Embrace middle management...
...And other ways to prepare your organization for big changes in IT strategies and policies
- By John Moore
- Mar 27, 2008
Change is a fact of life in government, and information technology is often at the center of it, either as an agent of change or as its target.
New IT — enterprise resource planning software, for example — often changes the way an organization operates. Organizations also change when they adopt new technologies. On the flip side, IT is often a target of change. Policy mandates and operational changes frequently force agencies to modify their information systems and update their IT infrastructure.
Change, death and taxes are inevitable challenges. However, agencies can prepare to deal with change in all its aspects. They can start by making organizational change management a part of their agency culture. “Any organization that serves a constituency needs to have change management as a core competency,” said Jeanenne LaMarsh, founder and chief executive officer at LaMarsh and Associates, a management consulting company.
Here are 10 additional management do’s and don’ts that management experts recommend: DO: Consider multiple perspectives Change occurs at different levels of an organization and, accordingly, calls for different management approaches and tools. First, consider institutional change. Enterprise architecture provides a big-picture, 30,000- foot view of change.
Enterprise architecture “gives you an institutional change management perspective,” said Randolph Hite, director of IT architecture and systems issues at the Government Accountability Office.
Enterprise architecture sets forth the how and why of an agency’s operations and provides a road map for future changes. Architecture helps managers understand how change in part of the organization “fits within the larger context of where we are going as an institution,” Hite said. “It’s a frame of reference.”
Second, consider program changes. At this level, change management requires helping employees understand the purpose behind program changes and how those will affect their roles and responsibilities, Hite said.
Change management has not traditionally been part of program management, but that is changing. “I’ve seen programs where that is an integral part of what they are doing,” Hite said, citing the FBI’s Sentinel program as an example.
Third, consider IT operational and infrastructure changes. Frameworks such as the British Office of Government Commerce’s Information Technology Infrastructure Library can help here.
ITIL guidelines suggest establishing a change advisory board. Other guidebooks recommend creating a change control board. Terminology might differ, but the idea is the same: create a governance board to review and discuss proposed changes.
A board need not review every change. Instead, an agency might opt to preapprove some types of changes — the distribution of an updated antivirus database, for example. But for a change above a certain threshold of magnitude, “bring in multiple disciplines and at least talk it through in some regular, patterned way,” said Steve Tolbert, vice president and director of civil sector operations and business programs at SRA International.
Tolbert advises customers to create a group with change-control authority.
That group will typically include participants from both sides of the IT organization: software development and infrastructure. And don’t forget to include a representative from the help desk. They are the ones who will be getting the requests for help once a change is made, Tolbert said.
DO: Identify key players and embrace middle managers
An important task in managing change is identifying the parties to be affected and anticipating potential sources of resistance. Organizations often overlook middle managers during that process, which is a mistake, management consultants say.
When a top executive com mits to making a change, the people below him or her must act with the same level of commitment, LaMarsh said. The desired change won’t happen if those in middle management refuse to support it. They become “black holes in the leadership cascade,” LaMarsh said.
The importance of middle managers is not disputed. “Middle managers are often the biggest stumbling block in any big change,” said Mitch Fleischer, corporate analyst at the New Vectors Division of TechTeam Government Solutions.
LaMarsh said organizations need to look at midlevel leaders as targets of change, identify reasons they might resist and create ways to gain their support.
Fleischer recommended cultivating a cadre of middle managers as change agents. On large projects, TechTeam deploys a field agent network of people experienced in the kind of change a customer seeks. Those people train the customer’s change agents, who then gather reactions from users and answer their questions, he said.
Fleischer said he tries to have users represented as subject-matter experts on agency teams that are planning to deploy new systems.
For example, if an agency plans to install a new accounts payable system, it should bring an accounts payable veteran onto the team. DO: Offer education in addition to training
Training often gets top billing in change management. After all, employees can’t make effective use of — and might completely reject — new equipment if they don’t know how to use it. Without user acceptance, change will never take root.
Jerry Briggs, managing director of Accenture’s federal government practice, said training practices have improved and that he believes the trend will continue. But the technical aspects of a new application represent only half the training challenge. Briggs said people typically need to have a deeper understanding of the change before they will accept it.
“People...need to be educated in terms of what kind of background they need” to make the best use of a new technology or process, Fleischer said. An organization that purchases supply chain management software, for example, should teach employees the principles of supply chain management, he said. DO: Communicate early and often
Even the best innovations can fail if the sponsoring agency neglects to articulate the new direction.
Communication is a major component of change management, said Fred Haggard, vice president of management consulting at Catapult Technology. Communication played an important role in the General Services Administration’s Infrastructure Technology Global Operations program, for which Catapult won a contract last year.
GITGO, which consolidated a number of IT infrastructure contracts, represents a change in the way GSA delivers IT services to internal customers, Haggard said. GITGO’s communication plan offers a way to familiarize customers with procedures for obtaining services using e-mail and Web-based frequently asked questions.
“No matter how good the model may be, if you don’t explain it to people well and don’t have people behind it, it’s difficult to get it done,” Haggard said. DO: Expect a transitory dip in productivity
Periods of change are often accompanied by a drop in productivity, quality or customer satisfaction. The challenge, LaMarsh said, is to anticipate problems and determine the extent to which the organization can respond.
Organizations might need to lower their productivity targets for a few months during a period of major transition. This period should include time for agencies to offer training sessions and for employees to become proficient with a new technology.
That productivity loss is one reason middle manager s might balk at change. They send workers to training, but their agency’s performance targets remain the same.
“You can’t ask middle management to make sure a change happens…[ without] any dip in the numbers they are accountable for,” LaMarsh said.
If an agency can’t take a productivity hit, it might need to lengthen a project’s schedule to absorb the effect of change. Training a few employees at a time will lessen productivity losses.
Other ways to soften the blow include adding resources — hiring temps while workers are training, for example — and implementing changes in small increments over a longer period of time.
Employee resistance can also contribute to a drop in productivity, LaMarsh said. For example, employees might take lengthy lunch breaks to discuss why they dislike the pending change. But by anticipating thorny issues, good managers can minimize productivity losses, she said. DON’T: Force-fit change management approaches
Agencies aren’t monolithic, and change advocates must keep that in mind, Fleischer said. A government entity is a coalition of organizations, each with independence in decision-making.
“People who plan technology change think they can do the same thing throughout the organization, and they can’t,” because units of the larger organization have different goals, cultures and power bases, Fleischer said. “Customize what you are doing for different parts of the organization,” he added. DON’T: Underestimate resistance
People might hate the change that a new project demands. Failure to recognize this possibility early on can lead to some nasty surprises later, LaMarsh said. Yet project leadership teams often seriously underestimate potential resistance.
“They believe in the change…and have trouble imagining why anyone would resist,” LaMarsh said.
The remedy is organizational pulse-taking with surveys, focus groups or lunch-table discussions. DON’T: Neglect ground rules for governance
Government agencies often set up a governance structure to help guide a large program, but such groups might lack ground rules — a critical oversight, Fleischer said. A governance organization, even one with stellar executives, can fail to make good decisions in the absence of established operating principles.
To boost a governance body’s effectiveness, “make the roles and responsibilities of each group explicit and plan out how the governance process works,” Fleischer said. Questions to consider include: What level of decision will the group make? Will decisions be made on the basis of unanimous or majority support? Under what conditions will the group defer decisions to another management tier? DON’T: Forget to measure effectiveness
An agency might tack change management onto a program, but is it effective? Does it position the workforce to deal with change? Agencies should measure the change management effort, taking care to address the relevant details.
“In some cases, they’re not focusing on the right measures,” Hite said. DON’T: Shortchange change management
Perhaps the most obvious pitfall is failing to give change management sufficient prominence. “It is given less attention in the planning of the program and ends up being an afterthought,” Briggs said.
Change management isn’t just a nice-to-have item, Briggs added.
Change management is no-brainer “if you are to get a return on the taxpayer’s investment in a reasonable timeframe.”