Make now the right time for change

We all have rituals that help us let go of the past and embrace the new. Every New Year I have one such ritual: I put on the music, make myself a large cup of tea and clear out of all my paper files.

I don’t know why, but clearing out physical space in this way helps me create thinking space. It gives me perspective.

Across all my files are the footprints of projects that never quite made it, tasks still not done as well as treasure troves of ideas, thinking and insight that I had forgotten about. As the recycling sack fills up, so I note down thoughts and actions that help propel me forward into the New Year with a fresh set of priorities.

As I know from personal experience running organisations, opportunities to gain perspective and oversight are all too rare. Simple questions can be powerful tools: Which areas of our work are producing the biggest impact? What is a drain or distraction? Are there small shifts in our ways of working that could release our potential?

But along with the intellectual energy required to ask the right questions, change requires a reserve of emotional energy. Letting go of old habits is uncomfortable and taking on untested or new ways of working can engender worry, fear and resistance. I have seen this playing out especially in organisations with a social purpose.

People working in charities and the social sector are driven by passion and a dedication to getting it right for beneficiaries. But sometimes it is this very passion that gets in the way of effectiveness. Social sector organisations struggle to say no, driven by a fear that they are not doing (and will never do) enough.

The result: organisations that commit to multiple projects, often with a slightly different aim and ethos, creating conflicting operational demands and resulting in an overstretched staff group who – you guessed it – feel they don’t have the time to reflect on whether they are creating the focus and impact they want.

That is why the question I am often asked by clients “Is now the right time to change? Should we wait until a post has been filled or a plan finalised? Do we need to see this project through first or wait until we are less busy?”

My answer is simple: there is no such thing as the right time. We may all hope for a future when everything is perfectly aligned. But, in reality, organisations are made up of a series of constantly moving parts and any process of change will have to deal with less than perfect circumstances in some part of the business.

And I suspect that something else lies behind the question “Is this the right time?”. Deep down, we know that change is an emotional cycle. It takes courage to shed an old skin. There will be times when you have to hold your nerve as you test out the new; when people quit or projects fail. Saying yes this is the right time, means, opening yourself and your organisation up to this discomfort and it is entirely human to hesitate.

So try to re-frame the question: rather than asking yourself “Is this the right time?” ask instead “What do we (Trustees, leaders, staff team) need to make this the very best possible time for change?”.

Being honest about your needs and how you will preserve your intellectual and emotional reserves through the change process is the best first step to ringing in the changes.




Katherine Rake