Wanted: Expert 'change managers'

Office of Homeland Security

Steve Cooper is looking for change management experts to help the Office of Homeland Security, and he is convinced he will find some good ones within the federal government.

Chief information officers across government have discovered time and again that the biggest challenge to creating e-government, or even just installing a new system, is not the technology but the cultural changes that must be made to accommodate the technology. And when agencies must integrate systems and cultures — as is often the case when using information technology to support the Bush administration's homeland security efforts — the cultural backlash can be even greater.

Cooper, senior director of information integration and CIO for the Office of Homeland Security, is determined to face those barriers head-on by finding and using the people who already know how to manage change in government.

Even though people use the phrase "change management" throughout the government, you cannot go to an agency and ask to speak to the change management experts, Cooper said, "because you'll get blank stares."

So he's taking a different tack to find the people he needs: He's asking agency officials about the most successful projects they've participated in or know about and then identifying the program director and executive who championed them.

"I guarantee you what that project did was effectively manage change," he said. "And I guarantee you in those two people, either one or both of them might be the kind of person I'm looking for, but in absolute certainty, they will be able to identify the people who will carry the skills and the characteristics that I'm looking for."

This is really the only way to find people who can manage the types of changes that homeland security information-sharing systems and policies require, said Donald Kettl, professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Users are another important group to get input from, to see if they also believe the projects were successful, he said.

"It's finding the people out there who are already finding the ways to crack the system...and it's basically a networking challenge," he said.

Good change management leaders share some common traits (see box, below), but basically they are people who are driven to solve problems, Kettl said.

Cooper already has a list of more than 50 government programs that fit his profile. His next step is talking to program managers to identify leaders who can help the Office of Homeland Security as it seeks to eliminate many of the cultural and organizational barriers in government, he said. n

The best change management experts are:

Problem-oriented. They identify the most important problems and devote resources to solving them. Performance-driven. They measure success or failure at every point in a project against the identified goals.

Not hierarchy-bound. They work within the organizational structure but are not limited by it when considering options.

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