Are you experiencing turbulence?

How has 2015 been for your organisation? A simple trawl of Twitter of the word ‘turbulent’ and ‘charities’ will reveal that many will remark “extremely”.

Without going into the whys and wherefores of external ‘shocks’, many of which were discussed at the ACEVO Annual Conference 2015, it will suffice to say that times are indeed challenging. How is it different from the past and where does it leave us for the future? And, more importantly, are we the only ones who feel this way?

Writing 20 years ago, Henry Mintzberg* remarked on the widely overused analogy of turbulence and questioned why this was. He commented that in every decade since the 1960s (incidentally when the concept of strategic planning first became popularised), business commentators have consistently described their own age as turbulent. Mintzberg commented that Ansoff, whose matrix is in the toolbox of every management consultant, was the one who observed that “During the twentieth century the level of turbulence has escalated in most industries”. So, if everyone has been operating in this environment of escalating change, how have organisations been able to function at all?

Mintzberg’s answer is to recognise that that labelling anything as consistently turbulent is as silly as to call it permanently stable. The truth is always that whilst some dimensions of the environment will change, even drastically, others will remain stable and rarely does everything change all at once. It is also a perception thing. What for one organisation will be experienced as an unprecedented challenge, others will see as an opportunity.

Many organisations will announce their intention to conduct a strategic review when the perceived turbulence has knocked them sideways. At this point it can be too late to adapt and change successfully, whether that be at board level, within management or at the front-line. A different way of approaching strategy is not to think of it as something that is done to you as if a painful operation but by engaging with what is happening around you with a series of check-points. Put another way, think of it as instead of putting scaffolding up around a crumbling house (expensive and not likely to achieve results) but by doing regular maintenance, looking out the window to check the weather and experimenting with innovation with co-residents, friends and neighbours (plus perhaps a bit of nosing around to see what others are doing) strategic development can feel more comfortable process. And ultimately it can be more successful too.

This is why the ACEVO team is creating an accessible approach to dealing with strategic change. We are not using the language of ‘turbulence’, ‘shocks’ or ‘crisis’. What we have done is create a pattern of Prompt Points for organisations to consider external factors calmly and without panic, whether or not these are perceived as creating immediate pressure. Many considerations affecting charities and social enterprises are not unique and information is in the public domain. Use these Prompt Points to look away from internal issues for now and focus exclusively on what is happening out there. They can be a sense check in order to:

1) Test awareness of a range of issues
2) Find out what information is already available relating to each topic
3) Further explore key areas

Prompt points w ACEVO logo

Feel free to get in touch through solutions@acevo.org.uk to discuss how you can apply these directly to your organisation.

The second stage, to be issued next month, will focus on the particular dynamics of the social sector.

* Henry Mintzberg (1994) The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Prentice Hall: New York and London

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