People and processesChange ManagementHow can the public sector successfully manage change?

How can the public sector successfully manage change?

What are the key considerations public sector organisations need to get right when it comes to change management? Cath Everett finds out.

Although the picture is a very mixed one, in overall terms the UK public sector still has quite a long way to go before it achieves its digital transformation goals.

One of its key challenges has been the fact that such programmes cost a lot of money, particularly in times of austerity, so unless individuals leaders have demonstrated the vision, motivation and drive to push such an agenda forward, improvements have often been slow and piecemeal.

Nonetheless, most public authorities have succeeded in introducing some form of front-end digital services in a bid not only to cut costs, but also to cater to citizens’ rising expectations in this area, particularly among younger members of the population.

The problem though, points out Mark Larsen, managing director of Accenture’s health and public service practice, is that, while a huge number of online services are being created, particularly in the portal and digital applications arena, “many are at the data entry level and aren’t really interactive or integrated with heads of duty systems that run the business of most departments”.

As a result, it is still limited as to how much business people can actually transact online. Furthermore, until such integration does take place, real transformation in terms of service delivery will not be possible. The desired gains in terms of cost and efficiency as a result of streamlining back-end activities to better support frontline services are also unlikely to be realised.

“As digital becomes the norm, it’s no longer about creating a separate digital capability – you have to take advantage of it in the core business and in everything you do, so the right mind set has to be in place,” Larsen points out.

The challenge at the back-end though is that investment has to date concentrated mainly on maintenance rather than transformation. Most public authorities are far from greenfield sites in IT terms, and their systems are mostly old, large and monolithic, but also highly available and very reliable, which makes migration risky.

While such migration may be starting to happen, it does take time. Larsen explains: “It’s about modernising systems in flight. So that means building technology and components on the side of existing technology and, over time, moving more functions to the new setup.”

Cultural change

A key issue that cannot be underestimated in this context, however, is the impact that such shifts have on people and business processes.

As Eman Al-Hillawi, managing director of service transformation consultancy Entec SI, points out: “You can’t really do technology change if you don’t change people and processes too. So to ensure efficiency and effectiveness, you have to invest in a change programme – which puts a lot of people off unless there are leaders who are willing to push it.”

This reluctance stems from the fact that cultural change is a tough thing to push through and may require a significant internal shift.

“It’s true to say that the workforce is the biggest asset of any organisation – it’s the engine that drives it and is the public face,” El-Hillawi says. “So for any change to be successful, especially when we’re looking at digital transformation, the workforce has to go along with you.”

In other words, she points out: “You have to get everyone on board from political executives to the admin staff. The whole organisation has to be lining up in the same direction as much as possible, but you also need to help them through the change.”

A notable challenge here is that public authorities in general, and local authorities in particular, have a number of people “who are lifers and who joined from school”.

As a result, “moving them culturally and encouraging them to adopt new technology and ways of working requires a lot of work”, Al-Hillawi says. “Many are scared of change, which is natural, but it’s also why cultural change is such a big thing that requires time, effort, and cost.”

Nonetheless, it is achievable. But it is important to acknowledge that everyone will have some level of emotional reaction to any proposed shift. As a rule, it is possible to divide these reactions into three categories based on the 20:60:20 rule.

The first 20% of employees will understand the need for change straight away and back it wholeheartedly. The next 60% may see the point but are likely to be more hesitant and will need to be brought on board. The remaining 20%, however, will be nay-sayers, who are totally against the whole thing – although they can become the biggest advocates if it is possible to win them over.

Engagement and communication

Given this dynamic, it makes sense to identify the individuals in the first category and to put energy into ensuring they become ‘champions’ of the cause as early as possible, not least because their enthusiasm should help to pull the majority 60% along with them.

To do so, both an enterprise-wide engagement and communications plan are vital. On top of the usual town hall announcement meetings, it also makes sense to create smaller groups not only to provide input and feedback into the change process, but also to facilitate discussion about concerns and to clarify where individual roles will fit into the new world as well as what change is likely to mean for them.

Drop-in sessions and workshops work well in this context as do informal question and answer meetings. Providing test labs so that people are given space to experiment with any proposed new technology can also be useful, while a comprehensive training and development programme to upskill the workforce and fill any skills gaps is key.

In terms of the written word, meanwhile, posting everything from blogs to newsletters and frequently asked questions on the intranet will help to get information out there and promote debate.

“It comes down to communications, engagement and training,” says Al-Hillawi. “It’s about bringing people, processes and technology together and ensuring the support mechanisms are in place because it gives people a cushion and a clear path through the challenges they’re experiencing personally.”

As to what kinds of technologies can help to support this process, Neal Craig, a partner and lead of PA Consulting’s public sector digital unit, says there are a number.

“Collaboration tools are useful when dealing with problem-solving, but there’s also software to help you track acceptance and share success,” he points out. “There are various different tiers, but fundamentally it’s about technology enabling people to interact more effectively in real-time.”

Such technology includes shared drives for distributing documents, project planning tools and even social media, particularly if employees are spread across a number of different sites and buildings. But the key thing to remember is not to overcomplicate matters.

“You can use massive technologies, but it just ends up being something else to learn and adds to people’s burden,” says Al-Hillawi. “So the best thing is to keep it simple and just use whatever tools they’re used to communicating with. This is important because ultimately tech is an enabler rather than an end in itself.”

Case study – Eastleigh Borough Council

Eastleigh Borough Council is in the process of completely transforming the way it works in a bid not only to cut costs but also to make service delivery more customer-focused.

The aim is to move the entire local authority away from a traditional departmental structure and to adopt a case management-based approach to activities instead. This means that citizens will initially be encouraged to resolve queries by looking on the Council’s website for information.

If taking this self-service route is unsuccessful, the next step is to contact its customer service centre. Dedicated case management officers have been tasked with handling tier one and two customer service activities, while specialists at the back end have been put in place to provide additional support as needed.

On the IT side of things, Eastleigh has implemented and customised Salesforce.com’s Software-as-a-Service-based case management system with the help of solutions provider, Arcus. The planning and environmental health departments are already using the applications in their day-to-day work, but the next phase of the project will be to introduce document management software to enable revenue and benefits to follow suit.

According to James Battle, the Council’s support services manager, the ultimate goal is to “consolidate our back office systems, such as e-forms, document management and CRM and join them up, so that they’re integrated in the new world”.

Not only will the decommissioning of old systems offer financial benefits, but it will also be possible to provide a single view of each customer and their respective journeys.

While the transformation programme was started 18 months ago and there is still has an estimated eight to 10 months to go, the change management work involved has already been significant. There have been everything from consultations to gain staff feedback and workshops to determine ownership to ‘lunch-and-learn’ drop-in sessions to try and boost employee engagement with the initiative.

But as Battle concludes: “It’s been a hard process for everyone involved, which is the nature of the beast as it’s the change process where the savings are coming from. Possibly the most difficult thing has been managing expectations though because there’s a balance to be had between selling the dream and what is achievable without having a bottomless pit of resources.”

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