Levers of Change: 5 Elements to Successful Program Transition

Jan Gaudaen headshot
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After 25-plus years supporting government contracts, 15 of them leading large and complex infrastructure and software development programs, I’ve managed several contract and program transitions. What I’ve seen during that time is that getting the transition right sets a program up for success. Conversely, getting it wrong can potentially result in challenges that take time and energy to address and become a distraction to the customer mission.

With my experience guiding four program transitions across four different agencies and leading transitions with two additional agencies, I understand these challenges with change and have the experience to mitigate issues before they become problems. In my experience, there are (at least) five critical elements of well-managed change that must be considered before, during and after major transitions. At GDIT, we refer to them as the key “levers of change.”

  1. Leadership Alignment – This is all about helping senior managers align around a common goal, demonstrate leadership throughout the process, and ensure they are collaborating effectively. It’s so important to have your program team and its leaders aligned behind a shared vision. Articulating success, and ensuring your customer also agrees with that vision, will keep everyone aligned, accountable, and aware of where you are and where you’re going.

  2. Stakeholder Engagement – This starts with analysis. It requires looking at the impacts of the transition on various stakeholder groups and then effectively and appropriately engaging them in the process so that they feel a sense of ownership and investment in the change. You have to ensure that your stakeholders are engaged in the process. Remember, program transitions upend a lot of things; a lot of change happens. Make sure you’re keeping people informed across the program – from customers, to teams to associate contractors. Make sure that everyone has a stake in making the program successful.

  3. Strategic Communication – This is a straightforward one. Ensure that any communications about the change are focused on the benefits, objectives, timing, and impact of the change. Clear messaging can head off numerous potential issues. Just like nature hates a vacuum, so do people amid change. Don’t let questions or anxieties linger. Address the concerns you know that people have and invite them to be forthcoming about the ones you may not know about. Use the mediums they use to communicate, and let transparency and trust drive your messages.

  4. Training – Far too often this one is overlooked. It’s not enough to communicate about a change once and move on. Instead, leaders must train their staff on new, expected behaviors and how to master the changing processes and tools. And there are different types of training that need to occur. Part of it involves orientation of staff on the program. They need to be introduced (and welcomed!) to the company if they are new. They also need to understand any new solutions and be trained on the technologies that come with the solution. With some transitions, there are team members whose roles are changing. These individuals need training to be successful in their new role. They’re learning something new or something adjacent to what they’d previously done – and they may be apprehensive. It’s critical that these people are trained, coached, supported, and given every opportunity to be successful in their new roles.

  5. Performance Management & Rewards – Finally, leaders must measure and reward the performance and behaviors desired from the change and reinforce how the changes are impacting the organization and the team for the better. Often, we assume that our team members are fulfilled and know they’re doing a great job, but without feedback, they may feel undervalued. It’s incumbent upon managers to set expectations and check in with the staff on their performance. You can’t recognize a job well done – or pinpoint opportunities for improvement – if you haven’t made your expectations clear.

Paying attention to these five levers of change, during a program transition and continuing throughout a program, creates real benefits like faster implementation of strategies and initiatives, reduced resistance from internal and external stakeholders, better collaboration at the managerial and operational levels, better performance, and better customer satisfaction.

A successful transition is the cornerstone for a strong start to a program. So make sure you’re using the levers of change – early and often – during your program transitions.