Managing change

Every organisation will at some point face change. These changes may be relatively small, or they may impact greatly across the organisation. They may be as a result of internal developments (e.g. loss of key staff or Management Committee expertise) or external developments (e.g. a reduction in funding sources).  The leadership role of the Management Committee in ensuring that the organisation is able to move smoothly through a period of change is crucial

Managing change effectively

Voluntary organisations encounter many milestones including:

  • Establishing themselves as a formal entity;
  • Employing staff for the first time;
  • Planning future activities;
  • Changes in their funding;
  • Making changes in their governance or organisational structure;
  • Acquiring or repairing property; and
  • Changing direction or winding up.

These milestones are identifiable because new and developing organisations regularly meet the same events as those before them.  By accessing support from relevant community support agencies or regional bodies, management committees can benefit from the learning experiences of other organisations.

It is often tempting to adopt a short-term solution, but the management committee may need to adapt their organisational structure to ensure that the organisation has the capacity to continue to function efficiently and effectively in a new situation. It is therefore essential that the Management Committee develop a long-term perspective and an awareness of the context within which the organisation is operating in order to manage effectively.

It is better to seek support and advice when your organisation is preparing for a transitional period than waiting until you hit it.

The Management Committee needs to ensure that the governance structure and capacity of the organisation of the organisation to keep pace and remain appropriate to meet its purpose efficiently and effectively. This may include considering whether to take on staff and changing the organisation's way of operating to accommodate more work and greater complexity. It may also involve re-evaluating the balance of skills on the management committee and among your staff and volunteers to cope with increased administration of income and activity.

In order to ease the organisation through a period of change, the management committee must:

  • establish a clear understanding of the factors influencing current or forthcoming changes;
  • identify the likely or potential impact of these changes;
  • establish a new vision for the future, in light of these changes;
  • agree a strategy to carry the organisation through the transition period; and
  • ensure effective communication of these issues with all stakeholders, particularly staff and volunteers, to minimise the negative impacts of change and involve them from the beginning.

Managing change & managing stakeholders

The Management Committee may find that changes are required which affects part or all of the organisation, including staff, volunteers, service users and other stakeholders. Many individuals and groups find change a threatening and unsettling process. Unless this is recognised and effectively managed, the negative impact of change can be significant, resulting in a loss of morale, the departure of Management Committee and staff members, or even reduced public support.

Communication is key to ensuring that all stakeholders are kept on board and involved during a period of transition. 

The Management Committee, working with senior staff (if relevant) need to ensure that the following conditions are created within the staff/volunteer team:

  • Awareness - people must understand what their role is, the benefits of change, its objectives/reason for change; and
  • "Buy In" - those involved need to understand the outcomes of the change.

Steps in introducing change

There are a number of recommended steps involved in managing this change process:

  1. Determine the need for change, establish the purpose and reason for the change, and explain ‘why';
  2. Define the desired future state, paint a vivid picture of what the change will look like when it's complete, what the benefits will be (particularly to service users or beneficiaries);
  3. Describe the present state, taking care not to denigrate the past, be clear about what needs to be changed in order to create the new future;
  4. Create a transition plan to get from here to there, and give everyone a part to play in the transition;
  5. Celebrate or mark the passing of the old way as you move into the new; and
  6. Manage through the transition state; this often needs real leadership - strengthening, setting the example, and recognising achievements, learning and risk-taking.

Strategic options in managing change

Facing closure