Government agencies, departments, and divisions are faced with necessary adjustments as administrations change, new regulations are adopted or rescinded, new leadership assumes top offices, and constituents demand different processes or procedures. Whether a small tweak of internal processes to gain efficiencies or effectiveness, or wide scale change from an executive order, agencies must plan and implement the required change from a current way of operating to a new one.
We have all read about the poor results regarding change initiatives. Most change initiatives fail because one or more key aspects of change management are missing, such as awareness and buy in regarding the change, communication, consistent implementation, and follow up to ensure new habits are formed and reinforced.
How do you determine your agency’s readiness for change? You may conduct one or more assessments such as surveys, interviews, or focus groups to understand employees’ attitudes, beliefs, abilities, and willingness to change, and with that data develop plans to nurture a culture of adaptability for change. Online surveys are certainly an efficient method for conducting readiness assessments. This article discusses several key aspects of change readiness and offers possible solutions for increasing readiness and success with your change initiatives.
Key Aspects of Change – Assessment
One popular model for change management is Prosci’s ADKAR model (https://www.prosci.com/adkar/adkar-model). The acronym ADKAR stands for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. For each of these aspects of change, it is important to explore stakeholders’ understanding of the need for change and their perceptions of being able to implement change. Stakeholders include employees, supervisors, managers of all levels, outside vendors/contractors, as well as the public beneficiaries of the agency's services. There are standard surveys to which you can benchmark your organization’s readiness, and then track your improvement over time.
One way of measuring readiness for a change initiative is to ask survey participants to indicate their level of agreement with statements that pertain to each aspect of the change your agency is implementing. Popular agreement rating scales include 5-point scales such as “Completely Agree, Somewhat Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Somewhat Disagree, and Completely Disagree” or 4-point scales that remove the "fence sitting" or "not sure" choice in the middle. It is important to remember that if you want to benchmark your survey results against existing data, you must use the same agreement statements and scale to make a valid comparison.
Awareness of the need for change, the type of change being implemented, and how the change will affect agency processes is a critical element of any change initiative. To assess the level of awareness of the need for change, the research team will evaluate stakeholders’ agreement on certain statements about the current situation and the need to change to a new procedure. For example, we could ask survey participants to indicate their agreement or disagreement with the following statements:
- The current agency operating budget process produces a high level of re-work on agency budgets.
- An objective of this change is a streamlined budgeting process, which will allow operating budget personnel to provide more strategic collaboration to agency divisions.
Desire is a gauge of stakeholder engagement and willingness to participate in the new processes and procedures required by the plan for change. The assessment of desire focuses on an individual’s willingness to participate, and encourage others to engage in one or more change initiatives. A high level of desire for change reduces resistance to the change. To continue with our example of budgetary process changes, by asking agreement with the following statements, we can assess the level of desire for the change:
- This change will ultimately benefit my job.
- I look forward to increased collaboration and cooperation for all agency operating budget personnel within the agency resulting from this change.
Knowledge refers to employees having necessary information regarding the change initiative and knowing where to access additional information about the change initiatives. We can assess knowledge by asking survey participants about the information they have received and what information is available to them when further assistance is needed. For example, regarding a budgetary process change, we could ask for agreement with the following statements:
- I have been provided full documentation on how we will revise the agency operating budget process.
- I know where to access the frequently asked question database regarding agency operating budget process changes.
Ability pertains to applying knowledge about the change on the job. We assess ability by exploring employees’ perceptions about their confidence in applying new skills and behaviors and their access to tools necessary to implement the change. Example agreement statements include:
- I feel confident I have the new skills and abilities needed to perform my job after implementing the agency operating budget process change.
- I can access online training whenever I have a question about the new procedures.
Reinforcement encompasses all activities to help ensure the new process is implemented and employees don’t go back to old habits. Reinforcement activities include coaching, ongoing training and motivation, measurement, and celebrations. We can assess the level of reinforcement by asking for agreement to questions such as:
- The agency recognizes and awards activities leading to the desired change.
- Executives in our agency are visible, active leaders and champions for change.
Key Aspects of Change – Improvements
Once you have estimates of your stakeholders’ perceptions of awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement for the agency’s change initiative, you have the necessary foundation to develop a plan to increase readiness for change. Communication is a key activity before, during, and after any change initiatives. A comprehensive communications campaign may include:
- written materials reviewing the need for change, how new procedures will be implemented, and how procedures affect work groups
- presentations during departmental meetings reviewing needs and plans for change and progress as the implementation of change proceeds
- formal training on the change initiatives
- videos with change initiative information that workers can access after regular business hours
- coaching and mentoring – both supervisory and peer-to-peer
- infographics and employee posters or signs
- guidelines for one-on-one meetings between workers and supervisor
- regular communications to nurture engagement and feedback
Whatever change management model and plan you choose, you will want to clearly identify and communicate:
- the need for change
- potential roadblocks of change
- the detailed change management plan
- evaluation plans for measuring key metrics
- recognition and celebration
- feedback loop for continuous improvement
Ask about how CATMEDIA created an ongoing communication campaign for a federal agency with BAM Mail™ which facilitated both engagement and feedback.
CATMEDIA is an award-winning Inc. 500 company based in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1997, the company specializes in advertising, creative services, media production, program management, training, and human resource management. As a Women Owned Small Business (WOSB), CATMEDIA provides world-class customer service and innovative solutions to government and commercial clients. Current CATMEDIA clients include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).