“You are remembered for the rules you break.”  —General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific Theater, WWIIBreak the Rulesto get Government Buy in for

While government is better known for playing technological catch-up than riding the cutting edge of digital transformation, chances are you’ve chosen a career in government IT or operations for a few very important reasons.

One, you’re here to serve citizens, and two, you know the best way to serve is to create efficiencies in the back end.

But you also know this: the challenges of bureaucracy are bigger in the public sector. In order to effect change, you have to get the buy-in of the people within that bureaucracy. That begs the question:

What’s the best way to get agency-wide buy-in on digital transformation projects that create efficiencies internally and supercharge customer service externally?

Break the rules: Don’t start with internal processes

A typical process improvement initiative might go like this:

  1. Map processes
  2. Identify issues
  3. Prioritize issues to fix
  4. Fix the issues

What’s wrong with this approach? Just one thing: you’re starting with internal processes, and chances are the employees who execute them aren’t gung-ho to change things up. The pain of learning a new process, even one that’s simpler and more efficient than the current one, often outweighs the desire to improve.

(This is a universal condition: humans have an emotional bias for the status quo.)

In fact, in Forrester’s Predictions 2016: The Government’s Slow Progress report, Forrester advised CIOs to “stop handwringing and begin to implement the US Digital Services Playbook,” but acknowledged the reason CIOs aren’t simply pressing the “easy” button for the digital government strategy:

“[The Playbook] provides a modern and reliable approach to designing and building federal digital services. And from the moment that the playbook went live, CIOs from many agencies have complained to us that cultural and organizational problems make it impractical.”

But what motivates you likely motivates the employees who are creating those cultural and organizational resistance to change: They, too, work in the public sector because of a desire to serve the public. Get their buy-in to change by framing it around that service instead of framing it around a seemingly arbitrary internal process change.

Break the rules: Take the outside-in approach

The outside-in approach begins with the citizens you serve rather than the process you already have in place. Consider this example:

A coworker of mine recently got married, and she had to visit three different government agencies in person during business hours in order to change her name and update her file. Since she works full-time in an office in the next county, this requirement was a hardship.

In this case, an “inside-out” process improvement would likely start within individual agencies, perhaps in creating an agency-specific online submission form. But an “outside-in” process begins where the customer begins: with the customer’s problem.

“I want to be able to sit at my computer or pull out my phone and quickly submit these forms and documents without having to take time off of work. How do I do that? How can my government make this process seamless for me?”

Now, the process improvement initiative looks like this:

  1. Map a typical customer journey or path through the process
  2. Identify customer-facing issues (roadblocks, excessive paperwork, inconvenient methods of submission, etc.)
  3. Prioritize issues to fix
  4. Fix the issues

Break the rules: Get employee buy-in from all levels of your organization

Once a process is mapped from the outside-in, the priorities are obvious—and so is the buy-in. The motivator is now customer service instead of a painful internal change. Even employees who aren’t technologically savvy (government CIOs say their biggest barrier to digital transformation is a lack of skills and resources) often get on board with learning new things when they understand and embrace the customer-focused outcome.

“We want to enable constituents to submit a name change to all the required agencies with one electronic form. Here’s the plan we’ve mapped to do that, and here’s how the process is easier for office staff, too.”  

Digital transformation, especially using an outside-in, customer-centric approach, is not a quick fix. It’s the long-term fitness and nutrition routine rather than the diet pill; a visionary, holistic, plan that takes the long-term view.

But as a rule-breaker, you already knew that.

How prepared is your organization for a digital transformation? Download Go Digital for Constituent Satisfaction and learn how to create organizational readiness and a digital roadmap.

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