Embracing change

Sport 4 Life UK is no stranger to change. The organisation has grown from no staff and no money (and no idea!) from its inception in 2006, to the leading sport-for-employment charity in the Midlands – now boasting an annual turnover in excess of £800,000, employing 20 full-time staff and working intensively with over 1,000 young people each year. Its average growth per year has been 30%, and the only constant is that nothing is constant!  Tom Clarke-Forrest, founder and CEO of Sport 4 Life UK, talks about embracing change within an organisation.

What is change and why is it important?

Quite simply, change is ‘moving to a future state’. It can be good or bad. It can be initiated, as well as forced. It can be anticipated or unexpected. And it can take many different forms, from minor changes (like changing your desktop for a laptop) to major shifts (like an organisation-wide re-structure). And most importantly: you can’t change it (pardon the pun). Life is transient and things can’t stay the same forever. The world we live in continues to change at an intense rate and not a day goes by, it seems, without another important discovery, opportunity or boundary-pushing invention that challenges the status quo.

So you can’t stop change, but you can choose how to approach it. Change is vitally important to ‘move with the times’, to be relevant, to learn and to improve. Change is an agent for growth. And the more you do it, the better you’ll become, whilst increasing your resilience as a result. For leaders of organisations, managing the change is paramount because change isn’t instant – there is always a state of ‘transition’, which can be your sink or swim moment.

How to make change work

  1. Instill a culture of embracing change

According to Charles Darwin, “it’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”. Workplace culture is built on a foundation of solid values. However you badge it, if you have a value of progression, a growth mindset, you seek to learn and be better, and you work together towards challenges, you can foster an appetite for change. And the more your practices reflect your values, the more instilled they become.

  1. Learn what not to change

Don’t change things for the sake of change. Think about what’s not going to change in the future – will your beneficiaries ever want a less impactful service, will you ever not put your beneficiaries or cause at the heart of what you do, or will you want your fundraising teams to achieve a worse return on investment? I submit to you not. The old adage ‘if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you get’ works both ways! And you can build your strategy around the things that are stable in time. This creates a useful benchmark for what you can change.

  1. Acknowledge areas for development

Be honest with yourself about your (and your organisation’s) weaknesses. As psychologist Carl Rogers said: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” If you acknowledge your areas for development, you’ll be better placed to make a positive change.

  1. Get staff buy-in

Most importantly, take time to understand your team’s emotions, responses and reactions to change. People don’t fear change, they fear loss. And significant transitions always involve leaving something behind. So celebrate the elements of the past (pre-change) that are worth honouring, so the change doesn’t come from a negative place. Then create certainty of process, explain the rationale and evidence of the change, and most importantly – take time!

Consult, discuss, debate, explore and constantly communicate changes with your team. This builds ownership and ‘buy-in’ of the change, as opposed to resentment, and this in turn builds empowerment. If your staff members understand and believe in the change, it’s infinitely easier to implement. These conversations require strong leadership and can be challenging. But if the change is right, the organisation and its beneficiaries always come first.

‘Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end’ – Robin Sharma


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