How does an agency go from “here to there” in establishing and implementing an effective approach
to change management?\
Participation and Input
As opposed to the “war room” or “executive retreat” method, change planning and continuous
improvement efforts must bring in data and perspectives from all levels of the agency, those being
served, and a range of stakeholders. Openly testing and refining assessments and plans in a highly
inclusive way, and involving a broad range of staff in an ongoing “feedback loop” as changes are
monitored over time generates buy-in and understanding and helps to groom leaders and future
Change Plan development and CI efforts can be highly innovative and enriching developmental
experiences in and of themselves. The facilitation of participative working sessions that result in
such an experience should be highly customized and dynamic, allowing for safe, candid reflection by
those involved, while still resulting in concrete work products and clear accountability.
Effective facilitation skills used with agency CI teams are analogous to those used with children
and families served (e.g., establishing trust and rapport, creating a sense of safety and
transparency, active listening, steering vs. mandating, etc.). An agency’s planning or staff
development functions should include such facilitators or contract with an outside facilitator.
Given that effective implementation of changes requires a highly inclusive approach, leadership
effectiveness is critical for this approach to thrive. Executive teams develop strategic plans that
include the goals and objectives that direct change initiatives. They realistically assess
organizational readiness for change and provide for its sustainability (e.g., required data
resources). Senior leaders clarify who has the authority for making change happen, reinforcing that
authority as needed. Sponsor groups charter and set boundaries for continuous improvement teams and
review their efforts and progress over time.
Leadership roles within a change process include communicating within and outside the organization.
Leaders “build the public will” by providing a clear and concrete definition of what practice model
is being advanced, what strengths are in place, what problems need to be solved, what improvements
and innovations are desired, what is tangibly being done, and what is being learned along the way.
They are persuasive champions of the change effort, instilling a sense of excitement about the
possibilities and pragmatic resolve to actually make good things happen. Leaders also create
constructive relationships with dissenters, establishing a balance between safety and
accountability with them. They listen to staff and stakeholders and adapt change efforts as
appropriate, modeling inclusiveness and learning, while at the same time reinforcing their resolve
to core practice model principles and outcomes for children, youth and families.
Power and Politics
In order to drive successful changes in an environment with competing interests and perspectives,
leaders must be politically astute and savvy. Leaders assess who can either influence or detract
from the changes they are attempting to make, and then gauge the degree of trust and agreement they
share. If trust and agreement are high, leaders collaborate with these allies in influencing others
to accept and champion the desired changes with them. If trust and agreement are low, politically
astute leaders work to minimize or remove these adversaries from the change process or they
establish coalitions of allies who are politically stronger than their adversaries. Leaders who are
politically astute also work hard to enlist those who are influential but undecided while conserving their efforts to enlist those who are entirely opposed to their agenda
Champions of Change
“Champions of change” should be identified and cultivated at all levels of the agency and within
the community. Champions within the agency are viewed by staff as positive influence leaders; they
articulate the work of change and provide technical assistance and support in sustaining it. They
help lead the effort to take staff out of their comfort zone, modeling innovation and
growth.Champions within the community also enjoy credibility and influence; they can serve as
political buffers and supporters with stakeholders and the media.
Influencing the Middle
Those most likely to be influenced by “champions of change” are not the non-constructive resisters
but those in between the champions and resisters. This group is typically the majority of the staff
and stakeholders. Sometimes when changes are being implemented, it is the champions and chronic
resisters who are given the most attention by leadership. But in a successful implementation
campaign, as in a successful political campaign, this middle group is the primary focus of
Those who steadfastly maintain non-constructive resistance, especially when they are responsible
for influential programs or functional areas, damage both a sense of safety and accountability
within the agency’s culture generally as well as within specific improvement and innovation
efforts. The middle group typically watches leadership to see how these resisters will be engaged.
In effective change efforts, they are minimized and ultimately managed out of the agency, telling
the rest of the staff that champions are recognized, constructive resistance is honored, and
non-constructive resistance is not tolerated for long.
Safety and Accountability
Executive teams and sponsor groups have the authority and resources to build safety and
accountability for change, and they must be vigilant in doing so. Leadership activities that
increase a sense of safety for change include seeking out constructive forms of resistance,
actively listening to and using the related feedback to improve change plans and continuous
Those that increase a sense of accountability for change include establishing goals and milestones
within change and continuous improvement plans that are directly linked to performance evaluations,
development plans and reward systems at both the individual and the program-specific level.
Leadership and management are two interrelated but distinct areas of work, both of which are
critical for implementing complex changes. Management work involves establishing the controls and
structures necessary for supporting desired changes. These controls and structures include
policies, key processes, programs (including HR-related programs), protocols, ground rules and
methods for working together and accomplishing complex tasks and activities. Successful change most
often occurs through building trust amongst those involved. That trust is based on both a shared
vision and will -- the result of effective leadership -- and a confidence that change efforts will
proceed in a reliable and competent fashion -- a result of effective management. For example, both
leaders and managers work to ensure that staff members follow existing policies and procedures --
leaders by reinforcing the importance of doing the right thing, and managers by reinforcing the
importance of doing things the right way.
Commitments regarding change planning must be specific, measurable, within specific timeframes and
made publicly by the responsible person, team, function or program area. Monitoring toward
successful implementation ofinitiatives or progress
toward goals must be done on a regular basis once implementation begins. Effective monitoring
includes evaluating plan progress, impact, and lesson learned. Communicating to staff and
stakeholders about the findings from monitoring and involving them in these efforts where practical
helps to sustain ongoing support forthe agency's efforts to improve. These same principles apply
to agency staff, programs and functions.
Agencies should anticipate and plan in advance how they will maximize readiness factors and
overcome obstacles to implementing their improvement and innovation efforts. Here are some typical
obstacles and how to overcome them in general:
Shifting Policies and Regulatory Requirements, PIPs, Reform Plans and Consent Decrees
Include and adjust when needed the environmental scans within the agency’s strategic and change
plans. Realign strategic priorities in accord with any emerging non-negotiables. Ensure the
agency’s plans are sufficiently adaptable in their design, use and monitoring. Over time, evolve
the agency’s influence within the broader environment such that fewer unexpected and disruptive
Unexpected Traumas such as a Child Death or Negative News Cycle
Develop and use the agency’s communication plans and risk management programs to respond (versus
responding in ad hoc or reactive ways). Build effective responsiveness to such events into the
agency strategic objectives and related improvement initiatives (e.g., an ongoing effort to build
trust and partnership with the media). When traumatic events occur, use CI processes to analyze and
improve upon the root causes for any gaps, reaffirming the agency mission and values.
Budget Shortfalls and other Unplanned Resource Cuts
Include and adjust when needed the analysis of required and available resources within the agency's
strategic and change plans, at times limiting or delaying priorities. Use ongoing monitoring and
root cause analysis to streamline resources where they do not have a high impact on agency goals
and objectives, or where they are inefficient and redundant (e.g., due to lact of collaboration and
partnership). When innovations and breakthroughs are successful, "declare victory" and limit
further resource investments. Over time, evolve the agency's influence within the broader
environment such that resource cuts are less frequent or less significant.
Changes to the Executive Team or other Key Participants
Use strategic and change planning methods that are highly systematic and participative so that
changes in key leadership do not disrupt ongoing strategies, change initiatives and relationship
networks. Provide such plans and methods to new leaders as part of their orientation so they
immediately understand and support current initiatives, or seek to evolve them from within, versus
leading in more disruptive and idiosyncratic ways.
Internal Politics and Interdepartmental Turf Disputes
Use the readiness assessment and continuous improvement priorities themselves to proactively and
transparently address these potential obstacles, versus leaving them out of the scope of change and
continuous improvement efforts. Use the power and politics guidance included in this chapter.
Lack of Effective Support from Functions like HR and IT
Include strategic support functions in both strategic and change planning to leverage their
expertise and enlist their support. Make the alignment of support function capacity an explicit
part of strategic priorities and related continuous improvement projects.
Operational or Project Performance Below Expectations
Use monitoring efforts to learn from these experiences, deepen the agency’s root cause and remedies
work, and reinforce the agency’s commitment to taking measured risks. Adjust the pace of
improvement efforts and priorities in line with current capacity (including staff skills and
experience). And if a related root cause is lack of staff follow-through and commitment, reinforce
a culture of accountability by taking corrective action in performance management, especially in
regards to non-constructive resistance.
In proactively anticipating and planning for potential barriers and obstacles, agencies employ and
further build their strengths in critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Many of these
obstacles, as well as others such as staff resistance, cultural inertia and a crisis mentality, are
addressed by the very activities suggested within this guidance.
Tools and templates for effective implementation include:
Support from Universities and NonProfits
The role of academic and non-profit institutions in supporting the change management efforts of