What if we need to change but do nothing?

by Lucy Morris | May 28, 2019 | Thought Pieces

Some perspectives on organisational transformation in the Movement.

Reading the latest update on the Strategy 2030 ‘Platform for Change’ website, there are 2 clear calls to change.  A call for us to be even better able to save lives, accompany people and support their resilience. And a call for us to transform as organisations on a global scale, and to challenge ourselves on how we work as well as what we do. We will not remain relevant humanitarian actors unless every part of our International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement can increase its ability to learn and adapt to the world around us.  And my experience as a National Society Development and Partnership Adviser, is that the issue of how we change and develop our internal capacity for change is often overlooked.  As a movement, we currently focus on ‘assessment’ more than ‘change management’.  Organisations are often seen as ‘machines with broken parts’ and our default tendency is to treat change as a technical issue, which is separated from the human dynamics and emotions that will either support or prevent it. Staff and volunteers are more likely to be viewed as instruments to achieve an organisational goal, than people with hopes, needs and untapped potential. The American Red Cross’ System for Transformation and Results (STAR) tool is one of the few movement initiatives that seeks to develop an organisations overall ability to learn and change from start to finish in a sustainable way, rather than focusing on a specific technical area. But what if we look at the Movement through an Organisational Development lens, and recognise that organisations are complex, and are full of human dynamics that impact our ability to change? That they are not machines, but social systems full of emotions, interests, friendships, conflicts, politics, history?

We need to recognise that change is complex, takes time, and that change is about people and culture, rather than processes and regulations. Furthermore, crisis-affected people have not just a role to play, but have power and influence over us, as much as customers do in the private sector.

Yves Daccord, Director General of the ICRC

What if we recognised that changing how we work must involve the difficult work of changing our organisational behaviours and culture?  What if we recognised that the humanitarian sector has systemic issues with overwork, and burnout, which is often fed by our own need to ‘rescue’ others in an ongoing ‘victim/persecutor/rescuer’ drama triangle? What if we collectively recognised that how power, control and decision-making are exercised internally will impact on staff wellbeing, and our ability to keep our staff, volunteers and communities we serve safe? What if we looked for inspiration outside our sector? For example:

Strategy 2030 identifies 7 distinct areas of transformation, as well as 5 global challenges.  If we are to re-invent ourselves as a Movement, our next strategy crucially needs to address how transformation will be supported across all 7 areas within organisations, rather than being looked at individually in isolation.  So, what if instead of investing in technical training courses, we invested more in shared action learning, in agile and team/organisational and relationship systems coaches, in organisational anthropologists, in organisational psychologists, change managers and/or in partnership brokers to support us in this process of internal, global transformation? And what if the way to turn Strategy 2030 into a process of global evolution is to develop a long-term global transition plan, with indicators to track our collective progress, regular reporting and a dedicated, properly resourced support team.  One where all volunteers and staff were actively engaged the process of unlocking the potential of their own organisations, based on the needs of their communities? What if we believe we need to change, but do nothing differently…?

Lucy Morris
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  1. georgina richards

    Fantastic article! So important to think about organisational culture and how to achieve change with this in mind. Excellent suggestions to make use of coaches, anthropologists, partnership brokers to support us to think differently about how to create change. And to put staff and (very importantly) volunteers at the centre engaging them in unlocking potential for change. Because there is still huge potential to be unlocked in RCRC

  2. Jeremy Smith

    “As a movement, we currently focus on ‘assessment’ more than ‘change management’. Organisations are often seen as ‘machines with broken parts’ and our default tendency is to treat change as a technical issue, which is separated from the human dynamics and emotions that will either support or prevent it.” I think this is very true and relevant for us to think of at the outset of all NSD-focused work! Thanks for publishing and sharing your insights!

  3. giorgio ferrario

    Great insight Lucy ! unlocking the potential of communities and the support of our network (a more distributed network in the future) is at the core of the seven transformations of S2030. Horizontally connecting those communities through our knots of local branches is a key aspect to unlock that potential – knowing in advance that there might be a certain amount of failure in the process, and keeping the humility to learn from those failures.


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