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Strategic Execution of Change

This article ran in the March/April 2011 print issue of PA TIMES. Email Editor Christine McCrehin at [email protected] for information on how to subscribe to the paper.

Christine Gibbs Springer

When public managers know that change is needed, they also recognize that it will require leadership and the changing and aligning of measurement and management systems to truly make it happen. This is just as true when energy companies today try to integrate new solar technologies as it was when the FBI launched a strategic change agenda Post-911. When doing so, it is important to revisit the eight-step process for leading successful change in a way that makes the steps more operational and effective for public managers:

  • Establish a Sense of Urgency
  • Form a Powerful Guiding Team
  • Create the Vision for Change, an Agenda and a Strategy
  • Effectively Communicate
  • Empower Others to Act on the Vision and Strategy
  • Produce Short-Term Wins
  • Sustain the Effort and Produce More Change
  • Institutionalize the New Culture

The first step involves overcoming complacency and creating a climate of change. In a world of continuous change, global competition and dynamic technological disruption, managers have come to understand that the status quo no longer applies and that “If it ain’t broke, it soon will be.” The organization must understand the importance of recognizing current problems and the need to change to solve those problems. One such experience occurred in the transformation of AT&T Canada when its CEO realized that their only core competence was losing money and that the company would either succeed as a whole or everyone in it would sink together. This convinced the leadership team to craft a strategy for future success.

Second, it is important to have the right team in place to map out a strategy. Some members will be on the team because they head a major organizational function such as human resources, finance, technology, public safety, social services, public works. All must be able to leave their comfort zone as subject matter experts and think about overall organizational direction and strategy.

As part of the team building process, there must also be a willingness to identify who may be asked to consider other employment opportunities because continued resistance and negativism can undermine any change effort. Sometimes, 12-weeks is spent developing a strategy map and scorecard to measure progress and in the process of creating them, a consensus among team members about the strategy and a commitment to helping make the strategy happen emerges. This difficult process of debating and agreeing upon the strategy is powerful because it builds a guiding coalition at the top of the organization.

Third, every organization should review and reaffirm its mission statement and its value statement and redefine its vision so as to mobilize the organization into action by defining a target that it cannot achieve through business-as-usual operations. This motivates the team to select a strategy that will enable it to achieve the vision. The strategic agenda is created as a management tool to link the vision to the strategy by comparing the current status of several organizational structures, capabilities, and processes with what they need to become over the next three to five years.

As an example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks under Director Robert Mueller, put together a detailed change agenda moving it from a case-driven organization (reacting to crimes already committed) to becoming a threat-driven organization (attempting to prevent a terrorist incident from occurring). Instead of being secretive, agents now had to work outside of the traditional operational silos and become contributors to integrated teams. In addition, the FBI had to learn to share information and work collaboratively with other federal and local agencies to prevent incidents that could harm U.S. citizens.

The guidelines and the agenda emerged from an extensive dialogue throughout the organization and engaged all levels of the organization. It was printed out on a one-page change agenda that every employee received and that Director Mueller carried with him whenever he visited a field office. If agents expressed skepticism about or resistance to the new initiatives and structures, he reminded them using the single-page summary, why change was necessary.

Fourth, communication is important and over-communication is critical to the successful execution of a strategy. It begins with words but it needs to move to answering employee questions like: What’s in it for me? What am I supposed to do differently and better to help the organization implement its strategy and achieve its vision?

If done effectively, communications unleash the powerful forces of what psychologists call “intrinsic motivation,” in which people internalize for themselves the goals of the organization’s strategy, answering two key questions that they continually ask about their organization: Does my organization have a strategy for success? How does my coming to work each day play a role in my organization’s success?

Fifth, empowering others to act can be challenging when the organization is decentralized or diversified and often is addressed through the decentraliztion of strategic objectives and the empowerment of local decision makers/frontline workers. As an example, companies such as Infosys, Statoil and HSBC Brasil have been successful using hundreds of strategy maps and scorecards throughout their enterprises that help them achieve both vertical and horizontal alignment of singular and shared objectives. Other organizations have established Theme Teams based on the thematic structure of strategies and others have converted maps into detailed process objectives allowing front-line and back-office employees to act and track their progress on strategic priorities. Some organizations have even designed dashboards that provide continual motivation and feedback for ongoing operational process enhancements.

Sixth, producing short-term wins is key to sustained momentum. Many organizations check the process after three or four months of operation. In doing so, they find that some of their existing initiatives can be eliminated or consolidated with others. Since effective strategies provide a natural balance between short-and-long-term performance, improvements in key operational processes can usually be documented within six to twelve months and improvements in customer/citizen service processes can usually be documented in twelve to twenty-four months. As an example, one local government identified and achieved as a key operational efficiency theme to reduce the cost per customer by 25 percent over five years with 80 percent of the improvement occurring within two to four years of initiation. Short-term targets usually focus on improving operational processes, middle-term targets focus on customer/citizen management processes and long-term targets focus on innovation processes.

Seventh, sustaining the effort and producing more change involves extrinsic motivation of employees by aligning incentives to reward achievement of personal and organizational goals. Employees need to discuss with their supervisors how they will contribute to the business unit’s and overall organization’s achievement of strategic objectives.

When I asked 45 CEO’s what they would have done differently in strategy execution, they all responded that they would have linked it to variable pay to performance sooner because it created a powerful motivational force for employees. Most of them also indicated that they would have started monthly strategy review meetings emphasizing learning and improvement rather than finger-pointing or blaming earlier in the process.

Eighth, institutionalizing the new culture requires replacing or complimenting the short-term financial control and budget culture with an innovation and learning culture based upon effective strategy execution. This is sometimes accomplished through the creation of a new organizational function such as the Office of Strategy Management (OSM).

In the final analysis, leading change and establishing direction by developing a vision of the future along with a strategy for producing those changes requires an alignment of leaders with employees, effective and continual communication as well as intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to stay the course. To do so is to take charge of the change that will occur for better or worse with or without us and to manage strategically.

ASPA member Christine Gibbs Springer is principal with Red Tape Limited in Las Vegas, NV, and a former ASPA president. Email: [email protected]

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