Washington State Department of Health

Case Study

People-Focused Transition for a Department Integration

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has a hand in everything from disaster relief to healthcare licensing for the state’s 7 million residents, from Spokane to the San Juan Islands. Plans to integrate an office from another division into the Prevention and Community Health (PCH) Division were meant to improve function and support, but change is never easy—they ran the risk of destabilizing the PCH and expose it to organizational, personnel and labor clashes.

Strategizing with the Team
DOH brought on Coraggio to help with the transition. The organization needed to integrate new and relocated team members and wanted to identify new opportunities. The project was also seen as an opening for cultural change that would improve the dynamic between the leadership, union and employees. In all, the DOH was looking for four things:

  1. An organizational assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses
  2. Guidance for leadership in prioritizing projects and identifying opportunities
  3. A more trusting, collaborative relationship between the union, staff and DOH leadership
  4. Organizational change support as the department prepared for the integration.

Drawing the Plans
To begin, we led an assessment with surveys, interviews and focus groups—with particular attention to ensuring employee participation in the change management process. We presented our findings, complete with strengths and opportunities, to hundreds of people at a department-wide town hall session.

We also produced three deliverables:

  • The communication plan: A two-step plan lined up higher-level strategy and tactical goals. We outlined the who, what, why, when, where and how for communications over the coming months and prepared the team to keep a two-way dialogue open
  • The transition plan: This blueprint for transition gave practical suggestions, from administrative tasks (planning office moves) to complex interpersonal ones (coaching employees, introducing new managers and new hires and collaborating with the union)
  • Training and coaching: We created a change leadership toolkit to guide the organization. We held leadership sessions on organizational theory and used our Prosci change management expertise to teach one-on-one coaching with employees affected by the departmental restructure. It was a thorough education in the human side of structure and management in a matrixed organization

Raising the Walls
The project was a success because of the bedrock partnership we established: We brought the experience and know-how to architect a successful change, and the DOH was receptive to our assessment and motivated to succeed. For example, when the insight report showed that communication needed to be a key focus, we worked with the DOH to adjust the scope of the project to include assisting a new director of communication and building up her capabilities. That decision paid off; the labor relations and union representatives praised the department’s efforts to keep their members informed, supported and included. The staff now understands how and why decisions were made and appreciates the challenges of the change process.

Moving In
As a result of this partnership, the DOH leadership entered the transition feeling prepared, well-equipped and ready to communicate about everything from the floorplan to the nuts and bolts. The inclusive process helped them successfully negotiate with the union and earn support from the team members—a key measure of success. As the organization moved forward, Coraggio’s planning supported the PCH through a smooth implementation.