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CARE’s 2020 transformation process: lessons in change leadership and change management

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CARE’s 2020 transformation process: lessons in change leadership and change management

By Tosca Bruno van-Vijfeijken

From 2013 to 2016, the Transnational NGO Initiative team at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University (USA) worked with CARE International to reflect on the first phase of its organizational transformation process, CARE 2020.[1]  The team conducted a wide range of interviews and engaged in periodic reflections with the change management team over a two and a half year period to track the change journey.  CARE International’s leadership asked for their reflections on the process to date to inform the way the next phase of their change unfolded.

CARE has accomplished some items on its ‘2020’ agenda thus far: for example governance reform which allows it to make bolder decision making and separates managing from governing roles, and growth  of its Southern membership. CARE should feel good about this progress. Notwithstanding, people both inside CARE as well as outside observers noted that CARE also struggled to accomplish other important agenda items. In our analysis as Maxwell team, we found the concepts on ‘leadership framing’ by Lee Bolman and Terrance Deal’s to be exceptionally useful in understanding the strengths as well as weaknesses of CARE’s approach to change leadership and management. In their work, Bolman and Deal identify four frames – human resource, structural, political, and symbolic – and the need for leaders to choose their leadership behaviors strategically by integrating these frames:

The Structural frame emphasizes the organization as a machine, a set of structures, management processes, policies and systems. The Human Resource frame emphasizes the need to understand the organization as a ‘family’, with employees who need motivation and job satisfaction in order to be productive. The Political frame sees the organization as a ‘jungle’, emphasizing the importance of power, political arenas, and struggles among factions for access and resources within organizations. The Symbolic frame emphasizes the organization as a ‘stage or temple’, in which perceptions, appearances, rituals and meaning making are important and in which due attention is paid to organizational culture. 

In our assessment, CARE excelled on the structural frame, with its highly sophisticated formal change planning instruments and its initial focus on restructuring country office line management. This managerial approach detracted attention somewhat from the equally important political and symbolic frames. This meant that CARE’s change coalition made insufficient use of power analysis, bargaining (trading your support for that of another), the addition or detraction of stakeholders (player strategy), and conflict management skills to overcome political resistance. Accounting for the fact that CARE’s member pool is fairly unbalanced in political weight and resources did not make leading change easier. Moreover, in the first phase of CARE’s 2020 process, CARE did not fully leverage opportunities for culture change, such as hiring, onboarding, task assignment, promotion and (formal and informal) reward practices that could have been seized upon more to drive culture change. CARE needs to be applauded, however, for the intentional ways in which it built learning into its change management process and it is already applying that learning into phase 2 of CARE 2020.


[1] The Transnational NGO Initiative has undertaken case studies and/or evaluations of change leadership and management responses to large organizational change processes in Save the Children, Oxfam, CARE and Amnesty International. For more information, check [HYPERLINK]

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