As a field, marine ecosystem-based management is relatively new. But some of the challenges its practitioners face are ones that people have encountered through history. A main challenge, for example, involves getting individuals and groups to change from a set way of doing things (in the oceans' case, managing resources on a single-sector basis) to a new way (integrating ocean management across multiple sectors and agencies). Managing that change can benefit from an understanding of why and when humans agree to alter how they do things.

Change management is an established field of study with useful lessons for business and governments alike, including in ecosystem-based management. For insights on how to manage change among institutions and individuals, MEAM spoke with Tim Creasey, director of research and development for the Change Management Learning Center ( The Center is a program of Prosci, an independent research and publishing company based in the US. Prosci has conducted six longitudinal benchmarking studies in change management over the past 12 years.

MEAM: What is the main bureaucratic obstacle to instituting change in organizations?

Tim Creasey: The top reason employees resist a change is they do not understand why the change is needed. No one made a compelling case for it. Making the case involves addressing the drivers of the change, why the change is happening now, and the risks of not changing. Communication efforts in times of change can fall into a trap of focusing exclusively on the future state or vision: how we will look after the change is implemented. The research indicates that employees first want to understand why there is even a need to change before they care about the details or what the future will bring.

MEAM: In the marine EBM field, many resource managers already feel overworked, and some suggest it is unreasonable to expect them to add EBM on top of their already-full routine of daily tasks.

Creasey: It is a reality in today's organizations that middle managers are already at capacity. When a change is introduced, there are certainly risks to the project in terms of resource allocation, missing deadlines, and lack of priority. There are also risks to individuals including disengagement, fatigue, burnout, anxiety, confusion, and apathy. Leaders must appreciate the current state of workload and capacity for change, and understand the impact it has on how changes will be accepted in the organization.

MEAM: Your research talks about the importance of "reinforcing the change". What does that mean?

Creasey: Reinforcing change is an essential element of any successful project or initiative. Our natural tendency as human beings is to revert back to what we know. The reinforcement of change should take place at both the group level and the individual level. At the group level, this involves celebration of project successes – even the interim, short-term wins. It includes recognizing group contributions and evaluating and sharing performance measurements and metrics. At the individual level, reinforcing change begins by making sure the change is taking place. You cannot evaluate the success of an initiative unless you know if individuals are doing their jobs differently – following the new processes, utilizing the new tools, working in a new way. Recognition of individual contributions and one-on-one discussions are effective tools for reinforcing change at an individual level.

MEAM: You also discuss the role of "sponsors" in change management. How important are they?

Creasey: In each of our benchmarking studies, Prosci has asked participants to identify the greatest overall contributor to success. In every one of the studies, active and visible participation by senior leaders was number one on the list. The importance of sponsorship cannot be understated – it is the great predictor of failure or success for any change effort.

We have identified three distinct roles for sponsors in times of change:

  • First, participate actively and visibly throughout the entire project. This means being involved and present from the kickoff or launch of the project all the way to the closing out of the effort. Senior leaders (along with managers) are the face and voice of change.
  • Second, build and maintain a healthy coalition of sponsorship to help manage resistance from other managers and leaders. The coalition is made up of leaders whose people will be impacted by the change. If a group of front-line employees are impacted by the change, then whomever they look up to as being "in charge" of their part of the operation needs to be in the sponsor coalition.
  • Third, communicate directly with employees. In times of change, employees have two preferred senders of messages – the person they report to and the person at the top of the organization. And, again, the specific messages they want to hear are why the change is happening, why it is happening now, and what the risks are of not changing.

For more information:

Tim Creasey, Change Management Learning Center, Prosci, Loveland, Colorado, US. E-mail:

The website of the Change Management Learning Center contains several tutorials on aspects of managing change in organizations, at