5 Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation in Government

Improving government operations is something many of us want to do in public service, but like many us, sometimes we don’t know where to start. Innovating is about change, and change can take many forms, such as transforming a process or eliminating rules that are often self-imposed.

Like me, others have more ambitious goals that require changes in culture to innovate procurement operations. My personal focus is transforming procurement at the Internal Revenue Service, as we stand up our new Procurement Innovation Branch.

For change agents across government, and those inspiring to change and innovate, these 5 strategies and practices can be very helpful to transform government operations.

Be Clear About Your Goals

If you do not start with a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish, then change will not be possible without a clear roadmap. Keeping the end state goals in mind are important to build forward momentum, as challenges and resistance to change will be inevitable on this journey. Don’t get discouraged, as committing to your goals, getting feedback, and making the necessary adjustments through established metrics will be important factor to ensure you will be successful.

Find Areas for the Most Impact

Small, incremental change is important. However, look for areas where you can achieve a greater impact on the agency through organized efforts (i.e. force multiplier). For example, the concept of innovation labs, where procurement analysts provide support and guidance to programs across many parts of the organization can be an excellent leverage point for modeling or disseminating innovative procurement practices and transformational ideas that we want to implement across the enterprise.

Start Small, and Scale

Major culture change must happen incrementally. Find ways to affect change through opportunities for small wins. This helps not only build momentum, but creates the environment for being able to build trust and demonstrating the art of the possible across the organization. With these wins, it is easier to create multiple touchpoints and build relationships across the agency to find new partners to help implement the change you are trying to create through new sponsors.

By taking advantage of small opportunities when they are found, combined with working with your new allies across the agency, your initiatives can more quickly bear fruit when you achieve organizational-level support for it.

Create Your Allies and Build Your Network

Networking is an important tool to build relationships, and these connections are important enablers for your change initiatives. Although internal networks are important, such as members of your own team and other parts of the organization, allies outside your agency can also be important. These contacts are important sources of not only support, but can also provide excellent ideas and resources for best practices. Your network can also help create awareness of the change initiative by expanding your reach and helping create a foundation to success. You may feel like you are alone at times, but your network exists to help reinforce your work and helping you being able to persist.

Get Leadership Buy-in

Without top-cover from leadership, your chances of real, lasting change are almost nil. Further, just because you do get the buy-in, does not mean that the work is done. In fact, buy-in does not necessarily mean that anything will actually happen. Getting leadership buy-in should be job one.

Creating a culture of innovation is a change management exercise. By figuring out exactly what the starting point is, spend time with all stakeholders to learn what concerns they have about the impact of the changes, and what they would like to see in the changes. These are important starting points for how best to move forward.

Innovating in government has never been easy, but it is vital in a rapidly changing world. If your agency plans on making a sweeping cultural change to innovate, make sure that you are prepared to put in the work, and that leaders like you are prepared to take the wheel.

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