Organizational Evolution Requires Successful Change

By Dougan, William R. | Talent Development, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Organizational Evolution Requires Successful Change


Dougan, William R., Talent Development


Implementing change in government agencies is possible. What does it take? A commitment to engagement.

All organizations-whether federal, public, or private-must be capable of change if they are to successfully evolve over time. Failure to adapt to the changes resulting from technological advances, shifting workforce demographics, new laws and regulations, and the evolving demands of their customers will result in organizational extinction. Failure to adapt will quickly drive an organization into obscurity.

This problem is prevalent in public institutions. Government agencies often struggle with implementing fundamental changes to their operations. Organizational cultures that have developed over many decades, or even centuries, within government agencies can be seen to be inherently resistant to change, making it difficult to create meaningful changes. Given this challenge, how can agencies effectively manage change within their organization?

An agency leadership effort

Effective change management requires transparency and effort on the part of senior agency leaders. They must clearly articulate the real reasons they believe change is needed. Employees are quick to recognize contrived reasons for change, particularly if they feel manipulated by management initiatives designed only to improve the scoring of the organization in surveys. Significant change takes time and a consistent effort.

Senior leadership in government agencies must not fall prey to allowing the vagaries of annual budgets and the workings of Congress to dictate fundamental change within their organizations. While there certainly will be a need for course adjustments due to shrinking or expanding budgets and legislative changes, the mission of the agency remains constant. The focus must remain strategic when it comes to mission, and any significant change proposed must complement (or at least not contradict) the agency mission.

The organizations that are capable of creating the most significant changes are those that effectively engage their workforce early on when change is initially being contemplated, and keep employees engaged throughout the decision-making process and implementation of those decisions. To orchestrate effective change, engage employees early and continuously.

Evolving definition of engagement

Employee engagement has been defined by the Office of Personnel Management as "the sense of purpose that is evident in an employee's display of dedication, persistence and effort or the overall attachment an employee has to their organization and its mission."

Research has proposed many definitions for employee engagement. Initially, most of these definitions focused on organizational attributes, such as job satisfaction, organizational satisfaction, and organizational commitment. Only recently has employee engagement been thought of from the individual perspective as opposed to the organizational perspective.

Current research describes engagement as the positive antithesis of burnout, or possessing the qualities of vigor (akin to energy) and dedication (akin to involvement). Engagement is characterized by energy, involvement, and efficacy.

Research has demonstrated that greater employee engagement increases employee productivity, reduces turnover and workplace accidents, and results in increased profitability in the private sector. Although the government is not in the business of making a profit, we see similar results from an engaged federal workforce: improved employee productivity, improved customer service, reduced turnover and accidents, and better progress in accomplishing the mission of the agency.

Having universal agreement on the definition of employee engagement would make it easier for agencies to share best practices within a commonly understood context. Instead of seeking consensus on the definition of engagement, we should seek common understanding of the basic concepts involved in creating employee engagement. …

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