• From Resolutions to Results

    It’s that time of year when we might reflect on the last 12 months and hatch plans for the next. We might be orientating to ACE’s investment principles, focussing on an NPO funding application, realigning to a changed funding landscape or just relieved to see the end of a year that has challenged every aspect of our work. 

    Wherever our energy and particular focus lies, there are some absolute truths as we continue in our pursuit of a transformative, diverse, and equitable sector. 

    • There will be further uncertainty as we navigate the pandemic’s enduring impact.
    • Our wellbeing, leadership, resilience and energy will be tested and stretched.
    • Business models and income generation will need to iterate and adapt to changing circumstances, audience habits and preferences, 
    • The voices, work, ideas and connections we hold, share and develop must be equitable and empowering. 
    • Despite our very best intentions there will be mistakes made and lessons learned.
    • The future of the sector depends upon talent, development, accessibility, change, ambition, partnerships, collaboration, communities and innovation. 
    • We have to demonstrate an unstoppable commitment to the climate crisis to lead, inspire, activate and mobilise beyond reducing our carbon footprint. 
    • Ambition, resolutions and intentions alone will not deliver results.

    With this potentially overwhelming list (and that’s not everything), where can we invest our effort and attention? How can we turn good intentions and resolutions into transformative results? We’ve been actively listening to cultural leaders in organisations, freelancers, producers, curators, and under-represented voices to hear what is needed right now to unleash, unblock and transform the sector. 

    Empowered, enabled people bringing their best: People are our greatest asset. Real, embedded, transformative change doesn’t happen without collective energy, ideas and commitment. Our organisational culture, values, policies and working practices have to have a step change to enable everyone to bring and be at their best. 

    Equitable, skilled leadership for systemic transformation: A health check on leadership is essential. Bold decisions are necessary. To distribute power equitably, amplify underrepresented voices and create systemic change we need support, skills, opportunities and allyship. 

    Real change with real results: We might feel allergic to even more change right now but it remains inevitable and essential.  To truly transform our organisations, we need to invest in change management – planned, resourced, co-created and brilliantly communicated. The alternative – stasis and irrelevance. 

    Continuous improvement to grow and flourish: We must create the space to learn, develop, reflect and test our thinking with peers. Taking this time might seem like a luxury, but transforming the sector won’t happen by chance. New technology, hybrid working, shifting habits, digital consumption have all had our attention out of necessity. Space and time for growth, iteration, collaboration and learning is a necessity. 

    So what is your resolution?  How will you ensure your resolution leads to results? What are you promising to make happen in 2022 and beyond? What are you committing to in your NPO application? What extra skills, processes, insights, networks, capacity or experience do you need? How will you deliver new commitments alongside existing priorities? How can you continue to deliver incredible quality, outstanding work whilst addressing the challenges of uncertainty? 

    We’ve evolved our brilliant and over-subscribed Change Creation programme into Creating Transformation to answer these questions: a new programme designed  by the people make it work team for the arts and cultural sector. We’ve been supporting organisations and individuals across the UK to create and embed transformational change for more than 20 years. The work we’ve done designing and delivering programmes including Change Creation, and Culture RESET has informed Creating Transformation – an initiative for these times – designed to support organisations, groups and movements to create radical momentum, overcome embedded resistance and create transformational results. Our programmes rely on practice that is necessary in all organisations and groups when we’re seeking to create quantum shifts – whether Creating Transformation is for you or not, I wanted to share my insight about what it takes to unleash and enable transformation:

    • Urgency, momentum: Creating urgency to break through slow, incremental institutional rhythms, to generate a shared momentum that means everyone is in action
    • Inevitable manifestation: Identifying the interventions to make intentions INEVITABLE and supporting leaders to build energy and action around those interventions.
    • Unleashed agency: Embedding the conviction that everything we want to change is already someone’s job, and that change is done by people, not to them.
    • Declarative practice: Promoting the definition of transformational promises and then the systematic, unstoppable delivery of those promises.
    • Nuanced thinking: Understanding, navigating and responding to complexity with compassion and curiosity.
    • Organisational reset: Recognising the norms and myths that enable complacency, creating leadership action to reset the narrative.
    • Complexity and nuance: Understanding, navigating and responding to the dynamics and intersectionality of diversity.
    • Co-creation and collaboration: Working with organisations, communities, people and peers different and similar to unite around a shared purpose and ambition. 

    Creating Transformation is an 18 month programme supporting arts, cultural  and heritage organisations, groups and movements to work in these ways, creating dramatic results. Co-designed and co-created with the sector, we’ve shaped a programme that provides a supportive peer network, space, time and knowledge for learning and sharing, a focus on effective change management and leadership, and addresses the challenges in the sector – equity, accessibility, the climate crisis, developing and retaining talent. 

    Our focus for 2022 is supporting whole organisational growth, supporting people to lead, re-model, re-think and deliver transformative results that see the sector grow in relevance, sustainability, resilience and equity. What’s yours?

  • A New Wave of Leaders

    A new Office for Leadership Transition is advocating for more diversified models of cultural leadership. Sandeep Mahal shares the aims of the programme.

    In her book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo Lodge states: “I want to deconstruct the structural power of a system that marked me out as different.” Our sector is embarking on seismic change and tackling head-on issues of diversity, equality and inclusion is crucial to transformation.

    We have seen decisive statements and some quick fix initiatives, but to really transform cultural leadership and the future of the cultural sector, we need to combat under-representation at senior levels, proactively make way for new perspectives, and implement a re-distribution of cultural leadership.

    A giant daunting leap into leading

    In 2014, I embarked on my own leadership journey, appointed to my first senior cultural leadership role at The Space through a secondment opportunity created by the Clore Fellowship programme. I took a giant, daunting leap into leading and was supported to learn and adapt, to experiment and fail, and to grow and move on.

    Since the 2020 Culture Reset programme – part of a sector-wide commitment to inclusive, progressive change – I’ve been reflecting on the structural inequalities that exist in the sector and the initiatives borne of Covid such as Freelancers Make Theatre Work and We Shall Not Be Removed.

    They demonstrate that change leadership is most effective when distributed and generous and undertaken without concern for ownership. Advocating for a more diversified model of leadership feels like an important shift if the sector wants to take a truly inclusive approach to diversification at senior levels.

    From good intentions to concrete change

    The starting point for leadership transition is an acknowledgement from those who are responsible for the structural hierarchies and hold the power that now is the right time to make this change. They might be checking in with their own privilege to acknowledge ‘we must do something to better reflect the audiences and communities that we exist to serve’.

    But how do we encourage cultural leaders to shift from declaring good intentions and socially progressive concepts to concrete plans? To developments that are grounded in reality, linked to specific actions in the diary, supported with resources, and overseen by trustees to ensure momentum, accountability and impact?

    The Office for Leadership Transition is a new initiative that responds to that need for that transformation. It has been created for three reasons: to address systemic issues of inequality and intolerable barriers to progression; to support a dynamic transformation of representation at senior levels; and to build a new blended learning network for sustainable diverse leadership.

    It requires different models, interventions, and a change in conditions to create the opportunities and spaces so that new energy, innovation and talent can get in and get on.

    Making it work

    I’m co-developing the Office with Richard Watts of people make it work. They’ve been supporting cultural organisations to change and develop for more than 20 years. Working together, we seek to:

    • provide a series of meaningful interventions aimed, with care, at individual senior leaders with a wraparound programme of support;
    • assist cultural organisations to lead systemic and behavioural change to transition their leadership (both people and practices); and
    • offer new perspectives, new people, new forms and new inclusive models of practice.

    We will work with and for organisations to provide a range of services to enable transition readiness with care and integrity. These include tailored consultancy, leadership model development, managed restructures, and recruitment support as well as expert advice and toolkits for transition planning, HR and IP and pipeline talent development. We are also developing cohort-based programmes for groups of leaders and organisations that want to learn together.

    A dynamic and supported transformation

    The transition will not be the sole preserve of directors and chief executives. It won’t be confined to a few lines in the strategic plan. It will, instead, be fuelled by collaboration and an expansion of opportunities to nurture the kinds of creative, civic and brave senior leadership that we are modelling through the Office.

    We are sensitive in our approach and will work with leadership teams to create the conditions for systemic conversations – questioning, reflecting, learning – about organisational risk-aversion to power dynamics and advancing equity in leadership.

    The conversations alone will not fix the system. But from acknowledging and exploring, we can begin to consider actions. And to feel capable of making those transitions, leaving the old situations, systems and practices behind to welcome new structures, processes, perspectives and talent breakthroughs.

    The next wave of leadership

    We recognise there are many different reasons why organisations find it difficult to transition leadership. For example, leaders might be considering stepping aside to make way for new leadership perspectives but are in need of a clear roadmap to support such a proactive transition. Or a place-based or artform consortium might be considering the ‘next wave of leaders’ and seeking leadership development support for under-represented voices.

    Or a board might decide that the current leadership doesn’t bring the necessary skills, perspectives or practices for the organisation to be relevant, representative and resilient for the future. They might recognise change needs to happen but need support and guidance to implement their intentions.

    Whatever the scenario, the Office for Leadership Transition is designed to reflect that and help organisations push forward their diversity agendas by focusing on impact, and by initiating and embedding proactive structural and culture change at senior levels within organisations.

    The need for disruptive innovation, systemic change and a transformation is very real and present. Our challenge today is how to move on from wishful thinking and good intentions to really combat under-representation at senior levels. If this is a challenge your organisation is facing, maybe the Office for Leadership Transition can help.

    Sandeep Mahal is an Associate Consultant at people make it work, leading on The Office for Leadership Transition.

  • Graeae’s story: Rethinking your business model to meet financial challenges

    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.

  • Creating change together

    Everyone is busy, and when your day job includes creating significant changes across the organisation, the drive for practical support is even more important. The Change Creation programme is about discovering processes, tools and networks that will help to imagine and implement a bigger and more incredible future. Read our article in Arts Professional here about how we’re creating change together.