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Public Roads - July/August 2000

'Managing' Change In FHWA

by Peter C. Markle

Identifying and implementing change is everyone’s responsibility. However, all organizations have a responsibility to provide leadership in the overall management of change to ensure that change results in continuously improving service to customers. For the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), this means effective delivery of the agency’s programs.

One basic principle in managing change is that an organization should continually review the goals and expectations that guide what it measures and achieves. In turn, the organization plans and implements a system or systems around these goals and expectations.

One of the most significant changes in the history of FHWA is the complete restructuring of the organization that occurred in late 1998 and continued through 1999.

During the FHWA Leadership Meeting in January, the Leadership Team assessed the successes over the past year and the remaining challenges. FHWA wants to ensure that it is on the right path to improved decision-making; that its customers are being better served; that it continues to reflect appropriate goals and expectations; and that, in general, the restructuring is helping the agency run more efficiently. While the January meeting verified some anticipated results of the restructuring, it also highlighted areas in which increased emphasis is needed and numerous areas in which additional time or information is needed to adequately assess performance.

Figure 1 - Bringing it all together.

To help the agency assess the effects and performance of the restructured FHWA and to develop options for refinement where, and if, necessary, Federal Highway Administrator Kenneth R. Wykle recently designated me as the program manager for change management for FHWA. The agency first established a full-time position in change management during the initial implementation of the restructuring. At that point, the change manager was the focal point for the coordination and oversight of the implementation of, and transition to, the new field and headquarters structures. Julie Cirillo, who is now the acting assistant administrator/chief safety officer of the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, originally occupied this position. It was later assumed on a part-time basis by Jerry Hawkins, director of the Office of Human Resources.

In my new position, I will lead efforts to communicate with all employees to ensure that they truly understand the goals of FHWA’s restructuring and that implementation activities are consistent with those goals. I will act as a "listening agent" for employee views and issues regarding our organizational structure and the manner in which we implemented it.

I will work with the senior leadership, as well as with all employees of FHWA, to evaluate the effectiveness of our restructured organization. In addition, I will work with the Human Resources Management Committee to develop a mechanism for assessing the effects of the organizational changes on our employees and to ensure that the agency has a system in place to encourage and gather ongoing feedback.

For the field, I will be looking at the working relationships and communication among and between the resource centers, division offices, and headquarters. I plan to work with the newly established Division Administrator’s Council and the Infrastructure Core Business Unit to clarify the role of headquarters and division offices in the oversight of major or unique projects now that the regional offices no longer exist. I will also be working with the resource centers and the Division Administrators’ Council to clarify the resource centers’ role not only in providing technical assistance but also in providing program assistance — not to be confused with project responsibility. As part of this, the role of the resource center directors in project issues will also be evaluated.

Other areas that I will be addressing include: (1) FHWA’s coordination with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) — specifically, I will be looking at the role of FHWA’s liaisons to NHTSA; (2) the role of the Federal Lands Highway Program in providing technical assistance throughout FHWA; (3) the mainstreaming of "Operations," including the incorporation of traffic operations into regular program delivery and oversight by state highway agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, and FHWA division offices; and (4) ways in which all FHWA employees can contribute to the success of our resource centers.

No look at managing change within FHWA would be complete without involving our strategic planning process. We must ensure that our strategic and performance plans reflect the most important goals of the agency and that we have a clear understanding of who within the agency is responsible for achieving these goals. We must not forget that our partners in the state departments of transportation can also help achieve the goals we establish in our plans.

The first year-and-a-half of a totally restructured FHWA was extremely challenging, and everyone in the organization helped to make it successful. In addition to being challenging, it was also exciting to focus on reinventing an organization that will move more strongly than ever into this new century. While many of us are still adjusting to the change and to understanding our new roles and responsibilities, it appears from the positive feedback from within FHWA and from our partners that we are on the right track.

Peter C. Markle is FHWA’s program manager for change management. His most recent assignment was division administrator for FHWA’s Massachusetts Division. He also has had previous FHWA assignments in several other division offices, in the former Region 4 office, and at the headquarters. Markle also spent almost six years in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot and in air base civil engineering. He has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Connecticut, and he is a professional engineer, registered in New York.