This piece was generously contributed by Anne-McIntyre-Lahner. Anne is the director of performance management at Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families. Anne will be presenting the workshop “Best Start in Life for Children on 11th October.
There is something about September that always makes me think about new beginnings. Maybe it is because the school year starts in September, or the air starts to get crisp in the evenings, or because my birthday is in September – signaling a new year for me.
Whatever the reason, September is a month that, for me, signals change.
Change – and all that brings with it! Do you find change scary? Exciting? Frustrating? Empowering? Or just different?
Over the past five years, I have learned a lot about change as we have implemented Results Based Accountability (RBA) across the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF). We have learned a lot about what it really means (and what it really takes) to implement measurable change in a large government agency. But more importantly, we’ve learned a lot about how to make changes that actually result in improved well-being for our communities.
Change is Hard.
I live in a state nicknamed “The Land of Steady Habits”. There are many reasons for the nickname; often, it feels like one of them is that we don’t like change! I have come to realize a couple of things related to how people react to change, myself included, and I understand that this reaction can vary based on the kind of change, the depth of the change, one’s understanding of the change, and equally important, who is driving the change.
Most people I know think that change is fine when they have initiated it. They have a much harder time accepting change when it is someone else’s idea – especially when it catches them by surprise. It is one thing when your favorite store rearranges the aisles, but another thing when someone rearranges your work life by changing expectations for, or approaches to, your work. Quite frankly, that can be scary – especially surprise introduction of terms like “performance accountability” and questions like “Is anyone better off”?
So what does it really take to make meaningful change?
I have found that helping people understand why the change is coming, what is driving it, and that the work they have been doing is valued, all help with accepting the change. Here are 4 lessons I’ve learned in the process:
- Change Takes Support
Large agencies tend to run on “the way things are done”. Policies and procedures matter, and “doing things right” can sometimes take on more importance than doing the right things. When asking colleagues to make changes in the way they approach their work, explain the reason for the change and the expected outcome, and then provide a point person who can serve as the go-to for the change initiative. This will make it easier for people to ask questions, try out ideas, and get the support they need until they are comfortable with the new approach to “the way things are done.”
Understand that there will be lots of questions and that there will usually be some pushback as well. Questions and pushback can be a healthy signal that coworkers are giving thought to what you are asking them to do differently. Allow time for colleagues to process the impending change, and create the opportunity for suggestions and input as you keep moving forward. Your colleagues may identify unanticipated consequences that you missed, and with their input, you may end up with a better outcome. Realize, though, that after a certain point, too much processing can get in the way of progress. So, remember to support staff throughout the process as they move past their initial pushback to start making changes. Be willing to accept, and use, feedback.
- Change Takes Time
Changing culture and performance in a large agency is like turning the Queen Mary. It goes slowly and (hopefully) steadily. Plan enough time for the process, and be realistic about the amount of time it will take. Then, plan on taking longer than you planned.
- Change Takes Training
At DCF, we use the Results-Based Accountability (RBA) framework to organize our work. Mark Friedman’s Trying Hard is Not Good Enough is a great resource to get people thinking about the possibilities that change brings. Most people I have encountered in this work need some training to help them understand and be able to apply the concepts of RBA. There are many resources to get that extra training. If you aren’t aware of local resources, a great place to get started is the RBA Guide.
- Change Requires a Shift in Perspective
This may be the biggest challenge for colleagues in large agencies. There is often so much focus on policy and procedure that the focus on outcomes gets lost. And that is what the work is all about – changing outcomes for people. I often tell people that if they don’t remember anything other than “start with the end in mind” they will have learned one of the most important aspects of RBA. By changing perspective from a focus on “what we do” to “what we want to achieve” you can begin to focus on the right things to make the changes you need.
About the author:
Anne McIntyre-Lahner is the Director of Performance Management for Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), the state’s child welfare agency responsible for child protection, behavioral health, juvenile justice, and prevention services. Throughout her career, Anne has focused on systems change by developing and overseeing accountability practices for providers, programs, and service systems, and leading strategic planning and performance management work. Anne is also the author of a new book chronicling DCF’s journey to accountability: Stop Spinning Your Wheels: Using Results-Based Accountability to Steer Your Agency to Success. Anne’s share of any profits from the book will be donated to nonprofit organizations that serve children, and families.