NUGGET : Leadership in change is not just a matter of vision. For people in formal management roles, vision and policy are just the beginning. The true test is in the less glamorous and often messy work of execution.

big_adapt_25th It disturbs me to hear that a project as large and complex as appears to have been badly managed. It’s not the fact that there are technical problems – there are few big system implementations that don’t have them. What concerns me is the apparently poor change management along the way.

I’m not privy to the details, so at this point I can only comment generally about the change management lessons that are emerging.

Here are some management rules that do not seem to have been followed:

Rule 1a: Keep communication channels open so that you anticipate issues rather than are surprised by a crisis.

Rule 1b: Overtly seek out the bad news – be sure it is an invited part of the ongoing review and dialogue. Encourage, don’t shoot the messenger.

Rule 2: Don’t skimp on coordination and integration, for any complex initiative is more than the sum of the task lists. Put your best and brightest in a position where they have a continual big picture view. In fact, everyone on the project can benefit from a holistic view. Remember the blind men and the elephant.

Rule 3: Sometimes facts should be king: it’s extremely risky to close your eyes and wish for success. Most of the time you will lose.

Rule 4: Treat your customers like adults. They can take delays and bad news if there is an explanation and you let them know before things fall apart. Besides, everyone knows this is a complex technical challenge. This relates to Number 3.

Rule 5: Don’t blindside the person at the top. The Secretary of Health and Human Services admitted that Mr. Obama found out about the problems with the website at the same time as the public! If it is true that he was kept in the dark, she should resign or be fired – now.

But then…

Rule 6.
I would ask myself (If I were President), “What is happening in the culture of my administration that makes it difficult for people to bring me the truth?”

I have worked with many competent leader/managers in my consulting with government agencies. But I am also aware of the extreme difficulty of ensuring truly good management and governance – especially when change is involved. Part of the problem is the difficulty of merging political appointees with civil servants. Too many people without leadership competence and expertise are appointed to top roles solely for political reasons. Add the uncertainties, distortions, and changes due to political infighting and you have… well, disaster. And we have another example today of what that looks like. Please send comments to

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