When President Donald Trump released an Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch, many employees at government agencies had no experience with the level of reform the president mandated. The focus of the initiative is to make agencies more efficient, effective and accountable. In response, each agency drafted a plan to demonstrate how they would put this order into effect — and the time for finalized plans, Sept. 30, is fast approaching.

On Aug. 9, The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. (COE), held a reform summit designed to assist agencies prepare for the coming initiative. One of the panels included agency representatives discussing their agencies’ focus and preparedness. The three panelists — Bridgette Garchek (Department of Homeland Security), David Eagles (Department of Housing and Urban Development) and Joseph Loddo (Small Business Administration) — commented on a key concern for reform: Now is the time for agencies to think about long-term systemic reform, and to accomplish this, agencies must consider how plans will be enforced and sustained.

According to panelists, this will encompass a variety of factors — clarity of vision, execution skills, employee and Hill buy in, among others. Garchek, in particular, mentioned agency leaders are taking the long view with comprehensive plans, and panelists agreed that leaders appear committed and very decisive, which will bode well for ensuring the right attention is placed on the initiatives over time.

Already there are certain processes in place that will be useful in moving forward with this initiative. Panelists made clear that agencies do not need to hit the restart button; instead, they should be mindful of utilizing what they already have and apply it in their newly developed plans. Maintaining a strong structure will prove critical in enacting specific actions from comprehensive plans. Many ideas submitted have been on the shelf, so instead of starting over, use them to drive it and make it have a lasting effect.

Panelists were clear to emphasize that part of what will drive this lasting effect is buy-in from federal employees. To achieve this, they said, agencies must engage with employees, because any reform this extensive requires persistence coming from all levels. It necessitates commitment and endurance to maintain momentum in enacting reform and keeping up with the plans. Employees, those who will feel direct effects from the reform, must remain engaged — a task that ultimately falls on leadership. Eagles suggested identifying key policy goals and a unified plan that are driven from the top and focused on the agency, as this is fundamental to making the reform stick. Driving management to keep employees involved will prove useful in the long term.

Throughout this process, and especially when considering employee buy-in, each panelist stressed that it is imperative that leaders effectively communicate. There are a lot of stakeholders to communicate with, and given the significant change occurring, part of what guarantees this reform’s success is allowing for a steady stream of communication to and from key players, enveloping their thoughtful suggestions and concerns into the planning and execution. To enable this, each agency’s reform team must advance using ample communications plans that provide direction to how communications can be effectively distributed. These communications must be two-sided; agencies need to receive feedback from employees to know how their plan is taking effect as a means to gauge how their plans are working.

Panelists also mentioned there need to be measures in place to track successes and failures and prove the plans are taking hold. Essentially, agencies must remain accountable. In this sense, accountability is not a negative thing. It is the ability to measure the reform and see results, something that must be adopted more into federal culture. Agencies can succeed with accountability by establishing systems to gather very clear metrics that are transparent throughout the whole organization. Garchek stated that agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, have systems in place to track progress and hold themselves accountable. This, together with various plans spanning multiple years, will show continuous results and help agencies enact reform efficiently and effectively.

This reform initiative has come early in the administration, granting agencies more time to be successful with their plans. Still, according to recent COE poll results, 58 percent of summit attendees believe changing the culture at agencies is the biggest reform challenge. Fortunately, there is time to be innovative and find what works best. It is the time to proceed boldly with the ever-present notion that these plans need to be sustainable. Rather than slowly losing interest, this reform needs leadership to stay focused and act as champions throughout the agencies, and with resolve, agencies can achieve systemic effectiveness.

Fred Panzer, Ph.D., is a director of client solutions for The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. He can be reached at frederick.panzer@center4oe.com.

Anna Weldon is a writer/editor for The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. She can be reached at anna.weldon@center4oe.com.