Leading Through Change: What Members Say

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February 01, 2016

Leading Through Change: What Members Say

By Tom Dente

President and CEO InsideNGO

As we know, major trends and forces are reshaping the international development and relief sector and creating new opportunities and challenges. With the daily headlines filled with news about climate change, financial crises, and political transitions that influence the development agenda, the leadership team discussions and team meetings across our organizations signal a growing need to respond to the accelerating pace of change. Successfully leading through change tops leaders’ agendas across the NGO community. Recently, InsideNGO surveyed a select group of senior leaders in our membership about the nature of the changes they see ahead. Here is what we found:

A shifting environment

New era of change ahead: Almost 75% of leaders report that the degree of change will increase or strongly increase in the next three to five years, both overall and for themselves as leaders. The nature of these emerging changes are diverse, complex, and interrelated. Leaders report that these changes are centered in three primary areas: resource shifts (especially funding); changes in direction, including leadership vision, strategy, and innovation; and different types of organizational changes such as alterations in staff and structure. The combination of both external and internal forces only adds to the challenges ahead.

Renewed focus on getting ready: Facing organizational and personal change, leaders report that in looking ahead overall, readiness is at best mixed. More than 71% state that their organizations are not at all ready, or only somewhat ready for the changes ahead. In contrast to their organizations, however, a significant majority of leaders express confidence that individually they are mostly ready or completely ready for the changes ahead even as they renew their focus on enhancing their personal readiness.

Leading for success: Just as international NGOs are facing a period of profound change, so too are individual leaders. Our survey respondents report that they must be agile and adaptable to lead effectively in the environment that is emerging. Success in this context is characterized by adapting to the changes at three levels: the strategic level, including the new approaches and practices being developed in NGOs and the sector; at the organizational level, with ongoing changes in the staffing and structure of their organizations; and finally at the personal level, with better alignment of professional interests, changing roles, and growth from new opportunities.

Addressing barriers to change requires alignment and capacity: Leaders cited a number of barriers to change in their organizations including a lack of agreement, unclear communications, organizational culture, and finally, competing and unclear priorities. Lack of personal readiness and not having enough time or resources were also mentioned. To overcome these barriers and become more prepared, leaders shared several actions and investments that need be taken to improve change readiness.

An emerging agenda

In the actions leaders identified to improve readiness and overcome barriers, a two-fold agenda seems to be emerging:

Create and sustain a clear, compelling vision and focus: Investing in greater alignment and commitment around a shared vision, strategy, and culture that reflects where the organization will need to be.

Invest in “Change leadership” capabilities: Enhancing and augmenting capabilities in communications, leadership development, and planning for greater capacity to anticipate, respond to, and engage around future possibilities.

We look forward to additional discussions and dialogue on Leading Through Change throughout the year at InsideNGO.

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