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Sometimes it seems as though innovation and agile principles are mutually incompatible with government agencies. And it’s not hard to see why. The public sector is built on a two-century-old foundation bureaucracy, red tape and regulation, all concepts diametrically opposed to DevSecOps principles like collaboration, transparency and iterative improvement. It’s not a culture designed to embrace change.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Red Hat’s Government Leadership Guide to Cultural Change lays out a step-by-step roadmap to adopting an open and agile culture in government agencies. Because IT transformation isn’t just about the technology; 21st century solutions can’t be delivered with 19th and 20th century management and processes.
Red Hat’s guide can shepherd federal leaders through the process of understanding and identifying their agency’s organizational culture, an often obscure and intangible concept. But having a firm understanding of an agency’s core values, expectations for behavior, decision-making models and leadership structures is an important first step to being able to change them.
It starts with information flow and communication within an organization. If leadership has a tendency to shoot the messenger and punish failure, that not only discourages open communication flow, it disincentivizes risk taking. Failing fast and innovation aren’t possible if failure itself isn’t treated as an opportunity to learn.
And that’s important as the speed of change accelerates, and disruption becomes the new norm. New skills are required as the metrics for success evolve from efficiency based on repetition, specification and routine to creative differentiation reliant on speed, quality and performance outcomes.
To succeed in this new paradigm, an organization’s has to lay the foundation for success. That means architecture has to support structure, process, decision-making, relationship building, resource allocation and incentives. This will allow the benefits of new technologies to evolve organically.
Establishing that architecture requires taking a holistic look at the organization, and addressing some neglected areas such as policies and governance, processes across the entire ecosystem, decision-making models, sourcing feedback, and talent acquisition and hiring practices.
Red Hat’s guide breaks down how to lay the foundation for open principles with a few easy steps. It starts with “why.” Why does your organization operate the way it does? Where is it going? What is the plan for getting there? Once those questions are answered, an organization can begin to move on toward incorporating open principles.
While Red Hat’s five open principles are each necessary, different organizations will implement them in varying ways according to their goals, mission, culture and regulations. They are:
- Transparency: An open flow of communication involves voluntary disclosures of work, fosters participation, and facilitates conversations and feedback.
- Inclusivity: Diverse points of view should be normalized through multiple channels and social norms to spark innovation.
- Adapability: Feedback and failure should actively inform operations and processes, reinforcing further engagement.
- Collaboration: Working together and across departments should occur throughout the work process, not as an afterthought.
- Community: A common language and shared values should develop within an organization, and be modeled by leadership.
These principles can build toward a cultural change by laying the foundation for cross-organizational and cross-functional teams, leading to higher productivity and engagement, deeper leadership development, and rapid responses to change. Greater access and connection to the organization as a whole empowers employees and builds engagement.
This type of cultural change can also help agencies recruit and retain better talent. Pay and promotions aren’t enough to motivate and attract good employees. More meaningful and engaging work is more effective route to attracting young talent, something federal agencies often struggle with.
Red Hat’s guide lays out several ways an open culture can help with this, including working in short-term project sprints, deeper connection to the mission, mentorship, flexible career paths through cross-collaboration, inclusivity in hiring, and more opportunities through hiring incentives.
Red Hat recognizes that it frequently comes back to the mission, especially with federal agencies. A clear, distinct organizational vision can be infectious within a workforce. That’s why Red Hat offers a few simple ways to help connect employees to the mission. Understanding employees, ensuring they understand the relevance of their work to the mission, and connecting them to each other – with daily reinforcement – keeps the focus on the mission.
Investment in the workforce is just as important. Younger talent craves opportunities for development and training. Potential for growth is just as important as experience when agencies are looking to hire.
Red Hat was founded on open source principles. They are embedded in its culture and its daily operations. Its Government Leadership Guide to Cultural Change is the recipe to its secret sauce for success, and it can help federal managers and executives navigate their agencies through the process of changing their organizational culture to deliver the kinds of IT modernization outcomes necessary to succeed in the 21st century.