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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Christine Springer
November 6, 2015
Nurturing change and renewal in public agencies is not only important but also critical. There is a growing recognition that fostering a culture of change is the key to organizational success. Public managers only have two real choices: stick with the status quo until things decline or continuously change to stay relevant and vital.
Creativity, mental flexibility and collaboration have displaced one-dimensional intelligence and isolated determination as core ingredients of individual and organizational success. I recently surveyed and interviewed 150 government leaders, all of whom had held varied positions across more than 30 state and local jurisdictions. In doing so, I discovered a consistent commitment to the pursuit of change and some guiding methods for generating new value through continuous change.
According to the participants, culture means the shared attitudes, value, goals and practices of the organization. They also agreed leaders should be committed to changing the culture to one that is committed to growth and change. In doing so, the message becomes part of the culture and everyone knows it and practices it. Having a culture of change and growth means a better tomorrow for everyone.
To keep moving ahead, organizations continuously rethink and redefine systems because few traditional systems are flexible enough to succeed through this century and beyond. To do so requires energizing others, asking questions (not just coming up with answers), embracing others’ aspirations, collaborating with others and taking action. Workers, the community, customers, vendors and suppliers and organizational leaders all need to embrace change and growth.
First, public managers must understand they don’t have all of the answers. They need to let go of the killers of change by recognizing:
1. Every product or service has a natural life cycle that begins with an introduction, is followed by growth, maturity and then decline as it becomes yesterday’s miracle.
2. The ability to embrace substantive change depends on the willingness of the person in charge to put the organization first.
3. A temporary fix in order to keep everything the same precludes progress.
4. An inquiring mind is more important than conventional wisdom, which uses ideas, explanations and solutions based on the past to solve current problems.
5. No program or office is “entitled” to continue to exist based upon its having been successful in the past.
6. Being risk-averse leads to failure because half of all new ideas fail due to lack of follow-up and effective execution.
In order for the organization to embrace change, it is important to have the right people involved who are focused and motivated. That means decisions about who goes, who stays, who leads and who follows will determine any organization’s ability to embrace constant growth and progress. Deciding who stays and who goes usually requires a consideration of the following:
1. Individuals that not only possess a formal education in the required field but also have the ability to learn new things.
2. Individuals that have a good work ethic and are willing to take the initiative to get the job done, even making a personal sacrifice for the good of the organization.
3. Individuals who truly like the organization and want to climb mountains. As one manager I interviewed stated, “Our culture is about climbing mountains and it is not about reaching the top that is important but the journey, overcoming doubt and bravely going into the unknown without letting your constraints overcome you.”
4. Individuals who see the possibility of better results tomorrow despite the problems and challenges of the moment.
5. Those individuals who think like an owner because they understand the importance of what they do.
6. Individuals who are extremely bright contributors but were possibly viewed as troublemakers in other organizations.
People chosen for leadership roles in change organizations share all of the previous traits, but they also:
1. Treat people well and as they want to be treated.
2. Communicate well as a coach, mentor, disciplinarian and salesperson so they can accept change and take ownership of what the organization is doing.
3. Lead by example by acknowledging what is really important and promoting credibility, humility, accountability and fairness.
4. Build trust by doing what they say, leading by example and showing consistency and fairness by asking good questions, sharing their values and listening to others.
5. Attract and keep talent by giving people the training, tools, resources and opportunities so that they are able to succeed.
In the final analysis, organizations today need to change and grow in order to succeed. Doing so requires their leaders, workers, community, vendors and suppliers see the future and are committed to taking the necessary steps to get there.
Author: Christine Gibbs Springer is the director of the Executive Masters Degree in Emergency and Crisis Management at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas. She is founder and CEO of a strategic management and communications firm, Red Tape Limited. Email Springer at [email protected]