Digital Modernization in Government: Organizational Change Management

September 8, 2022
Digital Modernization in Government: Organizational Change Management

See all three parts of this series on our VAS Federal page

Since 2010, the federal government has spent an average of $20 billion per year on developing, modernizing, and enhancing its software systems. These investments are admirable, given how crucial digital infrastructure has become to our world. But simply investing in updated technology is not always enough. Without proper leadership to guide the organizational change that comes with updating technology, efforts of transformations will inevitably lead to disappointment. The final Insight in our three-part series discusses the goal to stabilize people, processes, and systems while examining how Organizational Change Management (OCM) can be instrumental in facilitating modernization efforts. 

Why Change Programs Face Challenges

Change is meant to lead to new opportunities but can lead to disconnects. Grand visions for the future can, unfortunately, lead to disappointment. In fact, one study found that 70% of change programs fail. Why?

A large reason for this is not a lack of quality technology or a proper vision from leadership. Rather, it is a result of employee resistance and a lack of support from management. Change and transformation are driven by people, which is why it’s essential to get cross-functional collaboration, alignment, and a deep understanding of why you’re making a change.

Consistent failures can even compound onto one another. The same study found that the number one reason employees resist change is because they are skeptical due to past failed change efforts. 

One of the possible disconnects between success and failure comes from the unique hierarchy of government, where direction from the top often comes from political priorities that may conflict with technical best practices. Without effective communication of mission goals and support from management, many staff will be resistant to fully utilizing the new systems in place. Indeed, a study found that 33% of public sector employees say “management behavior does not support change”. 

To combat employee resistance to digital transformations, it is essential to look beyond the technical requirements. Change must deliver value at the earliest point possible and adapt to the changing needs of the teams using it. A change in technology will shift the day-to-day behavior of the staff using it. Communications are often impacted. Steps required to perform basic functions could be radically altered. So rather than simply focusing on technical expertise, leadership in government should view digital transformation as a part of organizational transformation

Creating a Clear Understanding of Change 

When looking toward digital transformation, implementing new software is the easy part. There are plenty of options for technical solutions and usually an abundance of talent to build it out. The real challenge is understanding how the current processes need to be improved. This question is difficult, as it involves asking politically challenging questions from a multitude of stakeholders. But there can be overarching needs that are easy to identify. 

For instance, start by articulating a clear understanding of why change is needed—an understanding that rallies your agency around a shared goal. Is cybersecurity in need of an upgrade? Are current systems incompatible with one another? Was the platform designed for purposes that are no longer applicable to the current needs of the organization? Or as is often the case, all three of these.

Identify what problems need to be addressed and then ask how software can support the effort. Looking at the digital transformation from a pure software perspective will be incompatible with the needs of the organization. Whatsmore, if the business/political problems are not understood, any attempt at improving the underlying software will likely only exacerbate current issues. When deciding on which course of action to take, first ask why then ask how. 

Investment in People

Ultimately, the success or failure of the digital transformation is going to be dependent on people. Staff at all levels must feel that they are not only invested in the mission but also being invested in by the organization. Investing in new digital infrastructure is more than simply improving the current technology used. It is about unleashing human potential. Smart investments in software limit unnecessary bottlenecks and tedium. Staff should feel empowered by the new developments. They should not feel like learning a new system is just another pile of work that is being thrown on their desk. 

This starts with driving visible leadership alignment from sponsors and champions to promote early adoption and celebrate iterative successes. Sponsorship from middle- and field-level managers are especially critical to onboard teams successfully. By having their support and following up on concerns around retiring legacy software and implementing new systems you will be able to identify additional opportunities and areas for improvement not initially considered at the conception of the project. 

Finally, create and promote a culture that has an understanding of working towards continuous improvement. Software evolves and the needs employees have for it do as well. If the programming is able to continue to improve as time goes on, not only will the functionality improve but so will the staff.  

Realize Value Faster

Technology alone won’t propel your organization forward. The people will. While technology is a great enabler to improving efficiency and growing opportunities, change and transformation is driven by people. In order to realize the value of digital transformation faster, it’s essential to get cross-functional collaboration, alignment, and a deep understanding of why you’re making a change.

At Van Allen Strategies we help people realize that change faster. Whether your agency is considering updating legacy systems or redesigning processes, we know that preparing and onboarding can be complex. With our help, you can remove the complexity, excite the organization, and ensure the big change is brought on seamlessly. Contact our team to learn more about how we can help your organization embrace digital change and prepare for it. 

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