There was a distinct buzz in the air immediately following the dialog session (Finally, a CGIAR Reform Initiative with Legs) between the CGIAR Transition Management Team (TMT) and the group of communication specialists attending the second day of the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop in Penang, Malaysia. A shift in perceptions had been brought about by the open, straightforward discussions that had just taken place.

Susan MacMillan

Susan MacMillan

Susan MacMillan, Head of Public Awareness, ILRI, was not alone in thinking that the candor of the TMT was refreshing. For the first time, she felt there was a distinct possibility that the communication specialists would be able to contribute to the CGIAR change process.

As she said after the dialog, “It always pays to be more straightforward, because you’ll get people’s engagement. The four TMT members said it the way it really is. For example, we heard them say that, yes, the CGIAR change process has been donor-driven.

“When people are straight in their speaking, I find myself trusting them. When people push information at me first, I find it hard to keep listening to them because I have no relationship with them. I would advise the TMT members not to be afraid to tell the truth, but to be themselves and honest about negative aspects of the change process. That will engender our trust.”

This one has legs

Part of Susan’s optimism has to do with some of the things said by TMT member Jonathan Wadsworth, who brings a donor perspective to the Team.

“Jonathan said the reason this reform initiative is different from previous CGIAR reforms is because it has legs,” she explained. “That bit of exciting news – that this change process, unlike former ones in the CGIAR, is going to go to the very end of the change process – has been missing in the CGIAR Change Management newsletter, blog, website and in messages from CGIAR Chair Kathy Sierra.

“In person, these are obviously honest, forthright, committed and intelligent men. But those engaging qualities are not yet reflected in their written communications about the change process. I would like to see more of their personalities and ideas featured in future communications by and about the TMT. I’m actually interested in what they have to say.”

The personal touch

Susan feels that face-to-face meetings are necessary to gain the trust of CGIAR staff.

“With about 10,000 people spread across the CGIAR Centers, real-time meetings with everyone would be impossible, but we mustn’t discount the effectiveness of such interactions,” she said. “For example, I first heard Ren Wang speak when he delivered an 8-minute talk to my Center’s entire assembly of staff. Although I was impressed with what he had to say and how he said it, his message wouldn’t have had the same impact conveyed in a blog or a newsletter. Perhaps we could communicate messages using videos.

“Even during today’s dialog session there were three things brought up that weren’t mentioned in the change strategy or any of the change management communications: change is necessary to keep our jobs; there’s a lack of efficiency in the System; and there’s a lack of leadership that’s palpable. None of this would have surfaced without a face-to-face meeting.”

The need for leadership

“If we don’t know the reasons behind change, if they haven’t been articulated, we can’t even begin to work on a message. We need leaders to tell us how things really are and give us their message for us to work on. Jonathan Wadsworth and his team, who seem to have an appetite for the way it really is and to have the natural ability to tell it like it is, make great spokespeople.”

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