News & Blogs

5 October 2018
Author: The Place

Leading Change - Clare Connor at the Spektrix Conference 2018, Leeds

On 26 September, our CEO Clare Connor delivered a keynote speech at the Spektrix Conference in Leeds about Leading Change. After inspiring people up North with her insights, expertise and ideas for the future, we are pleased to make key points of her talk available for everyone to read up on and think over.

"Most people at some point will have experienced change on some level. I am not an expert on leading change, nor am I a theorist who lectures on this concept and so what I would like to do is share with you some of my thoughts, insights, experiences and readings on the subject of leading change.

Some of these experiences are drawn from my work to date, but they also come from my experience as a woman, as a parent and as the first person in my family who went to study the arts at university. I have not inherited this knowledge but I remain curious and interested.

A a mother of two children, the parenthood experience can be a lesson in leading change – as a parent we invest in someone, often unconditionally, we facilitate, we set boundaries, we sometimes inject urgency, we manage risk and, at the right time, we learn to empower and to let go, whilst remaining vigilant.

Leading change in an organisation is not so far away from this. We need to understand the bigger picture and that we are often working for something better that is beyond ourselves.

The Place

My career really began at London Contemporary Dance School, some 30 years ago. It is at The Place where I learned to learn and to love learning.

From there I was able to develop the confidence to transfer my knowledge and skills over three decades from professional performer to teacher, to manager to leader. Returning to The Place as I did last year is a huge privilege and a gigantic challenge all rolled into one. I have absolute belief in what we stand for and this central purpose provides a firm and strong platform from which I can lead change.

Forces Driving Change

They may be both internal and external but more fundamentally, the forces at work require us to change more rapidly than ever before, all while globalisation is creating increased competition, increased risk but also increased opportunities. 

Papers such as Nesta’s Report on “Experimental Culture” provide evidence of changes and trends in the external environment while we all have a watching brief on the Brexit negotiations.

Whether we like it or not, the rate of change is only set to increase. Organisations are looking for ways to increase productivity whilst reducing expenditure – in summary do more for less!

Corporate Life Cycle

The corporate life cycle is well-documented as a process with a clear peak and trough shape as time moves forward from growth to death. The question you might ask is where is your organisation and how might you successfully contribute to the change process and renewal?

Organisations can succeed, they can fail and close, they can also merge and they can renew but always life goes on - and that is something we need to remember in times of challenges.

Origins of Leadership

Historically, leaders are seen as perhaps having a divine gift and only few exist in the country at any one time! This is simply not the case. Leadership is something that can be learnt and developed and will be shaped by personal history, skills and abilities, competitive drive and an appetite for lifelong learning.

As a mother of two children and someone who had never learn to swim well, I was keen that my children learned to swim. I saw it as an important life-giving skill. At the swimming pool, I observed that there is a point of real struggle and watching your child almost drowning is far from easy. In my experience, learning to lead is not so different – it’s hard, challenging, doesn’t always look good but you have to put in the hours!

It is undoubtedly a struggle to acquire new skills, and sometimes we appear to almost sink but with a commitment to face the challenge, there are a lifetime of benefits and rewards.

Leaders – Lifelong Learners

Reading on the characteristics of leaders I was delighted to find them defined as “Lifelong learners” who continue to acquire new thinking, new skills and new experiences.

Leaders are described as people

  • willing to take risk
  • to self -reflect
  • to (aggressively) seek the opinions of others
  • but have the ability to listen carefully
  • and remain open minded

These are instinctively characteristics that the arts encourage and we would do well to promote them more keenly.

21 Century Organisations

In a traditional organisations you might find a greater level of bureaucracy, a more defined hierarchy, slow decision making and a risk averse culture.

Conversely in a 21st Century organisation where there is less money and a desire for increased productivity, we will see perhaps fewer staff, less bound by rules, so that they can to make decisions and take action more quickly and a culture which is far more risk tolerant.

The Long Road

Five years ago my family and I were living in a small terraced where our bikes would often be left in the hallway creating a barrier to coming in and out of the house – a fairly fundamental need!

Moving the bicycles seemed liked an entirely reasonable goal. What we needed was a shed capable of housing all four bicycles. The shed, would need to be placed at the bottom of the garden and this would mean that the old shed would need to go first. Then there was grass between the garden and the house so ideally we would need to have a new patio of some sort.

Some five years later we have a painted shed a new patio and - with no more bicycles in the hallway – we also have a dog and a new front garden.

And so, whilst outwardly it may appear that one simple change is required, the lesson here is about interdependence: changing one thing, for example changing a job role affects a whole series of other factors.

8 Steps of Change – John P Kotter

Now the story of the bicycle is convoluted and as I mentioned previously I am not an expert on the subject but John P Kotter, Harvard business lecturer and professor, is!  He has spoken and written widely on leading change. He has established a framework for describing eight steps for change.

Kotter further suggests that in an organisation of 100 people at least 24 would need to go “above and beyond” their roles in order to make successful change.

Managers also need to Lead

21st-century organisations need to balance Leadership and Management to achieve successful transformations but with fewer resources including staff, Mangers also need to lead.

What success Looks Like

Change is not easy, it can take a long time, requires multiple approaches and considerable resources - but what does success look like? How do we know when we get there?

Here are a few ideas and clues:

  • The vision and mission of our organisation is centre and understood by everyone not just by the staff but by the people we serve and our stakeholders.
  • Leadership is distributed and staff are empowered to take action across the whole organisation.
  • Customers and beneficiaries are at the top of the hierarchy and as such we are engaged with them, listening to them and seeking their feedback in productive constructive ways.
  • Achievements are celebrated by short-term wins but also long-term goals and change leads to more change, not less and this has become the norm rather than the exception. 





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