When I was a child, we had a toy that was a collection of multi-colored gears and a pegboard. I would get hours of fun out of putting wild configurations of gears in place, with their teeth enmeshed, attaching a crank and turning it to watch energy transmitted from one gear to the next, until eventually the whole pegboard was a flurry of coordinated activity. One thing that I learned is that if the teeth weren’t properly aligned with the other gears that segment of the configuration would not move. And as some of the teeth became broken from overuse, those gears would not turn as well, sometimes jamming or pausing, gumming up the works.
Organizations are much like these gears. With the proper alignment and connections made amongst people and functions, they become a flurry of productive activity — each function and person contributing positive energy to the others and contributing positively to organizational goals. But, if some departments, functions, or systems are misaligned, they become disconnected and hinder performance.
Citizen experience (CX) has been named a cross-agency priority from the White House and as a result agencies across government are implementing changes to improve how they interact with citizens. To do this successfully requires an intense focus on alignment within and across organizations. This includes alignment of vision, systems and processes, functions and people. Unfortunately, this alignment is often overlooked in an effort to implement quick fixes that will show immediate results within a single group. It is critical to understand what creates alignment and then identify some key steps you can take to move toward aligning your organization as part of an overall CX strategy.
A compelling and meaningful vision is a critical instrument for alignment. The vision paints a picture of what could be and inspires action toward that end. Often, executives create visions that lack emotional import and sound like a page ripped out of a text book. When shared with employees, they fall flat. Without a unifying and meaningful vision, employees and leaders wander aimlessly or latch onto their personal vision, which is not necessarily aligned with those of their fellow employees.
Opportunities to engage employees together to create solutions and pathways that lead to a common understanding of the future fall by the wayside, potentially leading to siloes, misunderstandings, rivalries, power struggles, conflicts or sub-optimized action.
Alignment is created through culture, and culture is created through meaning, which is informed by values. Alignment around CX requires the creation of a service culture — one that has values that reflect the importance of helping others (including fellow employees), of serving and of being empathetic to the needs and situations of others. While this sounds very soft and fuzzy, it is critical and requires significant investment of energy and focus.
These values become the compass for all actions taken in the agency. Many organizations will create values and post them on the walls. Enacting the values, rather than just communicating them, is much more critical. Leadership needs to communicate and model them.
For each decision, they need to ask, “How will this improve our service to others?” or “What would our citizens think of this?”
It needs to be embedded into all of the systems and processes in the agency. For example, new hire interviews should explore the potential employees’ connection to the values and promotions should reflect those who demonstrate and epitomize the values.
Be sure that everyone is clear on what citizen experience is and why it is important: create a clear definition and have dialogues about what it means to them and how their roles contribute to it.
Engage employees in creating a vision. Leadership is responsible for creating an environment in which the vision can become a reality, but they are not responsible for creating the vision alone. By getting employees to collaboratively create the vision, they are more likely to find it meaningful and invest energy in making it happen because it is theirs.
Establish values around service. Engage employees in identifying critical values that reflect a service mindset toward citizens (and toward each other and other agencies!). Make these values clearly visible throughout the organization and bring them up with every decision until they become habit.
Modify processes to reflect the values. The key to living values is consistency. Human resources systems (performance management, learning, promotions, etc.), management and leadership systems, processes, technology and operational strategies should all reflect the service values. Contradictions between processes and values create confusion among employees who will doubt the organization’s commitment.
Be vigilant about the values. Demand that actions of leadership and decisions reflect the values. Challenge all levels when they do not act in line with them. Require that all contractors acting in the name of the agency operate with the same commitment to the service values.
Be patient. Change like this takes time. There will be misalignments and values will be contradicted occasionally. Use these missteps as opportunities for learning and adjustment and not for punishment or reprisal.
Alignment of the agency to the citizen experience effort is critical for success. It is not something to be taken lightly or glossed over. It requires focus and committed attention to creating consistency of word and deed. The resulting success, however, is worth the effort.
Josh Plaskoff, PhD, is the director of learning and technology service development for HighPoint Global.