Real Estate Portfolio Manager, Sophie van Welie, gives us her views on how to bring change in the public sector.

Change management, so many ways to look at it, different perspectives, different approaches. There is no wrong or right, but different approaches can complement each other and help you to get the bigger picture.I believe the lessons learned on change management are applicable in many different sectors and business and even living environments. For the purpose of this blog, I would like to share with you how I think three general lessons learned during this course can be of use in the public sector where I used to work for in the last few years.

In the public sector change in the organisation is often triggered by the change in demands and requirements from clients and stakeholders, which will lead to adjustments in services or products. No big difference with the private sector here. And of course, new technologies, economic and financial crises are other reasons for change, if only because public organisations often have less resources to invest and therefore need to change in a different way.

More interestingly, and partly because of the factors mentioned above, the central government will make choices which forces the public sector to change. For example, if the government decides that the rent for social housing cannot be increased above a certain percentage, this will have direct consequences for the management of housing associations. In the public sector change is not always a choice but often a state-imposed requirement. What should public sector companies focus on?

Change management is about the people.

To successfully go through an internal change management process, it is important to assemble the right team of experts and create strong and integrated working relationships across the different roles.The way you communicate change should be different, more strategic and with a clear vision to the future. Never under-estimate organizational and personal history and culture, most of the people are comfortable in the current state and don’t ‘believe’ things really need to change. And you have more dependencies than you realize, their support is needed to make the change process flow. This cannot be forced, it is about logic but mostly about emotions. And there is no easy recipe to alter that.

And one should not forget the external side of business, you need to be mindful of your enablers, partners, stakeholders and engage them in the process early on. If you start working with your partners early, this will benefit the identification of opportunities to work differently. Horizontal collaboration is the new normal and you need to strengthen your existing channels through working together.

Change management takes time.

In change projects start planning early and continually integrate all elements. It is an ongoing process and needs continuous input to keep it relevant. Because it will take time to define all the details and once you do, the entire company may possibly shift towards a new direction. Put enough effort and time in the preparation, look at the cause of the problems behind the necessary change and search for the leverage effect to solve them, or to create movement. Don’t start with many major changes at once, assign dedicated people and resources to integrate all concurrent projects, avoid collisions and manage inter-dependencies.

It takes time to re-organise and redesign organisational structures and working relationships. Team roles and personal roles get blurred in the process, act on this. Recognise that your people cannot even begin to think in terms of integrating services until they understand the process of integrating themselves and their team.

Change management is complex

Managing the change externally is especially important in the public sector due to the extra dimension in complexity with governance, other stakeholders and approval processes. These need to be streamlined whenever possible. Executives and people of the (change) management team should communicate with governing bodies, municipalities and representatives of committees to bring them along in the process. A thorough and streamlined process should be set up to acquire the approvals for critical decisions.

Internally you need to accept that operational requirements almost always undermines the change plan. Services as usual need to continue. This situation needs to be managed by using trade-offs and reset expectations for the clients and the teams. Show them the new priorities and explain the duration of the change project. But avoid calling everything from the plan a priority, because this will lead to unclarity in the daily work processes.

To conclude

Change in public organisations, is not about change in the organisation alone, the change will simultaneously be on the level of the society, on the level of the government, and on the level of the individual client.

And my lessons learned are either necessary pieces for the change or they are important in setting realistic expectations during the change. Accept that there will always be trade-offs associated with any major change, and those trade-offs inevitably require us to respond by doing things differently.

“People are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.”

Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

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