David Wennergren on the role of teams in driving change

Why major reorganizations need both outside change agents and internal stakeholders.

David Wennergren, a former Defense Department executive who is now vice president of CACI International’s Enterprise Technologies and Services group, recently shared his thoughts on leadership and change management with FCW.

Here is what he had to say about pushing the Navy to reorganize its shore bases into a single command:

I brought with me a few independent brokers, honest brokers to meet with the commanding officers of all the bases and the functional leaders there so that they would actually have skin in the game of making the choices about their future.

I brought enough external voices that could help force [the commanding officers] out of their comfort zone — idea generators coming to work with the people who actually have to own the problem.

After that process finished, there [were] gelling and the hard conversations. We got to the place where we made a set of recommendations that they could do and get done.

Fast forward two years later. Now I’m the deputy chief information officer for the Navy. I’m back in San Diego for a completely different purpose, but I end up at this briefing with all the base commanders.

Two years is like forever. It’s different people. Nobody knows that this is the Wennergren who was out there meddling a couple years ago.

They brief me on all the things they were getting done in regionalizing and consolidating the shore installation management functions and how proud they were of what they had accomplished, the $40 million a year they had saved and the more efficient operations and all that kind of stuff.

When we left the meeting, the guy who traveled with me said to me, “Weren’t you annoyed that they didn’t realize it was you and a few other people helping force them to do it and you were in the middle of the change?”

I said no, I was actually delighted, because that’s the art of this light touch. If the change leader is the only person who can make it happen, then it will only last for as long as that person personally has their hands on the wheel.

The only way change can actually stick is if the people who have to live the change have their own skin in the game and force the change to stick.

We forced them to think outside the box, so to speak, but come up with a set of recommendations that they could implement, and once we left they were able to take the ball and run with it. That was the only reason why it actually worked.

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