Heather Newill describes the sequence of events, actions and internal momentum that have to combine to create the ultimately successful change initiative.
Change ? When being right is no longer good enough
Our world is set on a trajectory of sustained change ? economically, politically, demographically and culturally. The pace of change is relentless, with the advent of new technologies that expedite the way we now communicate, share and process information. The events on the global stage have a fundamental and material impact on the way we live and the way in which we must now work. No one is immune from the inevitability of change!
Arts and cultural organisations are more susceptible than most to fluctuating external influences in the guise of government funding decisions, artistic programming, audience trends, political and social pressures, capital development initiatives and, unavoidably, the world economy. The need to anticipate and respond incisively to these challenges is critical. However, tradition runs deep in the arts where much is deemed sacred and, as a consequence, enforcing and implementing change is all the harder. Boards and Chief Executives with the greater good, and very often the actual survival of their organisation, at the forefront of their minds, are frequently criticised by their industry or the media when they decide to initiate major changes in their structure or policies. So, how do we recognise when change is essential and how can the fear of it be overcome? How should executives lead and manage inevitable change effectively?
Change is not to be feared. It is to be embraced as the way forward. It represents an opportunity to transform or, in some extreme cases, turnaround the fortunes of an organisation, its employees and its stakeholders. However, all too often internal reluctance to consider alternative or radical departures from tradition is the enemy of opportunity and progress. Inertia suffocates creativity and stifles innovation.
If a change process is to succeed it needs to be both right and effective. How often have expensive reports from ?strategy consultants? delivered the right solution for an organisation but failed to take into account its inability to deliver and implement their recommendations? Change initiatives fail when the people, resources and attitude are not aligned to the vision. Change impacts people and conversely people impact change. The two are intrinsically linked. Staff, colleagues, stakeholders and audience must engage in the process from the start for it to succeed.
There seems to be a sequence of events, actions and internal momentum that have to combine to create the ultimately successful change initiative (Fig. 1). If one or more links in the chain are missing, the outcome will invariably be affected. Without constant pressure for change, inertia will rule; with no clear, shared vision in the organisation, there will inevitably be a lack of interest from some areas; when the organisation is needy for change and has the backing of its stakeholders, any delay will result in frustration and anger; and with all the former in place but no strategy for implementation, the outcome will result in false starts and sure failure.
It is essential, though, to recognise that the change process does not stop with the action plan. Change has to be sustainable. All too often in the cultural sector new injections of funding from government initiatives, foundations, sponsors or Lottery provide a much needed and welcome source of income for artistic activity, capital development or outreach projects, whilst simultaneously instigating an unavoidable programme of ambitious change for the beneficiaries. It is therefore not surprising that this generates a dilemma. In the short-term, arts institutions welcome any new tranche of funding. In the mid-term however, it presents an interesting leadership challenge. Our leaders are suddenly expected to manage change through extensive growth and then subsequently to manage expectations and major new resources, and even sometimes finally through contraction when grant funding expires. Are we then guilty of building these leaders to fail? How can executives equip themselves with the skills required to deliver sustainable success? The need to plan for the long-term is essential, not only for the stability of the organisation, but also for the leader?s own development.
A change process is often seen as a strategic initiative that will deliver longer-term benefit to the organisation. Invariably, the greater challenge lies not in realising the long-term objectives, but in dealing with the issues of managing the short-term tactical impact of change. The measurement of effective leadership in the new economy will be about how we manage the ever-changing world in which we now live and work and the unique challenges that this will undoubtedly present today and tomorrow.
Heather Newill is Practice Director, Arts, Entertainment and Media, for Friedlander Sachs, an agency specialising in Executive Search and Human Capital Consulting
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