Program Set Up

B. Change Management Capacity

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Having examined the importance of Leadership Capacity, we move onto the second capacity critical to the setup of a highly effective sustainability program: Change Management

Change management is the application of a structured process and set of tools for leading the people side of change to achieve a desired outcome.

Click here to find the definition of Change Management

Over time, a program of this kind will involve tremendous change to many aspects of an organization, for instance: 

  • Policies and procedures
  • Internal processes
  • Decision-making
  • Roles & responsibilities
  • Reporting
  • Rewards & incentives 

People experience change all the time and often embrace it. Human beings are adaptive by nature.  Within the context of an organization, change can become particularly challenging when it is imposed.

It is surprising how often a good solution fails to produce an expected result because people’s relationship to the change is poorly managed.1  Without attention, sensitivity and proper know-how devoted to managing the individuals impacted, change can lead to any number of significant consequences, including:

  • Feeling of insecure, undervalued, discontent, and/or resentful.
  • Resistance and, in more extreme cases, opposition to change.
  • A failure to realize expected results or the program’s potential.

Scenario Review: Who’s the Boss?

A small non-profit organization was growing, and Tom, the receptionist, was beginning to become overwhelmed with the volume of inquiries.  Tom was doing his best, but he had missed scheduling a few appointments, and forgot to follow up with one of their best donors.  Samantha, the CEO, arranged to have a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system implemented.  Samantha researched options, and found one that was ideal: Simple, cheap, and fully capable of handling all the organization’s needs. 

Tom didn’t like the idea.  He’d never even used the new system, but in the course of less than a week, Samantha started to notice Tom’s attitude shift from his usual, happy-go-lucky self, to something quite a bit more sour.  It started to strain the relationship, and the harder Samantha pushed, the harder Tom pushed back.

Samantha didn’t understand.  She had found an amazing new system that would save money, help the organization manage its donors and contacts, and even help Tom work more efficiently.

Samantha, unfortunately, had fallen subject to an error that is all-too-common among leaders: She underestimated individuals’ resistance to imposed change.

Tom took the new system as a sign that he was failing at his job.  He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to learn the new system, and he was more comfortable using his paper-based filing system.  He didn’t realize it, but he was actually angry and resentful with Samantha for imposing this change without even asking what he thought.

Some people, perhaps even Samantha, might accuse Tom of being unreasonable, or closed to new ideas.  But suppose Samantha were the one most affected.  Suppose the Board of Directors suggested a change in organizational focus.  Would Samantha be immediately supportive?  Perhaps she would feel the change was reflective of her inability to deliver results so far?  Perhaps she lacks confidence in her own ability to deliver results in this new direction? Perhaps such a shift would make her feel that she was being pushed out as CEO? 

Change is challenging for anyone to deal with.  If Tom and Samantha are self-reflective, they may eventually see the value in either scenario.  If their resistance persists, they may eventually quit, or worse, be fired for being obstructive or ineffective.


When it comes to organizational change, the stakes are high.  Approaches and techniques exist to encourage success, and this section is devoted to understanding these strategies.


1. The need for organizational change to approach sustainability as an organization is discussed in João Amaro De Matos and Stewart R. Clegg’s 2013 article Sustainability and Organizational Change. It can be found in the Journal of Change Management.

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