How to move your agency toward e-gov

The ability to manage change is as vital to the future work force as technical skills, and the move to electronic government further shines the spotlight on human performance.

Those are among the conclusions of "Vision 2010: Forging Tomorrow's Public—Private Partnerships," a report from Andersen Consulting and The Economist Intelligence Unit that reflects the views of more than 700 senior civil servants and politicians in 12 countries. A smaller sample closer to home — the U.S. Mint and the departments of Commerce and Defense — shared lessons learned on their paths from paper to paperless.

Many have touted the Mint's successful e-retail operation since its April 1999 launch. Underlying that success are a shared vision to improve customer service and a flexible culture. "Our motto is, "we embrace change,'" said John Mitchell, deputy director of the Mint.

Mitchell and Jackie Fletcher, the Mint's chief information officer, studied the best practices of government and private entities and obtained buy-in from management and workers. They wrote a plan that established retail coin sales as the first target and set a specific goal: closing the books in a more efficient manner.

The Mint provided customized training as the system was installed and encouraged constant communication to keep ideas flowing. Fletcher emphasized the importance of training and said, "Without the right tools, you will not be able to move ahead."

Furthermore, communication helps employees accept change because they can see how they fit into the plan. "Sharing information empowers the people," she said. "We use on-site visits so that employees are well-informed at all times." The Mint now enjoys a large base of enthusiasm and knowledge — which translates to more people who can help with training.

"We operate in an open manner and share information," Mitchell said. "We are transforming the Mint's [human resources] function, and it is on track for 2001."

Paper-Free

When Karen Hogan, Commerce's digital department program manager, set out to steer the department into the digital world, she started by forming a navigation plan. Hogan determined that the agency's most paper-intensive area — and the one that would require the most effort to transform into a paperless system — was internal administration.

Dividing the task into "doable chunks," Hogan started with the financial system and a specific goal of a clean audit on a regular basis.

"Switching from paper will free [employees] from the administrative grind [and enable them] to do better planning, review contractor performance and work more with people," Hogan said, adding that training was tailored to take advantage of each division's unique history. "Training takes employees from one set of skills to another."

She expected resistance but did not find as much as she anticipated. She keeps the employees informed at all times and uses what's learned from them to revise the strategic plan, which is posted on Commerce's Web site.

"You have to be willing to review and revise the plan on a regular basis. We do it quarterly," Hogan said. The regularity of the review keeps it proactive rather than reactive.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Timothy Malishenko, director of the Defense Contract Management Agency, reports learning several lessons from the implementation of DOD's Standard Procurement System during the past two years.

"The first lesson is that top leadership involvement and support are critical," Malishenko wrote in a contract management report. "Leadership must educate everyone on all stages of the process and how it will work in the infrastructure."

Leadership must communicate effectively with all levels of employees so that expectations are aligned with what will be delivered, Malishenko said. And as leadership learns about parts of a project that need to be changed, new instructions and updates should be issued. Malishenko recommends a train-the-trainer process so that training is disseminated well.

Malishenko stressed the importance of coordinating training with the delivery of the new product. "Providing training too long after the new system [is implemented] leaves employees frustrated with a new work element that they cannot properly utilize," he said. "Too-early training leads to forgetting and more frustration."

E-Gov Expands Arena

Change within agencies is not the only game in town. The mandate for a one-stop government portal for the general public ["Portal would customize federal info," FCW, July 3] is leading to interagency digital solutions. Hogan points out that although those efforts share many of the same dos and don'ts, they must also overcome turf battles.

Hogan remains optimistic about the ability to manage change in this larger arena. "The slow pace of change in government is often seen as a disadvantage," she said. "But sometimes that slower pace is an advantage. It gives people time to adjust. Part of [government's] slowness is due to built-in checks and balances that ensure that things and people are not swept away by change."

—Leotta is a freelance writer based in Burke, Va., who has been covering management and policy issues for 17 years. She can be reached at JGL1@aol.com.

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