Focus on the Ingredients

To change culture, don’t focus exclusively on it. In fact, don’t describe your efforts and interventions as “culture change.” Instead, focus on changing the factors, behaviors, and conditions that affect and reinforce culture (i.e., people, incentives, structures). Make formal and informal changes to reach people on emotional and rational levels. Most organizations make the formal changes because they are easier to make, but informal changes can be even more effective and reinforce the formal signals:

Formal Changes Informal Changes
Organizational Charts Cross-functional Teaming
Roles and Responsibilities Behaviors & Leading by Example
Policies and Procedures Peer-to-Peer Networks
Talent Development Motivational Speakers
Organizational Communications Spotlights on Performance
Compensation, Benefits, & Awards Communities of Practice
Performance Management Systems Space and Environmental Changes

One of the most important ingredients to focus on is talent development. Governments need the best and brightest working on society's toughest problems, but struggle to identify those with advanced skills in data and analytics. Most public policy and public administration graduates who fill Program Analyst positions are adept with Microsoft Excel and statistical packages, like SPSS and Stata, but they lack computer programming and database skills. GIS specialists, who are also common in government, have more advanced data management and computer programming skills, but are usually relegated to mapmaking functions. To identify existing data and analytics talent in your government, consider one of the following tactics:

  • Create an analytics community of practice inside the organization and market it to anyone who has a passion for the use of data to help solve problems. Convene them through brown bags, panel discussions, or group projects. Let them present their work and bounce ideas off of one another. This will help surface the hidden talent and create space for collaboration.
  • Create a pipeline of analytics projects that cuts across programs and ask people to apply to be a member of a specialized team who works on them. Make the application progress fairly rigorous, so analysts have to demonstrate all of their skills before starting the project. Giving these all-stars a challenging project to work on will motivate them to make larger contributions to your organization.
  • Create career paths and mentorship programs for your professional analysts, especially the highly technical ones. GIS specialists often complain about the limited career path available to them, so carve out a pathway inside your organization that makes it clear you care about the long-term growth of every analyst.

Once you've identified the internal all-stars, get serious about attracting 21st century talent. Government halls are already filled with political science. It is time to add computer science and data science to the mix, and not just in the IT Department. Computer scientists and data scientists know how to use computers to generate insights, and as government goes digital, these skills are critical. Consider the following tactics when attracting outside talent:

  • First and foremost, look for intellectual curiosity, not just quantitative and technical skills. All the computer skills in the world can't replace an inquisitive human brain.
  • Ensure job postings for analyst positions include computer programming experience.
  • Look for dexterity with multiple analytical and statistical packages. Microsoft Excel is not enough. Look for experience using R, Stata, SPSS, MatLab, or MiniTab.
  • Prioritize communication skills. Generating insights is not enough. Analysts must communicate them visually and verbally. Look for individuals who have executive briefing skills and/or demonstrated experience in data visualization.
  • Given all potential analysts a test. Give them a dataset and a few vague questions to answer, questions that inspire followups and require each analyst to think about how they would approach the analysis to find the answers.

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