The Staff Perspective: Top 5 Challenges associated with Transformation

I’ve always been fascinated by the complex machinery of large organizations.  And I don’t think organizations get any more complex than large government departments.  If that isn’t enough, these complex large government departments are now implementing large scale transformation agendas, which include new organizational models, major program changes, and new service models all contained within the same initiative.  Let’s just say that my levels of fascination have hit new heights.

All across the country, government departments of all sizes and mandates are forging ahead with their transformation agendas fueled by sheer determination and a massive commitment to deliver on all fronts.  Now that they are well entrenched in their detailed planning and implementations, many common challenges are being identified. Let’s check in and see how we’re doing so far, from the staff perspective.

Here are 5 of the most common challenges that we have come across:

1. Expected outcomes are defined at senior levels, and are not always well understood by those being asked to implement them.

  • Staff are asking for less concept and more concrete information that will allow them to better visualize the organization (and their role) in the future or end state.
  • Possible Solutions:
    • Define the organizational end states as early in the change process as possible
    • Describe characteristics of the end state in terms that people can relate to
    • Communicate to staff in plain language that is easily understood
    • Present more opportunities for open forums where staff can ask questions

2. Trade-offs are not being accepted as a necessary part of the process.

  • Workloads are continually increasing (with no end in sight), yet organizations still expect their staff to deliver high levels of service excellence and/or to continue to meet an ever increasing number of deliverables.
  • Possible Solutions:
    • If new priorities arise and work must be added, management should strive to understand their staff’s current work capacity, and when required, identify other work that can be removed or delayed.
      • Is the new work required? (or nice to have?)
      • Is the new work a higher priority than other work already assigned?
      • Can some work be extended in its timelines?
      • Can some administrative work be delayed or eliminated?
      • Can certain meeting participation be reduced or eliminated?
      • Can any work deliverables be delayed or halted entirely?

3. Client expectations are not being re-set or re-communicated during transitional times.

  • Organizations are not sharing with clients the short-term impacts of the change on their services and/or relationships, requiring staff to bear the burden of sheltering the client from any and all impacts.
  • Possible Solutions:
    • Clients should be engaged early in the change process and made aware of the pending changes. There should be an open discussion around impacts and potential changes to service levels during the transitional times.  Clients should be provided a contact person in the event that extraordinary impacts are felt, or should they require additional assistance at any time.

4. Staff engagement is a popular term, but one that is not well understood or implemented in practice.

  • Staff engagement is not an event (e.g. annual employee survey), rather a systematic approach to prioritizing, planning, implementing, and following through on the involvement of staff in the achievement of an organization’s objectives.  (Note: Low morale is a clear indicator that it is not going well.)
  • Possible Solutions:
    • Staff engagement should be a measured indicator in the performance measurement framework within every organization. It should have its own unique section on every dashboard in every organization.  It should be the responsibility of every manager at every level.  Some indicators could include (in addition to annual survey results):
      • # of regularly held 1×1 meetings (or bi-lats)
      • # of regularly held team meetings
      • # of employee recognition events
      • # of ADM/DM Open Forums (two way meetings)
      • # of improvement ideas submitted
      • # of hits on the “tell us what you think” button
      • # of page visits (i.e. news, highlights, etc.)

5. The role of internal communications is massive during times of change, yet it is approached in an ad-hoc and reactive manner.

  • Everyone says that internal communications is a top priority throughout times of change, yet it is seldom integrated into the transformation approach or structure, rendering it too late to the party to be truly effective.
  • Possible Solutions:
    • Assign dedicated internal communications resources directly to change initiatives, starting in the early planning stages
    • Create horizontal teams of cross-functional experts in the areas of transformation oversight, change management, project management, and internal communications
    • Create centres of expertise for critical competencies related to change management, i.e. internal communications, project management, change management to ensure the expertise is available to better structure these approaches and activities

Perhaps the largest lessons being learned so far relate to the gap that exists between what we say and what we do.  In order to be more successful in this next phase of transformation, it would be prudent for us to better bridge that gap.  Sure there are limited resources, and challenges associated to this approach.  But we’re up for the challenge.  We all know who will be implementing the changes at the end of the day, the staff, so we should all make it a priority to better position our organizations (and our people) for transformation success (and sustainment).


Kathy Roy has implemented business transformation and change management projects in complex organizations for over two decades. She has worked with major companies, both public and private, and with numerous business sectors in both Canada and the United States. She is part of Systemscope's Strategic Business Consulting practice.


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