How motor vehicle administrators handle the challenging task of change management within their departments
If you asked people to choose one word to define 2020, “change” would certainly rank high on the list of responses. In a normal year, change may manifest as subtle or gradual; planned in advance and executed with efficiency. But during the global pandemic, the need to change has crept up unexpectedly, requiring people from all walks of life to make dramatic adjustments.
While coping with these changes has dominated the year, from how we interact with friends and family in social settings to how we conduct business on a day-to-day basis, change management is not a new concept. In the world of traffic safety, motor vehicle administrators and their staffs are always using the principles of change management, finding new ways to improve the functionality of their departments with the ultimate goals of providing a supportive work environment for employees and being able to better serve customers.
With any planned change, there will be arguments over the best way to execute. However, there is one focus that administrators agree needs to be at the forefront of any change discussions: people.
Dr. Georgia Steele, chief performance officer at the Georgia Department of Revenue, says she knows one thing to be true: Organizations don’t change; the people within them do. “Our focus is on our team members,” she says. “It is important to invest in creating awareness, desire and capacity to accept the change in every impacted individual. The value does not come from the change, as change (good or bad) occurs all the time; the value comes from the change being adopted by each stakeholder and used in an effective way.”
This was apparent last year as Steele and her department transitioned from a 20-year-old mainframe system to a modern vehicle title and registration system, impacting 159 county tag offices. The biggest challenge, she says, was communicating the “WIIFM—What’s in it for me?” to all involved stakeholders. And as the eighth-largest vehicle registration jurisdiction in the country, she and her team had to get it right.
“The way we approached our change initiative was not to just talk about what we [as an organization] wanted out of the situation—which was a successful implementation—but rather to focus on understanding what was in it for our stakeholders and explaining it in ways that they would desire the change for themselves,” she explains.
Emma Corrie, driver and vehicle services director at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, agrees with Steele’s assessment. “When I think about it personally and philosophically, change is all about the people,” she says. “It starts and ends with the people. And by people, I’m talking about our employees, our business partners and our customers.”
Corrie thinks about how any change that is being implemented impacts all of these groups. “We want to know their thoughts,” she says. “How do we make them feel? Do they buy the ‘why’ behind the change? Do they understand and believe in the benefits anticipated from the change? Are they invested, and do they see themselves as part of the change?”
In November, Minnesota successfully launched a new driver and vehicle system, MNDRIVE. While Corrie and her colleagues are extremely confident in the technology behind the initiative, she says getting people on board with the change is where the true work lies. “Our confidence is building on the people side,” she says. “For the past year, we have been heavily invested in the people aspects of this change because that is what will make it both successful and sustainable.”
In this episode, our host, Ian Grossman, speaks with Georgia Steele about transitioning to her new role as Chief Performance Officer with the Georgia Department of Revenue, and how her knowledge of the DMV world informs her view of strategic planning and change management.
The quick onset of the pandemic, combined with its ability to be easily transmitted, created institutional issues that impact every area of an organization.
As a result, motor vehicle administrators have had to adapt some of their planned changes under more duress than anticipated. Eric Jorgensen, director of the Motor Vehicle Division at the Arizona Department of Transportation, says that his department was in the midst of transitioning to a brand-new IT system, known as MAX, which was scheduled to launch in April of this year, not long after the pandemic began.
Originally, the goal of the project was not simply to move from an old technology platform to a new one, but instead entirely rethink the way customers are served. And even before the pandemic, the stakes were much higher due to all of the groups involved. “It was a much heavier lift because we’re not only changing on the technological side, we’re changing how employees do their job, we’re changing how we meet our partners’ needs and we’re changing how customers interact with us,” he says.
Training took place for months prior to launch, but as the go-live date approached, Jorgensen was asked many times from outsiders whether he and his department would be postponing the implementation of MAX due to COVID-19. “When we looked at what we needed to do to continue to deliver services in the COVID era, we [realized] it needed to go live on schedule in order to have the tools that would allow us to serve our customers,” he says.
Employees were on-board with going live as well, having struggled for the month prior to navigate the pandemic with the old system. Instead of being nervous about the change, his employees were excited because they had been properly prepared, and the benefits were clearly explained. “I even had a few ask me, ‘Well, can we just go live early?’” Jorgensen says. “And now [six months in], nobody would say they’d want to go back to the old system.”
In Minnesota, Corrie and her team realized early on their department directly impacted the state’s economy. The safe and efficient transport of goods via roads is incredibly crucial during a pandemic.
She was speaking with a coworker about how the early rush on essential items like toilet paper caused shortages across the country. But how many people stop to think about how the toilet paper even gets on store shelves? The answer: truckers.
Less than 30 days after stay-at-home orders were issued in the state, Minnesota Driver & Vehicle Services (DVS) was working with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and partners like the Minnesota Trucking Association on changing how CDL tests were administered to keep truckers on the roads and store shelves stocked. The changes were implemented quickly, resulting in Minnesota being one of the first five jurisdictions in the U.S. to use a new, safe CDL testing system.
“We had a GoPro and a cellphone in the truck with an examiner following closely in a ‘chase’ vehicle,” she says. “At the height of the pandemic, we were able to administer approximately 800 tests for commercial drivers across Minnesota.”
Corrie also notes how important it is for administrators to understand the difference between short- and long-term projects. “The large, massive, system-modernization projects spanning over many months call for meticulous planning, collaboration and systematic implementation,” she says. “On the other hand there are times when we are faced with urgent change decisions where time is of the essence. In these instances, ‘Progress, not perfection’ is a mantra that has served me well. It is important not to wait for all the answers or for all the stars to align before taking action because you might not have that luxury, resulting in a missed opportunity.”
Jurisdictions partner with private industry for a variety of support services. Cutting-edge technology upgrades for motor vehicle departments may be the most visible examples, but many private organizations assist jurisdictions with the change management process as well.
Steven Young is a senior vice president at Mathtech, a strategy and consulting services firm with headquarters in both New Jersey and Virginia. His company provides, among other services, ways to help jurisdictions make the most out of the changes they wish to implement.
“We bring together stakeholders from all parts of a process—field office to back office to audit, legal and IT—to discuss current challenges and opportunities to improve,” Young says. He explains that fostering this collaboration is an opportunity to provide a look into future operations.
“These planning sessions are the start of change management,” he says. “When you bring stakeholders together to collaborate and create a shared vision, you create a common understanding of the need for change.”
Part of this is the need for administrators to act with forethought rather than afterthought. “A successful campaign will be thorough and 360-degrees—not just top down (which can be an immediate turn-off to the users),” Young says. “It will address the impact of the project to the agency’s partners, customers, reporting and governing bodies and actual day-to-day users. It will be mindful of protocol and local culture and customs. And most importantly, it starts before the project, not at implementation.”
Change management, he says, should be “widespread, inclusive, diverse and fun.” The buy-in from those involved is incredibly important to the success of the initiative. “That’s how you create momentum for change—the rest is solid strategic planning and execution.”
While professional service firms like Mathtech offer consulting guidance, jurisdictions may borrow from the private sector in other ways. Steele notes that work earlier in her career helped shape her opinion that public sector organizations can learn and grow by adopting changes seen in private sector companies.
“My first position in government was as a call center agent with the NYC311 call center,” Steele says. NYC311 supports the largest non-emergency contact center operations in the country and was the brainchild of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His goal was to bring a private-sector level of service to city government.
“That approach still inspires me to this day,” she says. “A seed was planted and helped in developing my passion for [creating] programs focused on excellence in customer service and support.”