Technology Modernization: A Good Test for Real Culture Change
Change in government doesn’t always happen at the fastest pace, especially when technology is involved. Each year millions of dollars are taken away from needed technology innovations to maintain outdated IT systems. With legislation like FITARA, expanding DevOps practices and tools, and new proposed IT funding legislation, Federal agencies have an opportunity to design a new and different kind of legacy modernization approach. Creating a sense of urgency around this opportunity will be even more important with Federal spending for IT projects expected to be flat over the next 5 years.
Technology modernization means stepping into uncharted territory and countless things about it are not well understood, causing Federal agency leaders to feel uncertain about the best way forward.
I’d like to offer a way to think about designing a new and different kind of approach to legacy modernization. The approach puts an organization’s internal operating environment and its people on center stage by making real culture an integral part of the technology modernization effort. It is a way to earn an “A” for real culture change and alignment that has sustaining power over time.
Your current reality is what everyone in a Federal agency lives in day after day. Consider the following:
- What are three words that describe your current technology state? Your answers likely illustrate there are no real advantages for Federal agency leaders to deny the need for technology modernization.
- External forces are showing signs of support. New and more favorable legislation and emerging business practices are making it harder for Federal leaders to let external forces drive agendas and priorities or delay the complicated and messy technology modernization work any longer.
- What is holding technology modernization projects back is how Federal agencies currently do what they do to accomplish their missions. In other words, how an agency defines the technology problems, designs, and delivers the way work gets done is where new thinking, behavior, and actions is needed.
What will this current reality require Federal agency leaders to do differently?
- Make Technology Modernization the Highest Priority
Leaders will need to convey the decision to the rest of the organization, making sure the words and actual experience match. They will also need to create intellectual and emotional energy in others so they want to be involved in the priority technology work.
- Envision a Different Future for Technology
No matter what the present circumstance may be, envisioning a different future is about creating a story of the power of technology to change the way of working. It goes beyond what the organization does to who the agency is as a result of the new technology environment. Leaders will need to clearly describe this new and improved scenario and repeat it often in order to create alignment in the future state. The type of leadership that is displayed will impact how the desired culture is shaped and the ease with which technology will be utilized to further the mission of the agency.
The missing link in many organizational technology change initiatives is culture. Many agencies struggle with culture work, overlook it, or avoid it all together because it seems out of reach or is too hard to figure out. Perhaps these feelings have contributed to why the success rate of organizational change initiatives has hovered around thirty percent for many years.
As new technology is introduced into Federal agencies, the culture responds in a positive or negative way and it changes the agency forever. This means getting down to the level of describing the specific shifts in culture that are needed. These new insights will start the path to making culture alignment an integral part of modernizing and implementing a new technology experience.
- Engage Others through Change
In order to mitigate the effect of technology on the organization and its culture, agency leaders benefit the most when they listen to and involve others in shaping the needed changes. Involving users reduces resistance, stimulates energy, creates new ways to solve problems, improves collaboration, and speeds up any needed culture shift.
Engaging others through change also means building new capabilities in three particular areas: management approach, communication, and motivation. For each of these areas, it involves:
- New thinking
- Forming new habits
- Learning new ways of doing things
- Learning a new language, set of behavioral norms, and expectations
- Setting new measures
- Providing feedback
- Coaching to ensure desired progress is being made along the way
- Shared learning and experience in the new operating environment
- Sustaining Performance
Sustaining performance of a new and different technology environment and supporting culture will require time and attention across an agency. More specifically, new drivers of performance, new processes and practices, and new capabilities will all require focused reinforcement at the individual, team, and organizational levels to become an integral part of the operating environment. Clear and frequent communication, strong leadership, opportunities for shared learning and experience, appropriate rewards and consequences, and ongoing feedback are all good ways to create the needed accountability and support to make the new technology environment real. It does not stop here. We can expect new technology advancements to continue at a rapid pace, creating a demand for new and different talent, innovation and ways of working and solving problems to sustain performance in Federal agencies in the future.
What is the impact of the current approach to technology modernization in your agency?
What will it take to design and implement a new and different kind of approach to legacy modernization?