Interim Executive: being the catalyst for change
When circumstances change in the context within which your organisation is operating, it is often difficult to know where to begin in terms of making the necessary changes needed to move forward. Often you know what you’d like the outcome to be (and what it is likely to be if things don’t change) but you either don’t know how to go about making it happen—because you’ve never faced the situation before—or your existing senior leaders, whilst having the desire to change, have been working in one way for so long that they are unable to respond quickly enough to the challenge. However, there is a way to achieve the outcome you desire and develop your senior leaders at the same time.
A few years ago, Karen was asked by an International Aid Organisation to review its Country Office operation in Papua New Guinea. The office had been established for over 20 years, and was responsible for bringing in international professional health, education and community development volunteers to work with local partner organisations and the government to build the capacity and livelihoods of the people. However, major issues had arisen around obtaining and managing funding and volunteer satisfaction, and the office was facing closure due to the fact that funding was on a steep decline—as were volunteer numbers due to fears over personal safety. On top of this, they were unable to attract any suitable candidates prepared to take on the longer-term Country Director role.
Coming into the organisation without international development experience or knowledge of PNG, enabled Karen to objectively identify all major pain-points within the operation. Within the first 30 days, she established the issues of three key areas:
- People (staff and stakeholders)
- Process (finance, operational management and safety)
- Performance (in comparison to the other 35 countries, community and volunteer feedback, quality of development work and donor satisfaction)
She talked to staff, volunteers, all existing donors, local partners and the government and reported her findings back to Head Office, informing them of her plan. She believed that turnaround was possible.
Working with the local team, aggressive six month goals were set in each of the three key priority areas: volunteer safety, fundraising and tight financial and operational control. Karen’s role from that point forward was to keep the organisation focused on obtaining these goals, and to ensure everyone supported each other along the way.
Within six months, the operation had been stabilised in each of the three priority areas, and the country long-term recovery and growth strategy was well underway. Within three years, a total turnaround was achieved and the Papua New Guinea Country Office is now regarded as global ‘benchmark,’ ranking #2 of 35 countries around the world in terms of its funding position.
The program strategy that was developed has held up as a model example, and local employees and volunteers have been equipped with the resources they need to continue to provide excellent quality community development programs and take care of their personal security.
Country Directors are also no longer a problem to recruit as the Country Office is seen as an operation that presents great opportunity for personal development and growth.
What the international volunteers say: