Feb 18 2020
We all know that it’s not the waving trees that make the wind blow. But distinguishing effects and causes within organisations is not always so straightforward.
Our job isn’t just to shout for the wind to blow less or for the tree to stand straight
When leading change it’s important to understand the factors that are shaping your reality, and then to work out how you can influence these. Just as it’s not the waving trees that make the wind blow, what if it’s not the disenchanted staff that create a culture of apathy? What if it’s not poor processes that reduce our focus on quality? What if it’s not underfunding that reduces the creative ambition of our work?
In my role at people make it work, I help organisations change and develop. Often this means helping them shift focus from the waving tree to the prevailing wind. From the effect – such as insufficient income – to a cause such as insufficient relevance for audiences and funders. Or from insufficient time to think and devise new approaches, to the root cause: the habitual prioritisation of ‘urgent’ tasks over important analysis.
Our role as leaders is often to re-orientate our organisations towards the causes of success, moving people’s attention away from the immediate experience to create strategy that changes the conditions and secures a sustainable future.
Alongside distinguishing cause from effect, we also need to identify what we can do to make a difference – to find our agency. Our job isn’t just to shout for the wind to blow less or for the tree to stand straight, but to understand how we personally influence the conditions affecting our organisations.
Perhaps it’s time we moved from metaphor to reality. Our job as change leaders isn’t to see what other people should be doing differently and loudly demand that. Rather it is to understand the ways our own leadership can make change inevitable. And then do that. Even when it’s hard (especially when it’s hard). Change leadership is making personal change so that organisational changes inevitably follow. We are the wind.
A collective endeavour
Change leadership isn’t a solitary affair – it’s often a collective endeavour. Our organisations are interconnected; our audiences make up our communities; and the conditions needed for one of us to thrive will often boost us all.
So let’s make these resolutions…
- I will distinguish between cause and effect and focus on causes (wind not tree).
- I will be a positive influence that makes change inevitable (a beneficial breeze).
- I will find agency, identifying my own change in leadership before calling for change from others (be the change).
- I will connect with fellow leaders to make these commitments together, creating change in our ecology (create a cohort).
Our Change Creation programmes are two-year long action orientated development programmes for leaders in arts and cultural organisations where we work together to lead and embed change. Our last programme kicked off in November 2019, and the next one will start in September 2020. Together we’re learning what true change leadership means while transforming our organisations and building supportive communities of leadership nationwide.
Richard Watts, CEO / Founder – people make it work. Co-Director – Change Creation Programme.
Feb 18 2020
Graeae is a force for change in world-class theatre, boldly placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage and challenging preconceptions. As part of the Change Creation programme, Graeae’s focus as an organisation was on upcoming financial challenges. These unexpectedly moved closer not long after joining the programme. Kevin Walsh, reflects on how Change Creation helped Graeae to rethink its model, meet a financial challenge and create a stronger future.
“There is huge reassurance in knowing that you are not the only company experiencing challenge – this made a massive difference. The openness of the cohort in sharing their own experiences, advice and contacts, along with the tools we used all helped us to rethink our approach. The space, time and generosity of the programme makes you up your game in response and having the ‘time away from the desk’ to think about strategy and how to make it a success was vital.
We were faced with an unexpected financial challenge. What we had was essentially ‘bad news’ and yet, with the support of Change Creation a disempowering message about finances turned into a creative conversation which enabled the team to get behind it. We did some collective re-thinking. How did Graeae need to change to meet our financial challenges? What were we aiming to achieve? How do we ensure that all the changes we’re planning fit with the organisational ethos? Speaking with stakeholders we quickly built up an understanding the needs of the industry and ensured that our creative team was central to the developments and thinking.
It was a step-by-step process. Lots of communication, research, testing and thinking, which all came together to inform our new strategic plan. The biggest moment was receiving permission to go ahead with the strategy. All of the research had been completed, the whole team were behind it and it was genuinely representing wider stakeholders. We could see as an organisation what we needed to change, how to change it, what to do and just wanted to do it.”
Graeae have successfully raised £365,000 towards implementing the strategic plan for the next two years and we wish them huge success for their future. You can find out more about Graeae and the amazing work they do here.