But these new Cabinet secretaries face an old challenge: Bringing change to departments of the federal government staffed by people who have grown accustomed to thinking and acting in certain ways.
And anyone who’s ever tried to implement change initiatives knows that it takes a dogged effort to avoid failure.
“Various reports and studies have found that 60 to 70 percent of change initiatives don’t produce the desired results,” says Paul Thornton, who conducts leadership training programs and is author of Precise Leaders Get Results.
If President Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointees want to succeed in their new jobs, Thornton says, they need to ask themselves these questions about change and come up with precise answers:
- Why change? The Cabinet members need to pinpoint the problem or opportunity that requires the change initiative. What’s the compelling reason to change?
- Who needs to change? Thornton says the first step is to identify the specific people who need to change. Beyond that target group is the secondary group; this includes people who can support and help the target group. For example, for a child to change his or her behavior, parents need to make changes to support the child. In business, the secondary group includes the managers of the employees in the target group and other people who influence them directly or indirectly.
- What Specific Changes Are Required? Thornton says he’s often heard company presidents and senior leaders make statements such as, “We need a values-driven culture.” “We need to change the culture to be more customer-focused.” “To survive, we need to be more entrepreneurial.” People in the audience nod and applaud these pronouncements, but they leave the meeting not knowing what they need to do differently, he says. “If you can’t describe the specific change as it relates to someone’s behavior, then the change effort is doomed to fail,” Thornton says. “People need to know exactly what they need to stop doing and start doing.”
- What Resources Are Needed? It takes time, effort, and money to train and motivate people to change. Without adequate resources, the change effort will flounder and fail. “Leaders must champion the change initiative and that includes allocating the required resources,” Thornton says.
- Is everyone able and willing to change? Once leaders identify the target group, secondary groups and the specific changes required, they need to answer these additional questions: Are these people able to change? Are they motivated to change?
“Too often, leaders simply espouse vague goals like ‘world-class,’ ‘customer-focused,’ ‘adding value,’ and ‘positive culture,’” Thornton says. “These phrases may sound exciting and hopeful, but they are just empty words without further clarification. The Cabinet secretaries will need to make sure they aren’t relying on vague ideas, but can state plainly and precisely the direction they’re going.”