Many experts in organizational culture point out that change is the only constant. Experts in technological innovation no doubt agree. Orchestrating harmony between technological innovation and organizational change isn’t always an easy task. There’s an assumption that achieving true speed, flexibility, and agility in terms of innovation is difficult, if not impossible. That’s especially true when considering internal Information and Communication Technology (ICT) software implementations. Effective and efficient use of internal ICT software is integral to the effectiveness and efficiency of the organization itself.
However, the risks posed by poorly managed organizational change can make government agencies wary of such innovations. Of course, they’re not entirely wrong to be wary. Different workplaces feature different cultures and different leadership styles, and different leadership styles influence those cultures and vice versa. And it can be a challenge to integrate new, innovative ICT solutions into a workplace that has a strong hierarchal, rigid, and bureaucratic culture (like that often found in government settings). That doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
On the 6th of April 2016, the SAP Institute for Digital Government held an executive roundtable exploring the impact of digital technology on shared services for government. The roundtable discussions exemplified the fact that organisational change is a constant issue across government. Although the capabilities to deliver shared services exist, organisational culture and change act as a barrier to implementation. In this blog post I will explore how consultants should approach change management in a government context. Not all agency cultures and leadership styles are the same. The first issue that needs to be addressed is the fact that organizational cultures differ from workplace to workplace.
This bears restating because many people, including consultants, have a habit of stereotyping workplace culture types based on various factors. What this means in a practical sense is that not all government corporate cultures are the same, and they’re diverging more today than ever before. The public sector is increasingly observing the private sector for new organizational culture approaches. Even without these sorts of deliberate shifts in public sector workplace culture, it’s important to note that organizational culture isn’t solely a function of the organization’s structure. Individual leadership styles, which can be incredibly varied even in organizations with similar structures, influence workplace culture.
Furthermore, employees tend to build their own culture, implementing both formal and informal rules and policies per their own convenience and mutual understanding. A consultant that approaches a government agency with a cookie cutter Organisational Change Management (OCM) and technology implementation plan may well come away believing that government organizations are inflexible and difficult to work with, simply because they did not take the time to examine the particular culture of that agency. Types of organizational cultures Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron of the University of Michigan describe four basic types of organizational culture. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good demonstration of the spectrum of different cultures one can expect to find:
• Clan oriented cultures are family-like, with a focus on mentoring, nurturing, and “doing things together.”
• Adhocracy oriented cultures are dynamic and entrepreneurial, with a focus on risk-taking, innovation, and “doing things first.”
• Market oriented cultures are results oriented, with a focus on competition, achievement, and “getting the job done.”
• Hierarchy oriented cultures are structured and controlled, with a focus on efficiency, stability and “doing things right.” Government agencies have traditionally had hierarchy oriented cultures.
However, no one organizational culture is like another, so there will always be variations. Today, those variations are becoming more pronounced as more workplaces—regardless of structure—are looking to other cultures for tools to strengthen their organizations.
As the lines between types of workplace cultures blur (and in fact, new types of culture may well be emerging), it’s critical for those managing organizational change to realize that their traditional toolkits may not be well suited for the tasks at hand. Organizational change management toolkits have, in previous decades, have often been presented as cookie cutters: rigidly designed suites of materials and methods that were thought to work for most change projects. Consultants were expected to choose the appropriate toolkit and roll out these tools in a well-defined manner. Consultants are now finding that this isn’t a good approach.
Organizations, including government agencies, may express frustration with these methods, and they may not be as effective as expected. That’s because just as organizational cultures blend and evolve, we must be prepared to blend our toolkits and evolve our methods—choosing the right tools based not on a preconceived notion of the type of workplace culture assumed due to structure or industry, but based on observation of the actual culture and leadership styles in that workplace. Consultants shouldn’t assume that they need to work through every traditional OCM step (gap analysis, impact assessments, etc.) if that is neither necessary nor desired by the workplace culture they’re working with in the moment. Assessing the culture of an individual workplace or agency is at least as important as mapping out OCM stages in a rigid manner, and in some cases, it’s become more important. Speed, flexibility, and agility. More consultants are noting frustration from clients who feel their change management methods and procedures are too slow for the pace of innovation the organization wishes to match. This undeniably presents consultants with new challenges, but those challenges must be met in order to keep pace with the speed of innovation.
And these challenges are unique to our age—we’ve never encountered an ICT landscape that changes as quickly or dramatically as the one we inhabit today. Twenty years ago, people neither had nor needed email addresses; ten years ago, the same could be said for Facebook and socially and professionally entrenched social media. Today, these things are critical to effective communication. Just as the changes themselves are speeding up, and just as ICT is giving organizations and individuals greater speed and flexibility in communication and collaboration, so consultants must streamline their change management methods. Not every organization will demand change at a breakneck pace, but for those that do, we must be prepared to embrace their expectations.
Cameron, K and Quinn, R. Diagnosing and Changing Organisational Change. University of Michigan: 1999. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/management/change-your-change-model/article29470447/