From disease outbreaks and emerging threats to leadership and staff turnover, health departments encounter regular change, if not on a daily basis. While public health practitioners try their best to adapt to change, not everyone is skilled to do so.
Public health practitioners can take note of the business sector about change management, which is the application of a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.1
According to John Kotter, a widely-recognized leader in the field of change management, there are two fundamental reasons behind most organizational transformations: to decrease costs or increase revenues/profits; and to become more effective or more efficient.
For public health, examples of organizational transformation might translate to:
Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change explains how organizations can work toward achieving these goals, and highlights the results likely produced.2
Create a sense of urgency to help others see the need for change through a bold, aspirational opportunity statement that communicates to individuals’ heads and hearts the importance of acting immediately.
A breadth of focused readiness across the workforce to direct change initiatives.
Build a guiding coalition of effective people – born of its own ranks – to guide it, coordinate it, and communicate its activities.
An accountable, diverse group bound by opportunity, strategy, and action.
Form a strategic vision and initiatives to clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how that future can become reality through initiatives linked directly to the vision.
A single vision of the future with a credibility and authority that comes from being crafted by a diverse set of employees and validated by senior leaders.
Enlist a volunteer army of employees amassed under a common opportunity that can drive change in the same direction.
A sizable body of employees excited and able to act on critically important initiatives linked to organizational strategy.
Enable action by removing barriers, such as inefficient processes and hierarchies, to provide the freedom necessary to work across silos and generate real impact.
Tangible evidence of employee innovations stemming from collapsed silos and new ways of working together.
Generate short-term wins by recognizing, collecting, and communicating – early and often – to track progress and energize volunteers to drive change.
A body of wins data that tells the story of transformation in validated, quantifiable, and qualifiable terms.
Sustain acceleration to determine what can be done to stay the course towards the vision.
Confirmation of organizational fitness and stamina that enables employees to stay the course of change over time.
Institute change by defining and communicating connections between the new change behaviors and organizational success until they become strong enough to replace old habits.
Collective recognition that the organization has a new way of working with speed, agility, and innovation that directly contributes to strategically important outcomes.
As health departments work to best serve their communities, or respond to dramatic changes in budgets, staffing, or even policy, employing change management techniques can create an organizational culture where practitioners understand why change is happening, adopt changes faster, and move toward innovative ideas to improve outcomes.
Armed with the right amount of time, and the right change management tools and skills, practitioners can be leaders to accelerate change initiatives, innovate, and drive organizational success within their health departments.
Are you using change management to implement innovations in your health department? Contact us to share your story, which could be featured in our upcoming publications.
1 Adapted from: Prosci. (n.d.). An introduction to change management. Available from Introduction to Change Management Guide.
2 Adapted from: Kotter, J.P. (2014). Accelerate: Building strategic agility for a faster-moving world. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.