As the pace of change continues to accelerate, so the type of change is also becoming ever more diverse. Digital, generational, cultural – each type of change brings with it new demands for new solutions. What remains consistent though is the now routine task of prioritising services in the face of funding reductions and this never becomes easier.

At Change Associates we work across the UK public sector and this has enabled us to identify a number of common challenges being faced by some of the UK’s largest and most complex public sector organisations. All face pressure to do more with less in the face of increasing demands and reduced budgets, whilst simultaneously being at a point where they are making big changes to their structures and technology platforms. They are not just looking for improvements in process, but in key stakeholder and customer relationships as well.

And another challenge commonly faced by our public sector clients – implementing major transformation or reform whilst maintaining service levels or levels of care – is harder in those organisations where the workforce has traditionally felt distanced from the decision-making process.

Those organisations know that there is a pressing need to develop the next generation of change leaders, ready to sponsor and deliver digitally-enabled services to improve overall efficiency and effectiveness and workforce engagement.

One thing is for certain. The public sector can only respond to the demands it faces through transformation. But this must be transformation that is attractive to the public sector, that will hit challenging objectives whilst achieving best value.

Is change driving you or are you driving change? 

Change Associates recently ran a think-tank session at the Local Government Strategy Forum. We worked with the group to identify significant and consistent reasons why change programmes fail to reach their potential. Perhaps some of the below pitfalls sound familiar.

    • The initial vision and intention get lost in translation – Imprecise articulation of a vision leads to ambiguity. Abandoning the planning and getting deep into ‘doing’ can lead to a programme going off-track without anybody realising. 
    • Insufficient resource, investment or focus in making the change happen and rolling it out – A common failing is assuming that publishing a vision, developing a plan and assigning actions means that change will happen. Most people have day-to-day operational pressures given that they have a role already. When things are urgent and important, the change programme often gets de-prioritised (even though it is important).
    • Lack of common definitions and use of jargon or clichés get in the way of common understanding – All too often, the same words mean different things to different people. The danger here is that all parties think they have agreement and common understanding, when they don’t. This is usually discovered later when things go wrong.
    • Unrealistic expectations – Over-selling benefits and underestimating effort. Projects are often over-sold in order to gain support or investment. Sometimes there is a sense that a change programme will solve everything. This is rarely the case. Failing to balance risk, reward and investment in terms of time, cost, quality is setting a programme up to fail!
    • Focus on money and savings rather than value – Making cuts to make short-term savings, or underinvesting in change programmes leads to more problems later.
    • Doing projects ’to’ people – Not communicating, not explaining, not answering the ‘why?’ questions leads to people feeling that project are being done to them. Often this builds fear and resistance that will hinder progress.
    • Fear of risk, fear of failure! – In too many organisations people would rather tolerate a bad situation, or do nothing, than do something that might go wrong.

The group also had some good experiences to share about things that make programmes successful:

    • Clarity about the outcome required and why – Programmes are more successful when the required outcome is understood by all. This in turn engenders a sense of confidence and aids progress.
    • Precise and well articulated vision – While it is not possible for leaders to have all of the answers at the outset, it is important to set a clear direction and vision for the future that people can refer back to when things are not going so well or they have conflicting priorities and decisions to make. 
    • Effective sponsorship – A sponsor is so much more than a figurehead, and certainly can’t simply be ‘delegator-in-chief’. Sponsors must be sufficiently senior and willing to get involved to resolve issues and enable the team to succeed. 
    • Recognition of challenges and constraints – Change is not simple. There will be challenges and constraints. It is important that recognising them is not seen as failure, that every effort is made to overcome them and that the plan is managed accordingly.
    • Timely decision making – Making decisions and giving approval quickly enables momentum to be maintained and quite simply enables faster progress.
    • Ability to answer the “Why?” questions – Human nature is such that people are more engaged with an activity if they know why it is happening. Any vision, project plan or action must have a clear ‘why?’ underpinning it.
    • Involve people early, be clear about what we do (and don’t) want. Be honest about what we don’t know yet. People work better once they understand. In the absence of understanding, uncertainty and fear (often fuelled by assumption and rumour) will take control.

Change Associates works with dozens of public sector organisations helping them to address challenges like these through current, and pragmatic, methods and practices whilst ensuring high levels of stakeholder engagement. 

Change Associates is also registered as a provider of Cloud planning and support services under the G-Cloud 9 Framework and we have been selected for the Crown Commercial Services’ Management Consultancy framework, listed in the specialist category of HR services, making it even easier for public sector organisations to work with us.

Get in touch to discuss how we can help with our change challenge. 

Sian Dodd
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