What a difference a year makes…

It’s more than a year since I posted here. So, why the hiatus and why bother to come back here at this point? Well, I changed jobs – completely – and sort of lost my voice. I fell into the classic trap of ‘there’s so much of everything, I don’t know where to start’, added to ‘I’m new in this job and I don’t want to expose my ignorance or say something I’ll regret’, plus ‘perhaps I shouldn’t be airing this stuff in public’ and, finally, ‘I don’t know the answers’.

Result? A year of an incredible journey in terms of learning and change, all relatively unrecorded. I don’t feel particularly happy about that, but maybe I can salvage something from the void… and maybe even get going again.

First, brief context: I worked as a consultant for most of 2011 after I left Cabinet Office. I had fun, I got to do interesting stuff with lots of smart and inspiring people. I got to delve into open data, data sharing and did some cool stuff with maps. I also spent a lot of time working in coffee shops and playing ‘hunt the wifi’ around towns and cities. At the end of 2011 I landed the job of Chief Exec of Brighton & Hove Impetus (a job which is completely mis-titled as it implies there is more than one executive of whom to be the chief, but never mind).

Being the boss of a small charity always makes me think of the chief cook and bottle washer expression that my mother used to use. I am literally in charge of everything from budgets and business planning to bulbs and break-downs. I kind of like that. I am a control freak, incredibly nosy and just like things to work properly. However, it has also lead to a lot of stress, which I haven’t always handled amazingly. Anyway, here are a few reflections, and maybe a way to help me carry on with this blog.

Running a small organisation is what I love. 
I always knew that being part of a team, working in the charity sector and generally trying to make things better were what makes me tick, but I didn’t quite realise how very much I’d missed the collegiate nature of working in a small organisation until I was back there.

I’ve always loved organisational development and much of my experience is in relatively small organisations, so the opportunity to be at the helm of one and have the influence and opportunity to put it all together was really exciting. I went in to my new role thinking I wouldn’t change much, but very soon discovered that for me to be happy about the quality of what we did and the way we operated, much would have to change. I made the mistake of thinking I could get much of it done quickly and that tasks would be fairly discrete. I couldn’t and they weren’t.

Change happens slowly. Sometimes reeaaaalllly slowly
This is partly, in a small organisation, because most people are part time – this doesn’t just mean they have less time, it means that everything takes many times as long because people often aren’t in the same room together from one week to the next. This is a really practical barrier, not only to getting stuff done, but to culture change too.

With hindsight I would have prioritised the changes I wanted to make differently, been clearer with colleagues about why these changes were necessary, and how this helped improve the overall picture. The reason I didn’t is that I didn’t have that clarity myself at the time. I’m not sure whether waiting until I did and *then* making those changes would have helped, or whether it would have meant I missed my window.

People and attitudes are the most important thing.
I have always been naively positive in my attitude to change – if it’s better, then let’s just do it! I always forget, even now, at the age of 36, that some people don’t like change, some people like to complain, some people are just contrary, some people prefer to do things the way they’ve always done them. It’s hard to remain positive when you feel that the prevailing opinion is against you, or at least against what you’re trying to do. Especially when you really don’t see a choice, and it’s quite literally a change of change or die…

However, what I have learned is that the moaners are always louder than those who feel ok about something, or who think it’s a good idea but aren’t *quite* there yet, who just don’t want to go against what seems to be the grain, or who don’t think their opinion is important. I didn’t recognise all the positive signs when they were there as we went through 2012. Maybe it’s the one-by-one approach that’s helped me get the organisation on the way to where I want it to be, or the nurture-those-who-support-you approach, or the I-know-this-is-the-right-thing-and-I’m-sticking-to-it approach, or perhaps it was all three. In any case, I believe we’re getting there.

There is so much you can’t control, so focus on what you can. 
I spent a huge amount of time in 2012 being utterly enraged and frustrated at the changes being made by the current government. At one point I had to stop reading the newspapers as I’d be getting so apoplectic with anger on the bus I was arriving at the office in completely the wrong frame of mind.

There is very little that I can personally do about the car crash that is the current government’s attitude towards the most vulnerable in our society and the untruths they tell to support their policies. But the organisation I run does need to be in the best place it can be to help pick up the pieces and to weather the storm of this recession. My responsibility is to make sure that as an organisation we are as robust as we can be, that our services are of excellent quality, that we are well-informed about the impact of national policy change on our service users so we can respond to their needs, that we look after our staff and volunteers so we retain as much expertise as we can, and that we are always looking for what we can do better, both internally and externally.

I hope this isn’t too general and obvious, it’s not really for anyone else but me in any case (!), although you’re all welcome to comment. Here’s my blog resolution for 2013: take an element of what you’re focusing on in your work life and post about it. Don’t try and fix the whole universe, or have the answers to everything. Just reflect on the challenge at hand.

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