People are struggling with digital change management. The reason seems clear: Consistently, the business and IT executives we interview for the CGI Client Global Insights report tell us that their top barrier to digital transformation is cultural change and change management.

Fortunately there are more and more success stories to share, as evidenced at the recent event hosted by FCW and sponsored by CGI entitled, “Digital Transformation: IT Strategies for the Modern Agency.” It’s an ambitious theme, and all of the speakers aside from me were from federal agencies where transformation is proceeding, and where IT leaders and agency managers appear to be tackling what can be a monumental undertaking.

Organizational change is an integral part of digital transformation. Forbes reports that 70% of transformation projects without a formal change management strategy fail.

Agencies are indeed beginning to recognize the need for organizational change management. Many are on the right path and have vivid stories to describe their teams working on strategies and tactics. They are sharing ideas and stories of innovation with other federal agencies. This tells me that leaders are taking ownership.

The influx of younger federal employees is part of this change. By 2020, 50% of the federal workforce will be made up of Millennials. For years we have been focused on “brain drain”―the exodus of older federal employees reaching retirement age and taking their institutional knowledge with them.

Now the conversation has shifted to recognizing the expectations of a workforce that is digitally oriented, and the demands of constituents accustomed to the convenience of e-commerce, chat support, mobile capabilities as powerful as those on the PC and effective cybersecurity. This trend is reflected in the 2018 President’s Management Agenda, which makes moving from low-value to high-value work one of its cross-agency priority goals.

Federal agency managers must envision what the future workforce should look like, and what the leaders of change should look like, in an organization before starting a transformation initiative. If you bring on a dedicated team that focuses on the people side of change—from strategy to the grassroots tactics—and you measure the results, it’s much more likely to be successful.

To that end, in my presentation at the FCW event, I offered four key activities for successful organizational change management:

  1. Align leaders: Getting an organization’s leaders on the same page is critical. Start by developing a success model and work over time to break down silos. The leaders have to be aware of their own and one another’s areas of responsibility to determine the necessary changes to the culture and organizational structure that digital transformation will require.
  2. Engage stakeholders: The next step is to explain the necessity of the changes to the broad range of stakeholders (such as organization heads, IT leaders, subject matter experts, managers, end users and vendors). Establish clear and open two-way communications to help them understand the goals, why the project is happening now and how it affects them.
  3. Establish a change network: Build a network of subject matter experts who can create a communication chain from the transformation team to the stakeholder groups. Work closely with this group to understand the areas of acceleration and resistance. Target communications and interventions with each group. As much as possible, use “foxes”—influential employees who will get on board with the plan and help build awareness, understanding and enthusiasm for it among their colleagues. Use success stories from each group to raise the commitment and enthusiasm of other groups.
  4. Measure effectiveness: Transformation creates a moving target of adoption over time. Unless adoption is tracked and measured by a stakeholder group, you might be caught off guard at an inopportune moment, like the go-live date of a key initiative. The best way to mitigate this risk is to develop a series of activities and interventions and measure their effectiveness with each stakeholder group. This approach enables you to determine if any groups are lagging behind, and continue moving them forward in the adoption curve so you don’t leave anyone in the transformational dust.

Change management isn’t easy, but it is critically important. Federal agencies and other organizations who are attempting digital transformation initiatives should make change management part of their strategy. I’ve seen successful transformations when organizations engage employees upfront and throughout the process. That kind of success breeds long-term, profound impact. I’ve also seen failures when employees are brought in as an afterthought. Let’s see more transformation projects succeed, celebrate change with employees and increase the number of agencies realizing really impressive ROI.

What’s been your experience? I invite you to share your comments. You may also be interested in my previous blog on how change management also can improve decision making.

About this author

Picture of Joan Lillich

Joan Lillich

Digital Organization and Change Management Practice Lead, U.S. Industry Solutions

Joan is responsible for vision, methodology and delivery of the people side of strategic transformation efforts. She has 20+ years of experience advising change efforts for government and commercial clients. She has helped align leadership, engage stakeholders and produce field adoption on projects ranging from ...

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