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Government agencies facing increasing pressure to reduce budgets and enhance efficiency are turning to technology. Unfortunately, government transformation efforts often face stiff opposition from legacy staff who feel fear, uncertainty and doubt about the change. This may come in the form of active resistance or passive efforts that remain below the surface but undermine the organization’s ability to change. Before government agencies undertake transformation efforts that embrace trends like digitization and workplace mobility, they should first take steps to create a culture of innovation in the workplace.
Ken Mullins, senior principal and portfolio manager of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, MITRE Corporation, says that successful government transformation requires three key components: enlightened leadership, progressive organizational culture and a stimulating work environment. These three characteristics are particularly important when agencies seek to attract and retain the digital-native millennial workforce.
Cultivating Change With Leadership
Change comes from the top. Agency leaders seeking to inspire a culture of change within their organization should actively and frequently communicate the importance of this transformation to their teams. This often begins with a clear and widespread initial communication outlining the benefits that change will bring to the agency, constituents and the agency workforce. For example, an agency head might address an all-hands meeting with a motivating talk describing the expected benefits that innovation efforts will deliver and inspiring each employee to contribute to the program. Directors and managers may then follow up on that message by explaining the role that each workgroup will play in bringing innovation to the agency.
Leaders should see their role in inspiring innovation as an ongoing responsibility, rather than a one-time task. Taking the time to publicly recognize examples of innovative performance, both large and small, serves to remind the workforce of the agency’s commitment to digital transformation. It also serves to build an institutional mindset of innovation based upon case studies of past successes.
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Transforming Organizational Culture
Building a progressive organizational culture provides fertile ground for agency employees to sow the seeds of innovation. These cultures manifest themselves in two different ways. First, the agency must embrace a shared sense of purpose: an important and noble goal that inspires employees to strive for excellence. This purpose may be providing excellent healthcare to veterans, improving the fine collection process or offering citizens real-time mobile access to agricultural data. Second, progressive agencies present a positive image to external stakeholders, impressing citizens, government partners and vendors with their adoption of inventive practices. Together, these actions create a virtuous cycle where a positive self-image and high external expectations combine to fuel future innovation.
Fostering a Work Environment That Inspires
Agencies that succeed at innovation do so because they have a workforce dedicated to the mission and committed to excellence. This comes as a result of building a stimulating work environment that allows the agency to attract and retain highly talented individuals capable of having a dramatic impact on mission effectiveness. In his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink cites three factors that motivate top performers: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Agencies can build work environments that grant employees autonomy by allowing them to use workplace mobility and other tools to achieve desired outcomes with flexibility. Providing access to training and other professional development programs helps employees build mastery in their chosen fields, and establishing a progressive culture provides a shared common sense of purpose. Together, these three actions build a stimulating work environment.
Agencies seeking to transform their services and internal processes must understand that innovation begins with enlightened leadership and thrives in environments that combine a progressive organizational culture with a stimulating work environment.
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