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Lessons for Navigating Organizational Change

Change is a constant for any organization; however, transitions and reorganizations, or “reorgs,” don’t have to be painful. With careful design and a focus on the person, teams can untangle structural challenges and identify clear solutions in the face of organizational complexity.

Under USAID’s Program Cycle Mechanism, EI and our partners at Training Resources Group (TRG) supported the change management process for the Agency’s recently reorganized Bureau for Planning, Learning and Resource Management (PLR). PLR combines the former Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL) and the Office of Budget and Resource Management (BRM), reuniting the Agency’s program and budget functions to improve coherence among policies, country strategies, and program budget. In this blog post, PCM Senior Specialist Perry Pockros reflects on supporting the PLR reorg and outlines three key approaches for effective change management.

1. Focus on the Person

Change management isn’t only about reshaping structures and systems—it’s also about effectively engaging people. Individuals and teams affected by a transformation are central to making that change successful. Engaging them from the beginning as both leaders and collaborators in the design process promotes buy-in and improves overall adoption of change.

The PCM team, led by TRG, worked in concert with the PLR change management team to prioritize a people-centered approach comprised of three phases: (1) Understanding the impact and equipping managers to lead the change; (2) preparing staff for change; and (3) operationalizing change.

Sequential change management activities included facilitating pause and reflect sessions to harvest lessons learned from prior reorgs, conducting staff “pulse checks,” preparing managers to reinforce the reasoning behind the changes, and providing safe spaces for affected staff to voice concerns and questions. These activities enabled the change management team to proactively identify solutions and adjust course as needed. Beyond the individual, the process of operationalizing change was supported by promoting cross-office coordination and collaboration on key operational and programmatic topics at the team, office, and Bureau levels.

2. Design for Integration through Collaboration

Retreats are a critical but often under-appreciated tool in organizational change. The key is to invest in and respect both the art and science of retreat design. To foster community building from the outset, PCM started the PLR retreat process with a commemorative event acknowledging the past achievements of BRM and PPL. Following this event, PLR held an all-staff “Homecoming” retreat attended by 180 individuals, during which they learned about one another and gained insight into PLR office priorities. They also participated in leadership-led tours at nearby museums to reflect on the culture they wanted to create together. After the PLR “Homecoming” retreat, the change management team convened five PLR office-specific retreats to shape vision statements, define work priorities, and articulate a set of collaboration principles and practices.

Poster from the PPL/BRM Commemorative Event. Original artwork by Rachel Roth, TRG.

3. Monitor Organizational Health

Once a reorg occurs and individuals begin adapting to a new work environment, it is critical to monitor signs of frustration, disengagement, or resistance. Creating various communications channels for staff, such as pulse surveys or small group pause and reflect sessions, serves as a feedback loop to leaders to share what is working well and what needs to be addressed. With this information, leaders can coalesce around ways to address the friction of change.

Transitions Make Change Work

All organizations must adapt to internal and external forces of change. Many times, this may require a “reorg,” or creating, ending, or rearranging work units into a new organizational construct. During this transition period, individuals begin to internalize the change, work through their feelings, and leave their old circumstances behind. EI and our TRG partners appreciate that making change work requires navigating transitions with safe spaces to support the people at the center.

About the Authors

Perry J. Pockros is a Senior Specialist with USAID’s Program Cycle Mechanism. Perry builds individual and institutional capacity through applying instructional design practices to enhance learning effectiveness and sharpens organizational direction and performance by facilitating participatory sessions.
Emily Dockery is a Communications Specialist supporting the Program Cycle Mechanism team.


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