Hit enter to search or ESC to close
Institue of Directors - design shape Institue of Directors - design shape

The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland’s Strategy to Change Management


Expert analysis from Noel Carton, Country Director, Donkey Sanctuary Ireland.

Due to the unprecedented number of neglected donkeys in Ireland over the past number of years, The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland has had to refocus its traditional way of working and has recently introduced a Donkey Welfare Improvement Scheme, as an alternative to bringing donkeys into permanent residence at its farms. This change was needed because the number of animals in the charity’s care grew beyond sustainable levels. Donkeys can live for over fifty years, so it was important to tackle the problem of abandoned donkeys with an early intervention focus, right at the root of the cause to ensure they did not require life long sanctuary care later in their lives. Part of the strategy prior to the implementation of this change, was consideration of what might cause change resistance, and how this could be mitigated.  

Within the context of the ever evolving fast paced environments in which we operate, like death and taxes, we must implement change. However, change implementation often fails or resistance to change takes a whole new unintended consequences curve. 

Current literature suggests that poor communication is a theme throughout change management implementation. How can this be? With all our modern communication mediums, regular meetings and incredible leaders what stepping stone to success is sometimes missing? People are at the heart of change implementation and communication delivery. Stakeholder identification is key to the development of a strong change management strategy. The stakeholders need to be identified and their delivery of the communication must be genuine. 

So, who are the stakeholders? Well, quite simply, these are the people within your team that people talk to. They may be Sarah from logistics, Tom who is the cleaner, or Jo the receptionist. During lunch break, social events, these are the staff that the team confide in informally, and in turn staff respect their opinion on any prospect of change. These people are now part of your change agent team. Identifying these change agents, engaging with them and encouraging them to be your best advocates will maximise your success of implementing your change strategy. 

We often lose sight of the impact of authentic communication effectiveness through effective change agents.   However, the change agent issues can be many, which include how they deliver the message, their language, authenticity and ability. Strategic plans therefore need to encompass how people will feel, and how the change agents will emotionally deliver the communication. Change agents need to develop a suite of positive empathetic communication skills. Behavioural integrity and ‘walk and talk’ strategies must also be deployed by senior team members to ensure the organisation as a whole gets behind the change. 

We all understand that regular communication needs to be a two-way process. The communication must be delivered by those that can effectively help implement the change. Information where possible should not be withheld as trust is an important element in change resistance avoidance. 

My experience of putting it into practice at The Donkey Sanctuary: 

Despite regular team briefings by management, it was clear by the number of donkeys still coming into our care that there was still some change resistance. It was apparent that there was some concern and scepticism about the new ways of working. To resolve this, change agents were strategically identified. These change agents became the focus of our one to one communications, and authentic delivery of the long term benefits of the change to donkeys in Ireland was delivered through them. Spending time discussing the rationale behind the changes and listening to concerns through the change agents worked well as the team suddenly got excited and proactive in changing their focus. Within the first two years the welfare improvement scheme reached over 2000 donkeys in Ireland, and for the first time in five years the number of relinquishments fell to help safeguard the future sustainability of the charity. 

In conclusion have a think about who your change agents are, this could include staff members at any level.  Change agent training should feature in the learning and development plans for an organisation. When changes are to affect something as emotive as the lives of animals, here at The Donkey Sanctuary Ireland, positive communication and change agent identification has been used effectively to refocus the entire culture to ensure sustainability, as well as effective new ways of doing things. People are at the forefront of change implementation and must therefore be prioritised above process. 

Since we opened our gates in 1987, we have loved and cared for over 5,800 neglected and abandoned donkeys from across Ireland. Every donkey taken into our sanctuary is guaranteed a life of loving care. Today, we have over 1,800 donkeys and mules in our care. Please do come and visit the sanctuary in North Cork. You can see our work free of charge, donations are always very welcome.