Managing Innovation in Change-Conservative Agencies

 Implementing change and innovation within Government agencies is not easy. Leaders can face challenges such as resistance to change, lack of internal support, and a lack of resources. However, innovation is often necessary and innovative improvements are in the best interest of the public sector’s constituency.

Differing Views on the Definition of Innovation

According to Wikipedia, innovation is the development of new customer value through solutions that meet new needs, inarticulate needs, or old customer and market needs in new ways. Often, stakeholders’ expectations may not be aligned.

According to MIT Sloan Management Review, “most executives confuse what an innovation actually is with what an innovation would do for them if they had one. For example, most companies think of an “innovation” as something that wins a sale with a better solution, increases revenue or takes market share from a competitor. But those aren’t definitions of innovation. They’re outcomes executives would like to get from innovation.”

Government agencies and personnel may confuse outcomes, such as reduced spending or the rapid attainment of objectives, with actual innovation, or the improved processes and changes that make those things possible.

Challenges of Innovation in Government

Executives may propose changes with the promise of desired results; however, personnel tasked with embracing these changes may not share the same vision. Instead, they see the time and budget constraints they’re already facing compounded by a sudden proposition to completely overhaul the procedures with which they’re comfortable.

According to, Federal Chief Information Officer, Steven VanRoekel, requested $16.66 million for the Electronic Government Fund, meant to finance longer-term projects that agencies aren’t inclined to fund on their own. VanRoekel indicated that agencies are less likely to fund projects they feel won’t benefit their own internal operations.

VanRoekel’s statement points to one of the core challenges to innovation within Government agencies – a lack of internal support because the benefits to such advances aren’t inherently obvious in some cases.

In addition to internal support issues, staff may resist changes that will add additional stress to their already overwhelming workloads. Undertaking major process changes can be viewed as an unnecessary step when the results aren’t guaranteed. Instead of looking forward to the potential end goals, agency personnel think of innovation as yet another obstacle in the way of accomplishing their day-to-day tasks.

Innovation May Be Necessary for Survival

Market pulls and competition can make innovation necessary for survival. The U.S. Postal Service is a notable Government example of an agency requiring innovation to survive. When competitors enter the market able to deliver better results in a shorter time, innovation may be the only thing that can preserve an agency. With improved efficiency through innovative solutions, a greater number of constituents or customers can be served utilizing the same resources that once served fewer people.

Managing Innovation

So what are some ways to manage for innovative results given the challenges described above?

Clearly Identify Goals
Clearly outline the desired goals and outcomes in terms of providing customer value. Make it clear that innovative solutions will be the key to achieving goals. Communicate the process improvements to the expected new customer value.


Pay for Innovation
Create a culture that rewards and pays for innovation and creativity. If a Federal employee is only paid for certain tasks accomplished in a decade-old job description, then rethink how that employee should be reviewed on job performance. Are there incentives for employees who try to implement new ways of accomplishing tasks?


Implement Small Changes over Time
Don’t overlook the value in small innovations. Rolling out small changes and restructuring a process step-by-step can ease resistance to change and streamline the transition to a more efficient working model.


Innovation may seem out of reach, but it is necessary to maintain the jobs of Federal employees, improve outcomes for taxpayers, and advance Government as a whole.

Take steps today to make it easy for your employees to become innovators.


FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather