Change can be exciting, but also stressful. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with government executives who are actively driving culture change across organizations and teams. Recently, however, the pace and impact of change seems to have significantly increased. Executive orders and plans such as the 2018 “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century” have called for changes including agency mergers, reorganization, privatization and relocation of roles outside of the D.C. region—a process already underway at agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the same time, agencies are also adapting processes and modernizing systems at an unprecedented pace.
With so many consequential changes happening so fast, some federal employees may struggle to adapt. They are facing new organizational models, newly aligned program performance metrics with associated reporting requirements, modernized mission systems and the introduction of robotic process automation (RPA), just to name a few. Throw in concurrent upgrades or changes to back-office systems, like moving to cloud-based email or a new shared repository system, and the pace of change can be overwhelming.
In this two-part blog series, I will explain some signs of burnout that organization leaders should watch for when your workforce is struggling with the pace and scale of change. My second installment will examine what agencies can do to help mitigate the impacts of change.
Struggling with transformation? You’re not alone!
In our 2019 CGI Client Global Insights, CGI interviewed 1,550 executives across the globe, including over 220 from central and federal government organizations, about topics such as business and IT priorities, budget trends, innovation and digital transformation. On the topic of digital transformation specifically, 85% of federal executives cite cultural change and change management as the top challenge to implementing their digital transformation strategy. However, only 7% indicated that their organizations have created change management organizations.
Signs your workforce is tapping out
Like a wrestler who can no longer withstand the pressure of a sleeper hold, your workforce may also be ready to “tap out,” to give up. What does that look like?
Physical and mental exhaustion are certainly signs of workforce distress, often the first to become apparent.
Negative attitudes may pervade the workplace, including conflicts with coworkers or withdrawal from challenges and responsibilities. Be alert to growing cynicism about transformation work, with comments such as “we’ve tried this before and it didn’t work” or “this is just the focus of the month.”
Lack of governance across transformation initiatives can lead to too much change at once, and people can feel they are spread too thin. This happens at all levels. Your IT staff may be facing multiple upgrade and modernization initiatives simultaneously, making prioritization difficult. Mission staff striving to support their constituents may be uncertain where to go in light of reorganizations; at the same time, they may need to learn modernized mission and/or back office systems.
Too much change can be particularly fatiguing for the workforce, especially when faced with learning several new processes or systems at the same time. These situations can result in frustration, particularly if employees do not see the transformation as improving their day-to-day functions.
In the second part of this blog series, I will discuss what agencies should consider to mitigate the impact of concurrent change to their vital workforce.
In the meantime, for more insight into the effects of change on the agency workforce, I invite you to read, “Untangling the challenge of digital change management in the federal government."
Read Part Two of this post, "4 strategies to minimize transformation burnout."