Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Sunday 29 April 2007

CEPA or Change?

Learning in interaction with my colleague Miro Kline.
Since 1999 I worked for a number of years in Slovenia with Miro Kline, a private consultant and lecturer at the University of Ljubljana. We were coaching staffs in the Environment Ministry and Agency to become more effective in communications. We had very similar ideas about the role of communications. Ideas that went far beyond posters, brochures and educational materials. In short our philosophy was that communications is a key instrument that helps to change people and organizations. The greater the degree of environmental change needed, the more attention one needs to pay to planning and preparation for change in human systems. And for the communications that has to support those changes (see Miro's graphic below).

The normal response of people when confronted with change is: shock - disbelief - guilt - projection - rationalisation - integration - acceptance. I remember what a shock it was for many staffs that they had to leave their desks and go to remote villages to interact face to face with local stakeholders. They went through a whole change process, slowly grasping how much more effective they could be for biodiversity and how much more appreciation they would get from stakeholders.

To integrate such changes in the organization, managers need to start communicating internally in a different way. Involve staffs and other stakeholders more in planning. Improve the working climate for employees, based on trust and cooperation. Pay attention to group norms and habits. Make only essential changes. Be transparent, provide adequate, accurate and complete information.

As individual staffs need to change first personally before they can trigger positive change in the wider environment, so need biodiversity organizations to change before they can become really effective in their work for sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. This involves - both internally and externally - more attention to social and technical complexity, to psychological costs and values of key stakeholders. And attention to the need to find opinion leaders among those stakeholders. Investment to involve, motivate and support them for the desired positive change.

In the process we found that staffs were keen to learn more about how to improve their communication. And that we were more effective with managers, if we talked less about strategic communication and more about change management. I wonder whether we need to talk to NBSAP coordinators more about change management than about CEPA. Something to discuss further?


Elisabeth (Lizzie) Crudgington said...

Hi Frits. This post reminded me of something that emerged during the meeting we held in November exploring change processes. Amongst a number of ideas that resonated with me was the idea that, when confronted with change, people tend towards responding with a change=loss mind set. The exercise Chuck Phillips led us through highlighted this very well (

Apparently in some cases the stress related to the feared, perceived loss can be so extreme that some corporations have held symbolic ceremonies to help people celebrate the life of what was, say goodbye to it, and then open the door and welcome in new opportunity. (In fact my imagination is now imprinted with the image of symbolic coffins being carried through office corridors.)

How might this idea be incorporated as part of internal communication process involving staff and other stakeholders? Is there a place in our work for symbolic ceremonies to help give greater attention to some of the social complexity and psychological costs to which you refer?

Frits Hesselink said...

Thanks Lizzie. It is only today that I find out that blogging is not a one way communication process but two-way, as you can answer to a comment by writinmg another comment! Maybe I should have known that through all the texts on blogspot, but some how that did not get through - I learn by doing! As to your question, I think there is a difference between large reorganization operations in institutions, with lay off of staffs and activities, that are not anymore considered to be core business and changes required by the introduction of new ways of doing business. In the case of nature conservation the biggest change is to become more customer oriented. In these changes are only slowly emerging today, I see more in celebrating success at the moment than in mourning to leave behind the old ways of doing business. To become really customer oriented nature conservation organizations may have to go through a rigourous restructuring. So far the market does not really force them to these changes. Your own organization is a good example.