Culture and Institutional Reform
Governments everywhere are undergoing basic management reform. Canada has one of the finest public services in the world; its excellence is the legacy of generations of dedicated public servants and over three decades of reform initiatives. But the process of modernization is never complete.
New initiatives underway all seek Public Service renewal. In the words of the Clerk of the Privy Council, we are poised for an even more aggressive assault on management excellence. Modern Comptrollership offers preparation for this assault. It focuses on the fundamentals in order to build a strong foundation for modern management.
At the heart of Modern Comptrollership is a commitment to delivering results for Canadians, based on a culture of shared Public Service values and ethics. Strong leadership, a motivated workforce and clear accountabilities enable managers to make sound decisions, viewing actions through a lens of risk management and performance measurement.
Modern Comptrollership is the latest in a continuum of management improvement efforts in the Government of Canada. It complements other initiatives and provides the foundation for them. For example, improved reporting to Parliament depends on integrated information systems and the ability to explain the results and true costs of services provided to Canadians.
All the reforms seek to promote excellence. But they raise questions: How do we change management culture? What steps should deputy ministers / head of agencies and their executive teams take to promote real, lasting change? Who within our departments and agencies should be involved? Since the reforms are complementary, how can we implement them in an integrated fashion? How can we ensure that managers are not themselves overwhelmed? In response to such questions, this document provides a tool kit for managing cultural change.
The guide presents a step-by-step approach to managing change, one that deputies/heads and their executive teams can follow when undertaking management reforms. The pursuit of management excellence has many labels - reform, renewal, modernization, transformation, re-alignment - but all are about changing the behaviours that characterize Public Service management culture. For purposes of illustration this guide focuses on Modern Comptrollership, but it is generic in nature and its approach can be applied to any effort to change management culture.
Three activities contributed to the preparation of this guide:
a symposium with change management specialists from academia and former/current senior public servants;
an extensive review of the literature; and
interviews with key deputies and assistant deputy ministers, as well as provincial public servants and leading academics.
The symposium findings, literature review and interviews have been published separately, along with an annotated bibliography of the literature on management change.
Based upon these sources, the various models of change found in the literature were summarized into a single five-stage model with three basic approaches: top-down, transformational and strategic. Each of these approaches is described below. The three were combined in developing the approach adopted within the guide. Nevertheless, circumstances may dictate choosing a particular model, or elements of it, over another.
No single approach can fit all. Instead, every organization needs its own model of change corresponding to its needs and issues. When change efforts fail, it is common to blame organizational resistance but this is an inadequate explanation. Change goes wrong for systemic reasons: poor vision, inadequate communications, insufficient planning and resources, failure to make a compelling case, and inconsistent messages with leaders not following through.
Change models fall into three types: top-down; transformational leadership; and strategic approaches. Overall experience shows that with careful and appropriate application, each of the models presented here can be (and has been) used successfully in the public sector. Each model is described in more detail within the research report entitled Changing Management Culture: Models and Strategies, produced as part of this project and published separately.
Top-down models emphasize leadership. The CEO can orchestrate relatively rapid change by developing a vision, communicating it and involving employees. The leaders set goals, clarify desired outcomes, provide feedback, give rewards for desired performance and take action when goals are not met. They do not ignore the human factor - they care about people and want to see them grow - but they focus on performance driving cultural change, not the reverse.
Transformational leadership: In his latest book, Managing Politically, McGill University Professor Henry Mintzberg looked at three federal departments. He has long argued that change bubbles upward. "You can't drive change down an organization," he says. "You facilitate the situation so that change can come up. Create a climate where people can individually and collectively think for themselves, take initiatives, and build interesting things. Change grows from the grass roots, where people know what needs to be done."
Transformational leadership works by influencing the values and priorities of followers, thereby motivating them to achieve more. Leaders inspire followers through the mission, optimism, enthusiasm and emotional appeal. They provide personal support and encouragement, show concern and offer coaching. They set a personal example, sacrifice for the group and show good ethics. They challenge people to view problems from new perspectives and to find new solutions, while making it safe for them to express negative emotions and business concerns. Followers then connect more to the mission, seek ways to improve their performance and thus enhance the organizational culture.
Of course, despite the cover stories in magazines, not all great leaders are larger than life. Many prefer responsible, behind-the-scenes actions. They lead by quiet example and by working through others.
Strategic approaches: Perhaps the best-known author on change is Professor John Kotter. He lays out an eight-step strategy:
Establish a sense of urgency.
Create the guiding coalition.
Develop a vision and strategy.
Communicate the change vision.
Empower employees for broad-based action.
Generate short-term wins.
Consolidate gains and produce more change.
Anchor new approaches in the culture.
Notably, his model does not start with vision. That only comes after an organization's leaders have established a sense of urgency for change and built a coalition to help them push for it. Skipping the first stages, warns Kotter, will lead to failure.
And although cultural change is critical to long-lasting change, Kotter puts it at the end rather than the start of the process. "Culture changes only after you have successfully altered people's actions," he says, "after the new behaviour produces some group benefit for a period of time, and people see the connection between the new actions and the performance improvement."
Find a change model to fit the situation
A top-down approach apparently can be effective, but only if the leader controls the levers of recruitment, promotion, incentives and dismissal - and at the same time pays attention to the people factor and is open to feedback. New behaviour will eventually be accepted and become the culture.
In another view, culture change comes through changing the way things are done in an organization so that, over time, people will change as well.
A third view holds that if you change how individuals feel and provide them with new experiences, they will eventually adopt the new behaviours, leading to the emergence of a new culture.
What matters is to find what works best in the specific situation, given your understanding of all the factors.
Stages of culture change
Common themes emerged from the interviews with executives and the review of management literature, advising that significant change in complex organizations requires:
strong leadership, a vision, and a change team or guiding coalition charged with implementation;
perseverance and commitment to follow through;
understanding of the current culture, where the resistance will come from; and
the courage to tackle resistance head-on.
The chart presents a roadmap for changing management culture.
Stage 1: Before anything else, leaders must build an understanding of the organization's current culture by collecting information on the types of behaviours being practised. In other words, they have to understand their own leadership style, the organization's culture and where it is now.
Stage 2: Next is developing a vision of where the organization should be, and performing a gap analysis; this reveals where the organization falls short of the vision. To fill the gaps, design a strategic plan that articulates the vision, outlines priorities for improvement and establishes measurable targets with an eye to early successes. A team must be established, trained and mandated to implement the change. Ultimately, the whole organization must be involved, although specifics will vary according to the scope of the plan and the nature of the organization.
Stage 3: Next comes implementing the plan: The deputy/head and the guiding coalition must make the case for change, communicate again and again (and again), and build capacity.
Stage 4: At the same time, there is a critical transitional period in which people "let go" of one set of behaviours as they move to another. This is the stage where many change initiatives begin to lose momentum. It's important to celebrate wins and early successes, communicate widely and often, and find innovative ways of motivating people to adopt the new behaviours, processes and systems.
Stage 5: Finally, following up. It's important to keep measuring progress, seek feedback, and continue to adjust and improve. Over time, the leadership must build a deeper understanding, update the strategy and get better at implementation