Change management is critical today given the immense transformations occurring in regulatory compliance, technology, the workforce, global economics and more. As federal agencies work to keep up with these trends and movements, leaders must work to develop the most efficient and effective possible approaches to manage change.

A smart way to begin this process is to look at the successes of those agencies that have done well on the change management test. 

“The VA’s transformation has been rooted in veteran experience.”

The VA’s successes
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs came under fire several years ago for a massive backlog and other symptoms of poor management, but has made significant progress through the “Road to Veterans Day 2014” initiative. The goals included cultivating trust among the veteran community, improving services and outcomes, and establishing sustainable reforms to succeed in the long run.

Perhaps most importantly, the VA completely transformed its approach to the way it functions based on the ways in which veterans interact with the department, working to transition toward “MyVA,” which gives service members complete control of their own services. An open letter published on the department’s website by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald last January outlined some of the cultural shifts he has enacted to make this goal attainable.

For one, McDonald made it clear that internal support services, veteran experience, employee engagement and strategic partnerships would all have to be refreshed and reformed entirely from the customer’s perspective. In each of these categories, the VA has been highly successful in slowly but surely reaching its objectives. It plans to make the Veterans Experience Office completely functional by the end of this year, while also expanding the Community Veteran Engagement Board and implementing more progressive customer experience measurement technology to make data-driven decisions.

These projects, at scale, will help ensure that leadership in the VA is aware of veteran and employee experiences throughout the changes taking place.

If any of this sounded to you like a strategy that would come from the private sector, you would be correct. Secretary McDonald was once the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, and is bringing private sector tactics to the VA to improve the experiences of veterans, employees and stakeholders across government.

Change management needs to be navigated with data-driven insights. Change management needs to be navigated with data-driven insights.

Next steps for other agencies
Agencies looking to capitalize on similar transformations to those moving forward at the VA should consider prioritizing the following actions:

  • Analyze all data currently being tracked for your program, laying it out in a cohesive story regarding the impacts on the customer journey. The VA made exceptional progress in mapping the veteran journey and basing performance improvement initiatives on those insights.
  • Benchmark the practices and metrics of exemplar public and private organizations.
  • Develop a comprehensive, public-facing, outcome-based dashboard based on management best practices.
  • Create comprehensive plans for tracking, communicating and reporting progress.
  • Implement the plan using a sound project management methodology, such as agile principles or the Project Management Body of Knowledge.
  • Continuously evaluate success and change course as needed.

Performance improvements will be all the more attainable and clear when an organization has crafted the right measurement framework within change management strategies. Data – and specifically performance metrics – needs to be at the foundation of change management, guiding decision-makers and strengthening visibility of all the moving parts involved in transformation.