NAPA Culture Event: Changing the Culture of Government
On July 28th Management Concepts sponsored a breakfast event with the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA), the theme was “Changing the Culture of Government.” NAPA brought together experts in organizational culture like Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organizational Development at Human Synergistics, Inc. with leading Federal executives to talk about the unique culture that is government.
NAPA’s President Dan Blair moderated a Federal panel that included:
- Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration
- Myra Howze Shiplett, Former Project Director on the Academy’s Centers for Disease Control Project
- Dustin S. Brown, Deputy Associate Director for Performance and Personnel, Office of Management and Budget
Following the panel, the keynote address “Changing the Culture of Leadership – One Leader at a Time” featured Dr. Don Kettl, Professor, School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.
During one of the Q&A sessions, a question was raised about the best way for Federal agencies to keep culture in mind while navigating the multi-level leadership transitions that will happen as a result of the 58th quadrennial U. S. presidential election in November.
Leadership transitions are a common occurrence in Federal agencies and how they are regarded impacts not only the new leadership, but also the entire agency. Making culture an integral part of leadership transitions is an effective way for agencies to focus and prepare current members for upcoming changes. It also provides a way to share valuable insights with incoming leaders about the organization they are joining.
Paying attention to culture is about taking a broader view of leadership transitions and preparing the agency to tell its current story in a way that enables transitions to create value more rapidly. Some specific culture-focused leadership transition practices that will accelerate organizational change and speed up time to performance include:
Before the transition:
- Pull together all existing quantitative and qualitative culture and climate data to create a picture of the current operating environment. If you have data from past years, use it to look at trends over time for an additional perspective.
- If you do not have any real culture data, take the time to do an assessment. You need insights about the current operating culture before any organizational change initiative launches. You will need an answer to the question, “how will our current culture help or hinder this change effort?”
- Select an interim leader with the skillsets that will help the transition. Interim leaders are not just placeholders; they are a new set of eyes with new perspectives on the organization. Strong communication and decision-making skills are a must, along with an ability to be flexible and adaptable to a changing environment. Communicating the selection to the rest of the organization and sharing the relevant objectives of the interim leader will keep others focused on supporting the transition activities.
- Do your homework and find out as much as you can about the incoming leader. The perspectives and experiences they bring will impact how they connect with others in their new organization. If possible, gain some insights into their leadership philosophy and how they approach both the strategic and operational aspects of their role. If you can begin to get an idea of the different “from-to” shifts they will need to make to be successful in their new role, you will be that much more prepared to support the transition.
During the leadership transition:
- The learning curve is steep for anyone that joins a new organization. Most often there is more than one transition happening simultaneously, either from an individual perspective or an organizational perspective. Creating a clear learning roadmap for the incoming leader will help to connect them to others in the organization. When learning is done through storytelling, the facts and fundamentals come to life in more memorable ways. It creates a new knowledge bank of the agency for the incoming leader.
- Acknowledge that leadership transitions usually take longer than initially envisioned. Help the new leader keep the initial focus on building energy and momentum for change by sharing a compelling vision of the desired future. This should include the shared values and expected behaviors needed to get everyone on board and moving forward together.
- The most effective way to effect change is to take people along on the shared learning journey with the new leader. Engaging others creates alignment across the organization and shapes the operating culture needed to reach the desired outcomes.
- It is hard for the new leader to get a clear picture of the agency situation until the transition is underway. Most change situations evolve as new insights and ideas are introduced. Be clear and distinct about assessing progress and making mid-course corrections. Review your stakeholders, influencers, and advisors to make sure it is what you need going forward.
Every leadership transition impacts many others, whether it is a presidential transition or another type. When an organization takes a broader view of leadership transitions, the support for change comes through accelerated learning – individually and collectively. The impact is felt across the organization.
What is your leadership transition success story?