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Implementing change in a public change in a
agency public agency
Leadership, learning and organisational
resilience 239
Jenny Stewart
School of Business and Government, Division of Business,
Law and Information Science, University of Canberra,
Canberra, Australia, and
Michael O’Donnell
School of Management, Marketing and International Business,
College of Business and Economics, Australian National University,
Canberra, Australia

Purpose – The article aims to investigate implementation problems arising from the introduction of
a new computer system in a public agency.
Design/methodology/approach – Two analytical lenses were employed: a prescriptive model of
technology-based implementation and planned and emergent models of change.
Findings – Unintended consequences tested the organisation’s resilience. It was found that those
parts of the organisation with enhanced resilience exhibited localised leadership.
Practical implications – Successful implementation of change involving new technology requires a
balance between “top-down” planning and distributed leadership. Adequate attention to
organisational learning is also a significant factor.
Originality/value – Implementation involving new computer systems is a commonly-encountered
problem in the public sector, yet there are few empirically-based studies that deal with organisational
and management issues in this context.
Keywords Change management, Computers, Workplace training, Leadership,
Public sector organizations
Paper type Research paper

Organisational change, no matter how well planned, often produces unexpected

problems, particularly where new or upgraded technologies are involved (see for
example Tidd et al., 1997; Genus et al., 2003). From a research perspective, the impact of
change exposes, in a dynamic way, complex relationships between leadership and
organisational learning that are otherwise difficult to observe.
The public agency that forms the basis of the current study underwent a period of
severe crisis, which tested its leadership to the limit. By investigating the way in which
the agency extricated itself from the situation, we were able to show the importance of International Journal of Public Sector
distributed forms of leadership in underpinning resilient responses. In this sense, our Management
Vol. 20 No. 3, 2007
study is an example of an “instrumental” case study, in which the empirical detail of pp. 239-251
technology change is used as a mechanism for the exploration of broader issues of q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
organisational resilience and adaptive change (Stake, 1994). DOI 10.1108/09513550710740634
IJPSM Leadership, organisational learning and change
20,3 The literature on organisational learning stresses the importance of supportive
processes, particularly those involving “knowledge creation” and “information”
sharing. According to DiBella et al. (1996, p. 363) organisational learning improves “the
capacity (or processes) within an organisation to maintain or improve performance
based on experience”. Developing these learning processes enables organisations to
240 adapt to change by acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to resolve problems and
increase productivity.
This, in turn, requires organisational leaders to establish a high degree of trust
among employees that they will be permitted to utilise their skills, knowledge and
abilities and to engage in a degree of innovation and risk-taking, albeit within clearly
defined boundaries (Leonard-Barton, 1992; McGill, 1993). In addition, organisational
leaders are encouraged to establish a work environment that is supportive of learning
by engaging in consultation and information sharing with employees to increase their
level of participation in, and ownership over, the learning process (Ellinger et al., 1999).
These models of leadership, adaptation and learning do not, however, fully
illuminate the crisis situation that is the object of our study. Nor do they explain why it
was that pre-existing conditions of teamwork and training, seemingly uniform across
the organisation, conferred adaptive capacity in some parts of the organisation rather
than others. In a crisis situation, when learning had to occur very quickly, it seemed
that these existing conditions had to be complemented by leadership capacities of a
more direct kind. Moreover, it was not just learning that was required, but the capacity
and confidence to bounce back in adverse circumstances – “resilience”.
As Harland et al. (2005) have noted, empirical literature linking leadership and
resilience, whether at the individual or the organisational level, remains poorly
developed. For Sutcliffe and Vogus “resilience is the capacity to rebound from
adversity strengthened and resourceful” (cited in Harland et al., 2005, p. 4) and
organisational effectiveness may be increased where the capacity for resilience is
developed at all levels of the organisation. This highlights the importance of localised
leadership in concentrating branch-level energies, and linking effectively with the
central leadership. Overall, our paper sheds important light on the significance of
multi-level leadership as a determinant of resilience in overcoming adverse
consequences of change.

Characterising the process of change

Technology change management combines two contrasting and (often conflicting)
operational values. On the one hand, IT standardises and systematises particular
processes, so that the organisation gains both efficiency and effectiveness from more
structured decision-making. On the other hand, we know that the socio-technical
systems of the organisation will not enable the technology to be applied to best effect
unless there is room for experimentation, improvisation and renewal. As Levine
observes “Organizations that support information sharing and knowledge creation are
much more likely to establish effective and efficient processes and to improve
organizational life” (Levine, 2001).
Two analytical lenses were employed to understand the process of change. First, we
used Carlopio’s (1998) prescriptive model of IT implementation, in order to characterise
the agency’s approach to change. We chose this particular model because it combines
detailed attention to the processes of managing technology change, with a perspective Implementing
that takes in the people-centred dimensions of organisational behaviour. Carlopio change in a
advocates a multi-level approach to implementation, one in which risk analysis plays a
prominent role in implementation planning, and detailed attention is paid to facilitative public agency
activity at the group and individual level. Carlopio’s work on the implementation of
technology-based change involves a process that links the actions of work-groups with
a centrally-devised menu for change. Because computer systems are inevitably 241
developed and applied from the “top down” (although those who will use the system
will be involved to varying degrees in design and testing), implementation requires a
disciplined capacity to carry out pre-planned change, as well as constant
communication between those in the field and those doing the planning.
Second, we applied a processual model to explain this particular IT implementation
in order to understand the emergent nature of change within the organisation (Dawson,
2003). The processual interpretation of management action highlights that in place of a
rational process of planning and execution “both organisations and markets are often
sticky, messy phenomena, from which strategies emerge with much confusion and in
small steps” (Whittington, 1993 cited in Legge, 1995, p. 100). This approach allows for
unintended strategies to arise, or what Mintzberg (1978) calls “emergent strategy”,
whereby the combination of an uncertain external environment and micro-political
struggles within the organisation give rise to responses that were not anticipated or
planned for by the instigators of a particular change management strategy.
Nonetheless, the development of strategy involves both a rational process of
planning and the potential for emergent learning. For Mintzberg and Lampel (1999,
p. 27) the development of management strategy involves more than achieving a fit
between the organisation’s internal strengths and weaknesses and the opportunities
and threats evident in the external environment, which represent the key focus of the
design school of strategy formation. In place of this “one best way” to develop strategy,
the process also involves organisational learning and the two processes of emergent
learning and a more deliberate approach to planning are closely interconnected
(Mintzberg, 1990). For Mintzberg (1996, p. 93) “. . .strategy always precedes structure,
and always follows it too. And so it is with planning and learning”. The strategy
making process can shift from planning to a focus on learning under conditions of
dynamic change where it is difficult to predict the effectiveness of a particular strategy
(Mintzberg and Lampel, 1999).
Models of technological change that emphasise a process-driven approach highlight
the central importance of coordinating both the technical and social elements of the
system for the technological change to be effective (Badham, 1995). Therefore, the
focus of the paper on exploring management processes such as planning,
implementation, evaluation and learning in response to technological change
requires an understanding of the roles played by employees and managers at
different levels and in different locations of the organisation.
As the research proceeded, it became clear that the implementation experience of
different parts of the organisations had not been uniform, so the project framework
expanded to include the reasons for this variation. Issues relating to leadership, culture,
and information flows are highlighted as a result. In addition, we were able to make
some links to the growing literature on organisational resilience, and to make some
IJPSM observations about the preconditions for effective learning when an organisation is
20,3 subjected to unanticipated shocks.

Characterising an implementation process poses considerable methodological
242 problems, not least because change involves complex interactions between decisions
(choices) and their consequences occurring simultaneously at different sites and at
multiple levels in the organisation.
Our first step was to establish, in as much detail as possible, the sequence of
decisions and events that characterised the change process. In order to do this, we used
the “multi-level” data-gathering technique developed by Stewart and Kringas in order
to compare change patterns across five public sector organisations (Stewart and
Kringas, 2003). This technique rests on the assumption that, not only does change
“change” as it is driven outwards and downwards in a complex organisation, but also
that inevitably, reactions differ according to the position and perspective of the
observer. Understanding change, therefore, requires giving as much weight to the
perspectives of those at operational as at strategic levels in the organisation.
Accordingly, to ascertain the “how” of the computer system implementation, we
undertook semi-structured single-person and group interviews at five sites, and four
levels in the organisation, as well as reviewing the agency’s own project management
documentation. Interview questions covered participants’ detailed recollections of the
change period, their understanding of, and reactions to, the way change was driven,
and their views about what might have been done differently. Group interviews were
conducted with 32 client service officers (eight interviewees at each of four regional
sites, in groups of four to five people). Team-leaders at each site were interviewed
together. Single-person interviews were conducted with senior regional managers,
stream leaders (middle managers) and designated change agents (coaches), and group
interviews with three members of the senior executive group in charge of the project,
and two senior planners.
In selecting interviewees, the liaison officer at each site was asked to include, as well
as senior managers, key figures from the implementation period (i.e. those who were
perceived to have been key decision-makers), as well as a broad cross-section of
team-members who had been with the agency before, during and after the change. In
this way, we built up a complete picture of the planning and training for the change, as
well as the measures that were taken after “go-live” day to address the problems that
Answering the “why” question (that is, why did problems occur) involves assessing
the effectiveness of the steps that were taken. We took two approaches to doing this:
first, we compared the agency’s actions with prescriptive models derived from the
literature relating to the implementation of computer systems in medium-sized
organisations. Second, we undertook an in-depth investigation of the agency itself,
attempting to understand what had occurred and the reasons for it. The fact that some
parts of the agency were able to recover more quickly than others from the setbacks
that occurred, despite being part of the same formal implementation process, suggested
that factors outside the reach of that process might be significant both for
understanding what had occurred and preparing more effectively for future change.
Ensuring reliability Implementing
Because we were using interviews as sources of information with which to map the change in a
implementation process, it was important to corroborate individual recollections by
cross-checking with others in a position to observe the same events. We did this by a public agency
process of iterative questions, following up on new points and logging old ones, until
we were satisfied that we had the main sequence of events correct. In this way, we were
able to construct detailed sequences of events for each office that we investigated in 243
depth. These sequences were then used as a basis for comparing the more resilient with
the less resilient parts of the agency.

The context of change

In order to understand fully the pattern of events, it is important to appreciate the
nature of the work performed by the agency, and the environment within which it
operated. The agency was created in 1988 to administer a scheme of child support for
the Australian federal government. The aim of the scheme was to ensure that
separated parents shared the costs of child support in accordance with their capacity to
pay. The organisation assessed, collected and transferred payment of child support. In
2001-2002 it had some 1.2 million clients and was responsible for transferring some
$1.45 billion in child support payments (Agency Submission, 2002). The agency’s work
of transferring child support payments from non-custodial to custodial parents was
tough, demanding and extremely politically sensitive. The agency had embraced an
ethos of customer service, while also putting “up front” that its prime role was to
ensure that parents met their child support responsibilities, and that children received
the support payments to which they were entitled.
Partly for historical and political reasons, but also reflecting a strong management
preference, the agency carried out its work on a geographically devolved basis. The
agency’s 3,000 staff were employed in five major regions, with each region carrying a
full suite of functions, and enjoying considerable autonomy in the way in which work
was organised. Within each region, work was organised in a number of geographically
separate sites, reflecting previous administrative linkages with the Australian
Taxation Office, and the political imperatives of being seen to be close to clients.
The agency’s headquarters in Canberra (the national capital) contained planning
and strategic activities, including responsibility for IT development and
Within each region, the agency’s work was segmented into a number of streams,
with each stream corresponding to a particular stage in the agency’s relationship with
the client. Streams were headed by a stream leader responsible to the registrar in each
region, with each stream leader also forming part of a national group designed to
achieve national objectives relating to that stream. Within the region, each stream
leader headed up a group of teams dedicated to that particular function. Teams
comprised roughly 20 members, and were headed by a team-leader responsible for
assigning work and monitoring performance. Each team was assigned a team coach
whose role was to ensure the induction, training and appropriate management of new
The agency’s ability to do its work depended critically on IT. Officers were required
to make decisions about cases, based on data collected from and about the client and
involving the application of complex decision rules to determine the payments to be
IJPSM made. Clients’ interactions with the agency were long term, involved many changes in
20,3 status, and were characterised by long “chains” of decisions relating to principals and
their dependents. The computer system held the relevant records, ran programs to
determine eligibility and other key decision parameters, and was the site for the
recording of decisions, which were subsequently batch-processed on the organisation’s
The planning phase
At the start of our change period (2001), the agency had decided to replace its
DOS-based computer system with a Windows-based, menu-driven system. The
management of the project, known as “Cuba”, was entrusted to a stakeholder group,
which brought together the business analysis team, the training team, the National
Operations group (consisting of regional registrars and the Assistant General Manager
Corporate), the AGM in charge of IT, as well as representatives of the regions chosen
for their knowledge of the IT environment. The detailed work of specifying the
processes to be carried out by the new system was done by the business analysis team,
working closely with the agency’s IT specialists. Detailed coding was undertaken by
dedicated in-house teams.
Training was not neglected. A suite of e-lessons was prepared, familiarising those
who would be using the new system with its basic attributes (resources were, however,
insufficient to build a full training database, a deficiency much regretted by the
business analysis and training teams). A coach was assigned to each team in the two
main processing streams of the organisation, and lead coaches were appointed at a
number of sites, to network the flow of information. The training team met with
regional representatives to devise a program of both familiarisation and process
training, as well as a change management strategy to identify and to overcome
“blockers” to successful change. To moderate staff expectations in relation to the new
computer system a “Cuba, it’s not magic!” campaign was launched. To encourage staff
engagement with Cuba, management decided on a delivery strategy emphasising local
level autonomy entitled “national strategy delivered through local hands” (Agency
Submission, 2002).
In the event, much of this preparation proved redundant. After the new system went
“live”, it was discovered that, as the old data came across, it was far more corrupt than
anyone had realised. The new system was far more structured than the one it replaced
and it would not process additional inputs for cases with pre-existing errors (on the
other hand, the system worked well with new cases, as it automated many processes).
For an agency that interacted with its clients in real time, this caused considerable
dislocation to its ability to handle their cases. As difficulties emerged, they were
“escalated” up the line to the business support line (if they involved training issues), or
they were referred to the IT team (if further enhancements were required to deal with
them). But for several months, because data problems meant that particular procedures
in the new system could not run, there was considerable confusion as to whether the
system needed to be changed, or the data needed to be cleaned.
Moreover, as batch processing was suspended in the worst period, the agency was,
for a period of several months, caught up in a downward spiral of worsening backlogs;
longer and longer waiting periods confronted anxious clients trying to contact officers
by phone. The resulting problems took many months to surmount, and in some parts Implementing
of the organisation, caused appreciable drops in morale and declines in trust. change in a
The agency conceded that “. . .many staff were still having difficulty using the
system effectively, and were frustrated by not being able to respond to client inquiries public agency
as quickly as they had in the past” (Agency Submission, 2002). There was considerable
anger among many customer service officers that Cuba had made their jobs more
stressful and labour intensive. As one Customer Service Officer put it: 245
I think that’s where all the frustration came from, looking at the system with a client
screaming down the line why has my case now got a $20,000 debt, and you’re the one sitting
there trying to defend this new system. . .and being told, just tell the clients we’ve got a new
system, you know there was only so many times you can tell someone when two or three
months has gone by and their case was still reflecting the wrong information. . . (Customer
Service Officer, 2003).
It was not only staff on the phones who were adversely affected by the data integrity
problems affecting the Cuba project; it also had a negative impact on the work of
managers and coaches in regional offices in the immediate aftermath of the launch of
It’s probably the worst experience I’ve ever had as a leader; I would say the toughest time. It
was because it was just out of control, you had no control over Cuba, you couldn’t stop the
clients calling. It was very difficult to support the staff because they couldn’t use Cuba; they
had difficulties with Cuba and the clients just kept calling (Stream Leader, 2003).
[. . .] there was an expectation that as a coach of a team you would have more clues than other
people. But the phone coaches didn’t get trained anymore than the CSOs [Customer Service
Officers] on Cuba, so you were just in the same position as them. . .people are going help
because you’re the one floating around, well I couldn’t help because I hadn’t been trained
(Cuba Coach, 2003).
Over time, the agency outlined a coordinated central response to the problems with
data integrity following the launch of Cuba in March, 2002. Management developed a
six point plan aimed at communicating the benefits and functions inherent in the new
system as well as noting problems that were emerging; they also developed
information guides for staff referred to as “Cuba handy hints”; addressed errors with
data integrity; and developed regional plans to manage staff workloads and work
allocation under the new computer system (Agency Submission, 2002).
While the agency ultimately emerged stronger for the experience (and once the
initial problems had been overcome, the new system was universally well-regarded) its
confidence in its ability to manage change successfully was shaken. What had gone

Our agency’s implementation, matched against Carlopio’s criteria (see Table I)
highlights deficiencies in risk analysis and management. The proximate reason for the
crisis related to the complexity of the decision-making undertaken by the agency,
which had led to many “work-arounds” under the old mainframe system. The new
system was more structured, and would not process additional inputs for cases with
pre-existing errors. Limited testing of the new system before roll-out compounded the
problem. A second deficiency (linked to the first) related to training. With insufficient
IJPSM resources to build a training database, the lack of familiarity of staff with the new
20,3 system in its “live” form (as distinct from stylised training modules) slowed processing
of problematic cases.
With the advantages of hindsight, a better understanding of the risks inherent in the
automation of some processes would have enabled the agency at the very least to warn
staff of the problems that were about to occur. However, even extensive testing would
246 not have revealed the full extent of the problem, because of the intricate nature of the
records held by the agency. There was little alternative to fixing cases as they came up
– which was essentially what the agency’s client service officers were called upon to do
after “go live” day. Given these factors, was it inevitable that the agency struggled the
way it did, or were there, possibly, other problems that had been laid bare by the
stressful events of the implementation period?

Comparing responses to change

We selected three regions for further investigation – one in which recovery (as
measured by average response times experienced by clients telephoning the
organisation) had been rapid, and two in which it had been much slower. The
measured performance variable (average telephone response times), while it did not
reflect qualitative performance issues, is a reasonable proxy for relative speed of
adaptation to change. While they were subjected to similar levels of stress and were
structured similarly, we found clear differences in the ways in which each of these
regions had responded to the crisis.
Region 1. A moderate performer before the change, region 1 experienced the most
marked drop in performance, and even two years after the events, there was evident
bitterness in the memories of many of the staff we interviewed. This region was
considered by its senior management to have an innovative culture, but appeared to be
“king-hit” by the magnitude of the problems it encountered. In February 2002 some
85.1 per cent of calls in the region were answered within 30 seconds. This had declined
to 73.5 per cent by April and 37.5 per cent by May, 2002 (Agency Submission, 2002).
Relative to the most resilient region, region 1 was slow to implement a decisive
work-management strategy, and in this environment, its previous strengths (its
closely-knit workforce, and their pride in their work), became weaknesses, as staff
became convinced that they had been let down by their managers. Senior managers in

Guideline Agency performance

Relate implementation objectives to business Yes

Plan for feedback and re-design Some user testing done in earlier phases
Establish a specific migration plan Not possible
Do not oversell the change Excessive expectations addressed
Develop a plan for realistic risk analysis No formal risk analysis (?)
Table I. Form a partnership with your technology vendor Project in-sourced
Agency implementation Pilot-test and prototype Not possible for budgetary and technical reasons
planning relative to Align change style to the degree of change required Yes
Carlopio’s Address cultural change obstacles Yes; extensive “change planning”
guidelines Source: Carlopio (1998)
turn, were strongly critical of what they saw as a botched implementation that had Implementing
been done too quickly and without adequate prior testing. change in a
Region 2. This region had been one of the best performers under the old system, and
prided itself on its firm leadership, and close attention to performance data. The culture public agency
in this part of the organisation was noted for being hard-driving and
performance-oriented – not normally the sort of environment associated with
flexibility and adaptation. The percentage of calls answered within 30 seconds was 247
91.9 per cent in February 2002, declining to 73.1 per cent by April but returning to 90.1
per cent by May 2002 (Agency Submission, 2002).
The major office within the region showed much less disaffection with
“management” than we had found in the major offices from the two other regions.
Compared with offices in the other two regions, there was evidence of a much more
resolute response to sharing information between teams, as problems were
encountered, and solutions discovered or devised, although at least in part, this
difference seemed to derive from a few key individuals, rather than a deliberate plan.
Somewhat to our surprise, we found that staff turnover in this office was relatively
high. Far from creating problems, however, this seemed to produce a much more
confident attitude to the new technology than in offices where staff had been much
longer established, had developed particular expectations of the agency, only to see
them (as they saw it) disappointed by change.
Region 3. Region 3 went into the implementation phase performing slightly less well
than region 1. While its performance statistics did not “crash” to the extent observed in
region 1, region 3 experienced a more prolonged period of disarray, and unlike region 1,
which finally bounced back to exceed its previous level, region 3 was performing at
about the same level at the end of the transition period as it had at the outset. Like
region 1, the senior management of region 3 believed that too much had been expected
of the organisation in an overly-rushed implementation. The percentage of calls
answered n the first 30 seconds in this region declined from 77.7 per cent in February,
2002 to 52.9 per cent in April and 53.2 per cent in May, 2002 (Agency Submission,
As in region 1, staff in region 3 felt they had been let down by management – senior
managers reflected adversely on those in headquarters, and ordinary team members
expressed disappointment both in managers at headquarters, and also those in their
region. While its overall culture was less hard-driving than in region 2, region 3 seemed
more set in its ways, and there was evidence of considerably less innovation in the way
key leaders were able to respond to the challenge of the crisis. Relative to region 2, it
appeared to lack the same flexibility of response, and we were unable to find evidence
of the same degree of information-sharing between teams and between sites.

Discussion: explaining differences in resilience

Clearly, some parts of the agency displayed higher levels of organisational resilience
than others. Resilience is the term used to describe an organisation’s capacity to
respond positively, or at least, adaptively to disruptive change. Resilience implies, not
just the ability to withstand external shocks, but also suggests a capacity for
adaptation and learning. This capacity is likely to be particularly important where
processes involving knowledge management and knowledge creation are concerned. In
turn, these processes are both constrained and sustained by information technologies.
IJPSM In general terms, the agency appeared to exhibit many of the characteristics
20,3 described earlier in this paper as being conducive to organisational learning. In
particular, work teams encouraged sharing of information, and in response to the
highly complex nature of the work, the agency had made a conscious decision to
empower its staff as much as possible as they engaged directly with clients. Staff were
expected to acquire and to use the skills needed for adaptation and problem-solving.
248 This design worked well when conditions were reasonably stable, but it broke down
to some extent under the stress of the unanticipated problems encountered in the early
days of the IT implementations. Why this should have happened represents something
of a paradox, as it would seem reasonable to expect that well-functioning teams, under
the leadership of the stream leader, would generate and share information on how best
to cope with the change.

Leadership factors
The implementation was not straightforward but involved substantial amounts of
organisational learning. In fact, the agency had to display innovative characteristics to
implement the new system. While the agency had sufficient flexibility to produce
innovative responses, it did not, when the chips were down, have the capacity to
distribute this innovative power quickly enough to profit from it.
The fact that one of its regions proved much more capable than the others,
underscores the importance of the leadership factor at this level. The most adaptable
region was able to make better use of the information that was available from the
centre of the agency, and was also able to share information more effectively internally,
because it had clear and determined leadership, not only at the regional level, but
within individual teams as well.
This innovative capacity requires, not simply devolution, but leadership behaviours
that combine a detailed analysis of the situation, with a keen understanding of where
and how to communicate across the organisation (Ellinger et al., 1999). To return to
Mintzberg’s point about the importance of strategy encompassing emergent change,
we would argue that distributed leadership provides the mechanism for this to occur,
when rapid organizational learning is required.

The paper has explored the problems that arose within a public sector agency during
the implementation of a new IT system. “Implementation” has been identified as a key
problem for those wishing to design and employ new information technologies in
organisations, particularly in the public sector (Berry et al., 1998). Implementation
covers not just issues relating to the tactics of change management, but also the
planning and design of new systems, as well as their actual “roll-out” in the
organisation. The case study was analysed in line with a planned and emergent model
of technological change (Mintzberg and Lampel, 1999; Dawson, 2003), which facilitated
an understanding of the roles played by managers and employees at each stage in the
process within three different regional locations of the agency.
Our work suggests that in IT implementation, a well-designed system is a necessary
but not a sufficient ingredient for success. The case study pointed to problems with
inadequate staff training: the e-learning modules developed for staff did not provide
sufficient “real time” exposure to the new working environment. In addition, problems
with data integrity were not sufficiently anticipated prior to the new system going Implementing
“live”. Many staff perceived that such deficiencies could be linked to a lack of testing change in a
and employee involvement prior to the system’s introduction. This highlights that
integrating the “human factor” into IT implementation planning is crucial for success public agency
(Levine, 2001). The study therefore reaffirms one of Carlopio’s (1998) central messages
that alongside a centrally planned and top-down strategy for change, significant
attention needs to be paid to improving channels of communication between those 249
undertaking project planning and those implementing the new IT system at the local
Our study also addresses one of the key conundrums in change management, as
highlighted by Mintzberg – how to plan for the unexpected. The paper highlights that
the strategy formation process involves both management planning and design and
the need to allow for emergent learning to occur, with organisational learning
becoming increasingly important in periods of major organisational change (Mintzberg
and Lampel, 1999). The problems precipitated by the IT implementation enabled us to
shine a spotlight on how the agency responded to rapid, emergent change. In detailing
these processes, we were able to suggest important links between resilient responses
and distributed forms of leadership.
In our organisation, managers did the best they could with limited resources and an
exigent time frame. While they could (and perhaps should) have done better in
predicting the problems that occurred, it is difficult to see how they could have done
other than to rely on the adaptive capacity they assumed their organisation possessed.
While this capacity was undoubtedly present, it could not be actualised without strong
leadership from the middle levels of the organisation.
Resilience came from an ability to improvise, which was in turn buttressed by a
sense that the problems could be overcome. Particular individuals in the main regional
site took responsibility for managing problems, for quickly disseminating ways of
using the new system to move cases forward, and taking decisive steps to set priorities
in response to the crisis. Leadership both facilitated and helped to structure these
The connection to forms of organisational learning is clear. When a new technology
is integral to an organisation’s task (as was the situation in our case study) it requires
the organisation to adapt (learn) rapidly, because the organisation has to keep
functioning while the change is worked through. In other words, when implementing
technology-based change, managers must be prepared to assess the likely response of
their organisation to emergent as well as planned change, particularly where there is
no way that the organisation can predict the innumerable ways in which the new
system might interact with the old. The study therefore suggests that building
capacity is the most appropriate way of reconciling planned and emergent change
within an overall change strategy.

Agency Submission (2002), Agency Submission to the Prime Minister’s 2002 Awards for
Excellence in Public Sector Management. Canberra.
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Further reading
Arcelius, F. and Wright, P. (1994), “Implementation of computer-integrated manufacturing in
small manufacturing firms”, Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, Vol. 6 No. 4,
pp. 411-21.
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Fjermestad, J.L. and Chakrabarti, A.K. (1993), “Survey of the computer-integrated manufacturing Implementing
literature: a framework of strategy, implementation and innovation”, Technology Analysis
and Strategic Management, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 251-71. change in a
Harper, G.E. and Uttley, D.R. (2001), “Organizational culture and successful information public agency
technology implementation”, Engineering Management Journal, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 11-15.
Leonard-Barton, D. (1995), Wellsprings of Knowledge, Harvard Business School Press, Boston,
MA. 251
Vickers, M.H. and Kouzmin, A. (2001), “Resilience in organizational actors and rearticulating
‘voice’: towards a humanistic critique of new public management”, Public Management
Review, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 95-119.

Corresponding author
Jenny Stewart can be contacted at: Jenny.Stewart@

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