess the status of your information technology and its interface with manual operating procedures.
The major source of change affecting federal mid-level managers often involves the agency-wide implementation of new or upgraded technology. Over the last few years, agencies have become increasingly sensitive to the need to ensure that information can be shared. Economies of scale through mainframe systems or standardization of software permit easier and more comprehensive data analysis at higher levels.
While mid-level managers have no choice in participating in agency-wide systems upgrades, they can still positively affect process design. All too often, as processes are automated or new technology is brought online, old manual procedures and individual data gathering tools for capturing data (for example, multiple Excel spreadsheets in various formats) remain in place. …