Change Agents & Public Sector Digitalization: The Role of Social Support and Leading from the Bottom

Caroline Fischer, Jessica Breaugh, Kuehler Jakob

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Digital technologies fundamentally change the way workplaces operate and are managed. This is particularly acute in public organisations where citizens’ demands for fast, reliable, and accessible services far outpaces actual rates of digitalisation. One critical hurdle in this transformation is the resistance to change that characterizes large bureaucratic organisations. This study examines the role that active change management plays in the digital transition of public sector organisations through the perspective of internal change agents, who act as leaders in digital transformation. While existing research has predominantly examined executives in their role as internal change agents, we look specifically at employees who have selected and trained for this role without being active in a management position. Using a mixed methods approach, including a two-wave survey of public employees (N1=210, N2=200) in a German local administration, we study the role and impact of change agents in digital change. Based on social support theory, we hypothesize that change agents play a role of first responders to stress and strain that employees may feel about the process. However, the suggested impact on employees’ readiness for digital change is limited. Although emotional support leads to an increase in digital confidence, no significant influence of other types of support could be shown. Complementary collected qualitative data suggests that, after six months of introducing the change agents, employees are not yet in sufficient contact with them to benefit from their support. These findings suggest that the short-term results of change agent programs in public sector organizations are limited. There appears to be a need to proactively offer support to employees to lower the barrier to engaging with change agents. The results of this research highlight the difficulties in directed bottom-up change management processes for leading large-scale organizational change.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Event83rd Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2023, AOM 2023: Putting the Worker Front and Center - Boston, United States
Duration: 4 Aug 20238 Aug 2023
Conference number: 82


Conference83rd Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2023, AOM 2023
Abbreviated titleAOM 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
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