Published: June 29, 2021

During the past year, you have worked hard with your team to keep existing services going and rolling out new services quickly. From reimagining service delivery to taking paper-based, internal processes on-line, 2020 was a year of non-stop change. In a recent survey published by Route Fifty, 72 percent of local government finance officials indicated that their team had taken on three or more new responsibilities as a result of the pandemic.

To support those services, 39 percent of local governments in a national survey by Governing magazine reported that they had used CARES Act funding on technology “to better serve their community or improve staff productivity.” Even in a normal year, implementing new software can be a big project.

You are probably feeling change fatigue, but now more than ever ‘managing change’ should be a top priority, precisely because most of the change that happened in 2020 was out of our control. Both staff and the public are actively hoping for a return to normal operations. We don’t know when that will be, but as leaders in our organizations, it is time to start looking ahead and preparing for when that will happen. It might be sooner than we think.

Change management principles

In a previous blog post, we suggested that it’s time to start working with your team on a new rationale for the changes that will come. It is no longer about merely holding things together in the face of turmoil. We can start to think about making changes in a more strategic, deliberate manner.

The ADKAR model of change management gives us a way of thinking through this topic systematically. If you are new to this change management model, ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. If you missed the series of blog posts where we introduced these concepts and a short video with a high-level summary, here’s where you can catch up.

Challenge one: Finding your level

One of the key concepts in change management is that we need to pay close attention and make sure our teams actually have the knowledge they need to succeed. It’s not surprising to find that during work from home (when you were simultaneously rolling out new software and changing your core work processes) there was substantially less training to support those changes than you would normally provide your team.

In the Center’s work with local governments, we know that your employees have tremendous dedication, tenacity and grit. They soldiered on, taking a make-it-work attitude, and provided the best customer service they could given their new circumstances.

But how are they really doing? Do they have confidence in using new systems? Or are they just holding it together?

In other words, you may need to put in some effort to understand how confident and comfortable each team member is using the new systems and processes that have been established in the last year.

Make the most of your investment

If your team is confident in basic software functions, then it is time to find out if everyone is using the software in the same way in order to get consistent results. There is a high possibility that some staff taught themselves how to do a specific task or developed unique habits. Do they interpret and use the various fields and drop-down options the same ways? Without a level of consistency, you are probably not getting your money’s worth from those technology investments.

We understand that organizations often don’t take advantage of the most advanced features of new software – the very functionality that can bring the most return on that investment – because in the rush of managing one change after another, the most complex features are never turned on and configured. Or an initial effort was made, but people moved on to other efforts when the frustration level got too high. Or if there was a high level of interest, perhaps there was no time for training and enthusiasm waned.

As you figure out your new normal, help your team make the best use of their technology tools. This will be a great investment in performance and productivity.

Model, share and shore up

While employees might have been asked to do the best they could on their own, maybe they did not feel completely confident in how they do what they do. They might be hesitant to express that they need help.

Here are some steps to make sure you listen.

A good first step can be to model the honesty that you would like to hear from everyone. Maybe you have your own questions about how to use the new systems. If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and uncertain yourself, share it openly with your team.

Next, start with one-on-one conversations. Do individual check-ins to find out what their needs and concerns are. Are there some systems that have caused more stress and confusion than others? Is there someone who seems to have taken the time to explore what the new program offers and is able to share their knowledge with others?

Then it is time to shore up everyone’s knowledge. Take advantage of the new opportunity to be in the same room. Establish up front that the goal is to hear from each other in an open and respectful way. Open the system and walk through a few cases together. Let one person walk through an entire process, then ask others if they are doing the same task differently.

This session will likely result in multiple, equally valid ways to get to the same results. The goal is to learn what is possible together. And then agree together how you will get to a consistent process that will lead to complete, consistent and high-quality results.

We are here to help

The Center for Government Innovation is here to support you, and our services come at no additional charge to you. We provide technical assistance and process improvement facilitation to Washington governments. Because we specialize in working with local governments, we can tailor our services to fit your needs. Reach out to us at center@sao.wa.gov.

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