Introduction: Creating change in government The dreaded "c" word

Positive, large-scale change in government is possible if you view the workforce through a different lens. A fresh look may reveal some surprising ways to make government more effective.

Many career civil servants are understandably skeptical of large-scale change management initiatives. They’ve been around long enough to have seen agency leaders announce one ambitious initiative after another, only to watch those plans fall apart as politically appointed executives clean out their desks and move on.

But positive, large-scale change is possible if you view the government workforce through a different lens. Take a fresh look, and you’ll discover some surprising ways to make government more effective.

You’ll find, for example, that relationships matter. Organizations accomplish more when employees feel that they are part of a unified group, with the same objectives and the same ideas about how to get things done.

You’ll also observe that it’s easier to manage change when you make a balanced appeal to people’s brains and to their emotions, and when you implement change in small, manageable chunks.

In addition, you’re likely to discover “positive deviants” in your organization that are able to create positive change by defying convention. They may bend the rules that others take for granted, experiment with strategies that haven’t occurred to their peers, or display a talent for getting around obstacles that have stymied everyone else.

You may even be able to build on the strengths of your organization’s “intrapreneurs”—employees who are determined to drive constructive change in spite of bureaucratic barriers. Organizations that encourage experimentation, advocate for new ideas and their originators, and promote intrapreneurship as a cultural value can help employees surface innovative ideas and bring them to fruition.

Once you gain a new perspective, efforts to create large-scale change no longer seems quite so intractable.