To change management

Development Policy09 Nov 2011Russell Lewis

Imagine this: you are working in your office and the boss comes in with a stranger, someone who is obviously not from your country or culture and says “This is Some Unusual Name. He (or she) is going to teach you how to do your job. Make sure you do as you’re told.” How would you feel?

Sound familiar? I’ll bet it does – because if you’re in international development, chances are that has happened – except that you were the stranger from another country with the unusual name.

How do you handle that? More to the point, how does the person (your counterpart) feel about all this? Have they been told that you were coming? Have they ever been told in the past that they weren’t doing their job properly?

Although debate and discussion about the merits of using a combination of change management and capacity building techniques to improve systems and processes has been occurring infrequently over the past decade or so, there seems to have been little change in intervention methodologies in the international development sector.

The UNDP paper “Institutional Reform and Change Management: Managing Change in Public Sector Organisations” (2006) identified that public sector organisations are often seen as resisting change and that many public sector organisations seek capacity but not change. It further identified that for many development practitioners, change and capacity are distinct, even though the evidence suggests that they are intertwined. This may well be because many if notmost development practitioners are more technically oriented than people oriented.

A useful definition of change management is: “the coordination of a structured period of transition from situation A to situation B in order to achieve lasting change within an organization”. The OECD said (2003) that there is no difference between change management in developed or developing countries.

It could be argued then that capacity building and institutional strengthening also occur in a process of “transition from situation A to situation B in order to achievelasting change within an organization.” After all is it not the goal of capacity building and institutional strengthening to be sustainable?

It seems logical that capacity building and institutional strengthening in developing countries should follow the same processes as change management in the developed world. Unfortunately anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not the case.

In the developed world, change management is about people and working with people to prepare, involve, consult and generally build their capacity to deal with change before introducing the change itself.

In the developing world, the first time most members know about the change process is when the boss walks in with the technical advisor. Unfortunately the technical advisor is probably not going to spend sufficient time on the people skills so essentialto sustainable capacity building and change management.

Perhaps it is time for aid agencies and donor organisations to look at the essential nature of their programs and projects and adopt a change management philosophy which involves and empowers people to move forward in a common purpose to achieve the Millenium Development Goals.