ForgeFront’s founders cut their teeth in the pit of a significant number of central government organisational changes.  

Anyone who has worked in Whitehall will tell you that when it comes to ‘MoGs’ (nothing to do with Larry the Downing Street cat, rather that is mandarin speak for ‘machinery of government’), the stereotypical view of the ‘slow moving tanker’ of government doesn’t hold.  

The policy delivery process might sometimes be slow, but governance changes can happen at the speed of light. Departments can be stood up and wound down quickly. Internal teams created, disbanded or restructured at the drop of a hat. Very often this is on the impetus of an eager new minister or PM wanting to have a public facing ‘day one’ impact. 

Many changes don’t reach the news and civil servants manage them away from the public eye.  

A notable one we experienced first-hand was when the Department for Exiting the European Union was ‘starbursted’ and stood down. Various bits were slotted into other parts of the Whitehall machine in January 2020 and subsequently the New Year. A herculean task creating a lot of work. One of us ended up in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (soon to be joined by our colleagues at the Department for International Development), the other at the Cabinet Office.   

In the Cabinet Office Priority Projects Unit (PPU) our ‘bread and butter’ was often delivering these sorts of changes. Whether that was creating the policy team that helped renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol, the engagement team that lobbied for our future trading relationship with the EU, or the strategy team that helped create the future vision for parts of the Government Digital Service.  

While every ‘org change’ is different some things should remain fundamental ‘non negotiables’ for those leading these projects: 

  1. Buy-in – speak to the colleagues impacted as much as possible. Early engagement with unions pays dividends. Listen to the experience of those who will be most impacted. By understanding how the changes will play out ‘on the ground’ you can create a feedback loop. 
  1. There’s ‘method in the madness’ – Waterfall? Agile? Whatever methodologies you are using you need to justify your decision and be unscrupulous in sticking to the script you have laid out.  
  1. Track, track, track – organisational changes can cause confusion. Deploy strategy roadmaps to keep colleagues on track, reminding them of the overarching deliverable. Where possible use platforms like Power BI to keep on top of things. 
  1. Assurance – senior colleagues will want written and oral assurances that the changes are underpinned by a clearly articulated strategy. Elected representatives will want to see changes pay dividends at the ballot box. Keeping both sets of stakeholders dialled into the process is crucial because they’re the ones that are accountable.  
  1. Advocate – be an internal advocate for the changes. If you are not ‘backing’ them then no one will be. Be a vocal proponent of the positive differences the changes will make. This is infectious in any organisation. 
  1. Data – core to everything we do at ForgeFront. Any project for any local authority, whether related to org change or anything else, should be underpinned by rock-solid data. If you are merging two authorities how much money will be saved? How many teams will be stood down? What will the expected impact of citizens be? 
  1. People – are you bringing in the right people to help? You need a mixture of internal and external voices and the right balance of challenge. A ‘red team’ can be helpful for questioning assumptions. 

Org change does not need to be complicated or scary. But they almost always feel personal for colleagues because they create uncertainty at work.  

At a time when local authorities want to hold on to their best talent, combined with a need to restructure and streamline service provision to save money, there’s never been a more important time to deliver the ‘gold standard’ in this area. 

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