Why Change Management in Government Is So Difficult

Governments (local, state and federal) often have very large budgets, and they're responsible for providing the best services and value for the taxpayer’s dollar while working with many constraints. Unfortunately, these and other complexities make most governments inefficient and less effective.

Historically, government organizations resist change and are generations behind the private sector in their business processes and technology.

There’s a reason these public organizations are often likened to vast, intricate “machines.” Governments share several features with autonomous systems:

  • Generalist employees and leaders stretched thin by competing demands
  • Outdated and rigid processes that are difficult to change
  • Numerous independent parts and siloes that must work together
  • Operations based on a manual of procedural precedents
  • Resistance to change and innovation

All of this makes governments an easy scapegoat when things go wrong.

Considering this, it’s no surprise that many public-sector organizations struggle to meet their objectives during change.

The Prosci approach to change in the government sector involves building individual awareness and capacity to change and scaling it up to teams and departments.

By understanding and addressing the inherent complexities and resistance within government structures, we pave the way for smoother transitions, enabling governmental bodies to adapt and thrive in an ever-evolving landscape. 

Why the Public Sector Is Embracing Change Management

Governments at all levels realize the inevitability of large-scale change, but the scale is still daunting. These large organizations must navigate numerous transitions across four key dimensions: technology, organization, operations and market.

Technological change

The digital era has ushered in a wave of new technologies that promise enhanced efficiency and innovation.

Governments are tasked with integrating advanced technologies like big data, artificial intelligence, and automated decision-making systems into their existing frameworks. These could be internal changes like overhauling a payment system or updating the public web portals people use to submit taxes.

Amid these changes, public employees often forget that it’s about more than upgrading technology: They’re transforming how governments operate and serve their citizens.

Organizational structure change

Government entities frequently encounter shifts in leadership and structure—whether it’s a change in administration or consolidation of agencies. After so much change, a passive culture of “this too shall pass” can develop, limiting engagement and increasing barriers to adoption.

These issues, coupled with budget constraints and the need for greater citizen engagement, require a flexible and responsive approach. Effective change management helps people smoothly transition through shifts of all kinds, ensuring continuity and stability.

Operational change

The “machinery” of government is undergoing a metamorphosis. Citizens no longer want to wait years for their representatives to roll out new platforms. They expect seamless digital experiences in all aspects of life.

There's a growing trend towards adopting Agile methodologies and focusing on improving user interfaces in government digital services.

These operational changes are vital for governments to stay relevant and responsive to the needs of the public.

Market change

Governments must adapt to evolving policies, regulations and socioeconomic conditions. Factors like an aging workforce, retirement waves, and global events like Brexit or the COVID-19 pandemic have profound implications.

Navigating these market changes requires foresight, planning and adaptability. Most importantly, they require fast implementation.

These public sector institutions must build up change capability to move as quickly as their private sector counterparts.

Achieving these changes is no small feat. It demands structured change management methodologies that streamline the transition and ensure that the outcomes are effective and sustainable. This is where the Prosci structured approach to change management becomes invaluable.

Building change capability with the Prosci Methodology

The Prosci Methodology goes beyond mere theory—it’s battle-tested from over three decades of application across public and private sector environments. It offers structured processes and tools to build change capability within government departments.

Most importantly, organizations that consistently apply excellent change management to projects and initiatives are 7X more likely to meet or exceed project objectives.

Correlation of Change Management Effectiveness With Meeting Objectives

Correlation Between Change Management and Project Success

How government departments benefit from change management

The Prosci Advisory Solutions network comprises seasoned change experts, many of whom have direct experience working in government agencies across North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and beyond. Their expertise is grounded in real-world applications, offering insights and strategies that are both practical and effective.

Same old’ goes neither far nor fast. Change brings hope for a better future—the future as you want to see it.
—Yvette Wikstrom
Government Performance Solutions
My goal is to share tools, tactics and strategies that enable a human-centered approach to transformational change. I feel energized when I help clients create connection, community, creativity and courage within their organizations.
—Annie Severson
Former Director of Organizational Development
Washington State Department of Child, Youth and Families
I’m passionate about enabling people to adopt new ways of working and aim to make a difference every day. My goal is to help people develop change capabilities to achieve organizational outcomes, support each other and thrive through change.
—Kathleen Nash
Former Director of Information Security, Operations and Change Lead
Australian Taxation Office

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Partnering With Prosci for Change Management Success in Government

Two standout success stories from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) exemplify Prosci impact at all levels of government.

Federal Aviation Administration

The Flight Standards Service (FSS) sets standards and regulations for FAA employees and oversees the travel of millions of passengers annually. The FSS needed to build an internal change management program for its nearly 5,500 employees, marking a significant shift in managing and implementing change in air transportation.

To build this program successfully, the FAA partnered with Prosci to ensure research-based practices supported its efforts. At the end of the four-year partnership, the FSS had achieved the following:

  • Over 40 full-certified change management practitioners are leading various change initiatives.
  • Completion of initial change management training for over 5,400 employees.
  • Cross-department collaboration with other public sector organizations like the Navy, Air Force and Department of Energy.

Check out the whole FAA success story here.

Colorado Department of Transportation

Projections have the state of Colorado on track for a 92% population increase by 2050. An influx of this magnitude requires major infrastructure capacity changes, yet the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) budget did not receive a significant increase.

CDOT leaders knew they needed to partner with experts who could effectively navigate technological and operational changes in a traditionally rigid environment. Leveraging the Prosci Methodology, the CDOT achieved:

  • A reduction in the error rate of one of its permit divisions by over 50%
  • Elimination of nearly two dozen unnecessary steps in a key review process
  • A 2015 Harvard Ash Center Bright Idea in Government Award

Check out the whole CDOT success story here.

From federal aviation to state transportation, Prosci change management strategies ensure that governmental changes are implemented, sustainable, and aligned with the public interest.

By collaborating with Prosci, government agencies gain access to a wealth of experience and a proven framework for managing the human side of change.

Whether adapting to new technologies, navigating leadership transitions or responding to global events, the Prosci Methodology offers a roadmap to success, proving that with the right approach, even the most challenging changes can be successfully managed and embraced.

Build Cross-Department Capacity for Change

Adopt a people approach for an effective change strategy that eliminates setbacks. Contact Prosci today for more support on adopting change in the public sector.