Three tips for change management success in public sector transformation

Joe Morley, modern workplace consultant at SoftwareONE, provides three top tips for ensuring change management success in the public sector.

Public sector organisations – from councils to police forces – are keen to see digital transformation. 2020 highlighted the need for agile and flexible IT that can keep organisations functioning, regardless of where staff are working from. However, post-Covid-19, budgets will be tight with less to spend on transformation projects. The 2020 Spending Review does pledge to fund the fixing of outdated public sector IT to support better administration, so maximising the return on tech investment will be crucial to local and central government bodies looking to embrace digital.

Improving return on investment for new technologies, tools and software relies on paying attention to the human side of technology and getting staff on board with change. Public sector leaders must devise a structured change management plan that brings every employee along on the digital transformation journey. Taking an approach that encourages adoption of new digital tools and initiatives, while also managing the impact they have on working behaviour, is essential to drive meaningful change in the public sector. Here are three tips to ensure change management during digital transformation is a success.

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1. Executive sponsorship

Public sector organisations should include members of their leadership teams in pilot groups to kick off digital transformation projects. These leaders shape their organisation’s culture, so ensuring they are on board with change means they will champion the benefits of new ways of working. Change management success is then promoted from within and from above, rather than something that is dictated by an outside force.

Having this internal drive from above is especially important in the public sector. With higher job retention than the private sector, employees often work in their roles for decades, so are likely to be used to a certain way of doing things. Change can also be harder given that those on the frontline – from social and council services, to police forces – often deal with stressed or vulnerable residents, so using new tech will not be top of their list of concerns when trying to solve a problem or helping a citizen. Having decision makers brought in to the transformation can help address this challenge and encourage change in others who may be hesitant or unsure of what it means for them.

2. Training and knowledge

While many public sector bodies have already adopted, or are in the process of adopting new technologies, old habits will persist without training. One example of a commonly used software suite in the public sector is Microsoft 365. Research looking at the challenges organisations face in maximising Microsoft 365 return on investment (ROI) shows 47% of employees are unsure which applications they actually have access to, and their corresponding benefits. This is not surprising, considering there are 17 main features (and many other supplementary features) in Microsoft 365, which a non-expert user cannot be expected to know. If employees don’t know that Microsoft Teams, or other tools that can help with accessibility issues are available, they may continue to struggle with harder-to-manage processes such as inefficient email. Employees will need training on what is on offer within software suites, and how to use it.

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Bringing in external technology partners to help with adoption and change management can also be beneficial in both training staff and building a network of trainers within the public sector organisation itself. Teaching employees how to become technology and change management ambassadors and instructors (“train the trainer”) is incredibly useful for long-term change. The organisation will be better equipped to stick to best practice and continue using new processes to solve problems even after the initial training is over.

3. Measurement and metrics

The final tip to make change management a success is being able to see and measure real improvement. Public sector organisations should conduct qualitative and quantitative analysis at the beginning of the transformation to understand the current state of things. How do people work? Do they enjoy using new technology? How many emails do they send each day? How long do certain tasks take them?

Public sector IT and change management teams can use this information to create meaningful metrics that demonstrate tangible benefits, such as time savings from trying to find the right version of a document to edit that can now be hosted on SharePoint, or if the number of emails sent has been reduced and replaced with quicker instant messaging. These findings can be presented back to the organisation to show the time, efficiency and productivity benefits that have come from the transformation and provide a gauge for change management teams. After all, without measuring, it is impossible to know if the changes have truly made a difference.

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To ensure change management success and make sure projects deliver ROI for precious budgetary resources, public sector employees must be empowered to shape digital transformation rather than the other way around. Achieving this can be tricky if staff don’t see the value in change. Executive buy-in and training on how best to use new tools can boost employees’ enthusiasm and understanding of digital transformation, and measuring the impact of new technology and processes is critical to demonstrating their benefits. Consulting employees throughout the transformation process and guiding them through change is key to shaping digital success for the public sector.

Written by Joe Morley, modern workplace consultant at SoftwareONE

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