Change is such hard work

If you work in the voluntary sector, you’re sure to see ‘Change Management’ as an essential skill in any senior role these days. But how do you quantify such a skill in in a sector where the change has become constant?

Those of us who have been in the charity world a while will be used to the three year cycle of ‘review, restructure, rest’. In bigger charities sometimes one of the larger consultancies would be brought in, in smaller ones a change of leadership could trigger the process.

These days, and particularly for smaller charities, the change cycle has become constant. The short-termism of many funding streams, changing requirements of public sector commissioning and difficulty in raising core costs means that part or all of our organisations’ are in a state of uncertainty most of the time.

This is the new way of being. So how do we keep on keeping on? How do we keep our staff motivated and performing? How do we ensure that we continue to deliver high quality services? And, how do we manage the stress ourselves?

It seems to always be the answer but to me communication has to be the key. Staff need to know what is going on, and if there is information you cant share with them, its best to be open and tell them you don’t know or cant tell them. If staff feel kept in the dark it grows resentment, concern and potentially the spread of completely wrong information borne out of supposition and lack of information.

A couple of weeks ago I told my team to take their time to catch their breath over the summer because come the autumn more change is coming. They have known this for ages but sometimes everyone needs permission to take a minute. This change will come on top of a year where they have all coped admirably with smaller changes, the end of one project and start of another, a new group of volunteers, changes to policies and procedures.

And me? I’ve benefited greatly from the support of a strong Board, but also my counterparts in other organisations. Talking to someone with similar experiences, who really understands makes a massive difference.

It doesn’t matter what the change is, in my opinion expansion can be more tricky and potential damaging than contraction if not managed well.

There is some great writing and training out there on change management from organisations like Clore Social Leadership and NPC. My advice is, take all the support you can get and it will help you better support others.


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Hospice Director at Sue Ryder Wheatfields, feminist, mum of twins, committed to working together to ensure a sustainable, high quality voluntary sector.

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