Leading through change: insights from the ACEVO Women in Leadership meeting

Dr Katerina Kolyva, executive director of the Council of Deans of Health and chair of ACEVO’s Women in Leadership special interest group, brings the insights from the group’s latest meeting.

Change is a given at any stage of a charity CEO’s career. With over two decades in the charity sector advocating for good governance, leadership and diversity, Arvinda Gohil knows this well. And we, the ACEVO Women in Leadership group, were delighted to have had Arvinda joining us in June to talk about change.

Arvinda’s three definitions of change are very clear: you can either ‘tinker around the edges’ (nearly ‘pretending’ change), do a change refresh while keeping the mission going or change through crisis.

The easiest change management process is change through crisis. It is the one that you must do, the one that few people question. The urgency that a crisis brings focuses the mind, giving you a mandate for action and allowing people around you to appreciate that the change is necessary.

The most difficult change management process is change as a refresh. This is when things seem to be going well, and most people find that a change is not necessary. In most cases, this is due to most people focusing the mind on the here and now, not necessarily considering the long term and more strategic issues of the organisation going forward. However, if things seem to be working well now, this will not be forever. Having a strong narrative on what the future will look like as a result of the change and keeping the future proof and sustainability agenda clear can make it easier to communicate change.

Communicating change and having a strong narrative is undoubtedly one of the most important factors for effective and smooth delivery. Every charity CEO will be ‘sandwiched’ between a group of staff with mixed feelings (from the most positive to change to the most worrying and those least convinced) and a group of worried trustees who will want to see results and risk being managed effectively. But as change is a process, communicating change and building a narrative is a process too. You will not always have the entire picture or story at hand to tell so it is important to communicate on a regular basis, maintaining a consistent message about the mission. The process of change will unveil moments of stress and a series of unexpected events. Keeping an open mind, being focused on the mission and clear about the strategy will help both you and the people around you. When it comes to staff communications, you will need to use most tools available to you: from open, face to face communication with a large group, to weekly email updates and more detailed conversations with a smaller representative group of staff.

Change is not always easy and it is a reality all CEOs must be alive to. Building the skills and expertise to manage change effectively, while looking after yourself and focusing on your wellbeing, should become every charity CEO’s mantra.

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

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