Rossotti: Transformation requires removing barriers

The greatest challenge facing an organization intent on major changes is convincing people that such change is possible and getting them to buy into it, former IRS commissioner Charles Rossotti said at a gathering of state technology officials in Washington today.

Rossotti, who delivered a keynote speech at the mid-year conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, shared tips for guiding an organization through a major transformation project.

Rossotti, the co-founder and former CEO of American Management Systems Inc. (now part of CGI-AMS, Fairfax, Va.), is the author of Many Unhappy Returns: One Man's Quest To Turn Around The Most Unpopular Organization In America, which chronicles how he led the IRS through a major transformation under the Clinton administration.

"The opinion many people had was that the IRS couldn't change and was frozen," Rossotti said in describing the mindset when he took over the agency in 1997. "That mental roadblock has been broken."

Changing the technology is relatively simple, Rossotti said. It's changing the perceptions of the people who will use the new technology that can be the tricky part.

A problem plaguing many organizations looking for large transformation is the lack of alignment or even conflicting goals of many of the parties involved, Rossotti said. State technology leaders should get actively involved in the process, as should agency heads and their staffs. But the private sector must be involved in the discussion as well, and the three groups often have divergent goals, he said.

One crucial way Rossotti facilitated change at the IRS was by getting people from all levels of the agency, as well as from outside the organization, to give their input on the IRS' problems. He did that through a series of steering committees that drew active participation, and helped him learn the depth and breadth of the problems he had inherited.

"It's not fun," Rossotti said. "but they can be made into a vehicle to help overcome critical, cross-organizational issues."

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