Senior National Society Development and Partnership Adviser, British Red Cross 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:
- What if we ‘rolled change in’ to our organisations, starting with feedback from communities on how they experience our services, rather than ‘rolling out change’ from the centre?
- What if we focused on creating the conditions for psychological safety at work?
- What if we increased our ability to have difficult conversations in a constructive way?
- What if we focused on how to overcome our personal and organisation immunity to change in a systematic way?