Change Management


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.


Leadership Roles

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 Influence


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 



Chronic Resisters


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 

improvement efforts.

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.


Management Effectiveness


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.


Overcoming Obstacles


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 

impacts occur.


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.


Supporting Tools


Tools and templates for effective implementation include:

  • Continuous improvement team charters from sponsor groups
  • Communication  plan template
  • Assessment, data collection and analysis tools 
  • Facilitation tools and templates
  • Monitoring tools and templates
  • Individual and team capacity planning tools
  • Project management, meeting management, and decision-making tools
  • Action research, coaching and performance management tools


Support from Universities and Non­Profits


The role of academic and non-profit institutions in supporting the change management efforts of 

agencies includes:

  • Generating case studies of successful agency change management efforts.
  • Integrating the "products" of practitioner successes (models, tools, process, techniques) with general practice theories of working with children, youth and families and organizational development.
  • Preparing students for the real world challenges of complex organizations attempting to improve and innovate within a challenging  environment.
  • Shifting their professional development services from a classroom-based curriculum to a more consultative continuous improvement  approach.


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