• Curiosity is the renewable power-source for Dynamism

    Richard Watts, CEO at people make it work, one of the most established and effective organisations supporting the cultural sector to change and develop, explores why a dynamic culture is at the heart of a dynamic organisation.

    For me, dynamism is about who you’re listening to, what you’re noticing and what impact this data has on how you work. We are at our most dynamic when we’re in an active relationship with our environment – scanning, exploring, curious – seeking out and divining an understanding of the needs, perceptions and challenges of the people and communities that we exist to serve. I suppose we’re at our least dynamic when we’re listening to ourselves, referencing our own past, traditions and ways of making, or listening only to the trusty audiences whose passive acceptance and support for what we’ve been doing has kept us safe in the past.

    We are in a changing world with pressing challenges of systemic racism, widespread social injustice, environmental emergency, inequality, economic disruption, and a global pandemic so the need for disruptive innovation and ongoing digital transformation is very real and present. Dynamism in this context is about being properly equipped to respond – an entrepreneurial instinct, an innovation instinct, an instinct to use our skills, assets, relationships and insight to meet the needs that we feel compelled to address. 

    Dynamism drives new responses, new creative interventions and new experiences. 

    At this moment, when so many of us are exploring our organisational strategies and the world is in such need of culture, what is our dynamic response? It feels like it has to be driven by an understanding of need, an awareness of the strengths and assets we can bring to bear on the problem and the powerful drive of a social justice mission. It means that at people make it work, our focus is changing, our programmes are changing our are changing, our partners are changing and the impacts we are committed to are changing too. 

    So, in this version of dynamism we are asking, how are we letting in the insights and experiences that will trigger innovation? How are we reading our environment? How do we connect with and understand the world through data, technology and relationships? 

    In this version of dynamism we are asking, how does our culture and the skills and behaviours we exercise make innovation insights inevitable (rather than really unlikely)? What is our default mindset, and how do we ensure we dial up curiosity, relentless refinement and the instinct to regenerate? How do we create a culture of confidence with change, refinement and modification?

    In this version of dynamism we are asking, is our mission or our model in the driving seat? How do we ensure that we prioritise our mission and beneficiaries over our own stability, over our relationship with ACE, over our own growth or security? How do we make sure our innovation and dynamism work in the service of our communities not at the cost of them?

    In this version of dynamism we are asking, how are we understanding our value? How do we ensure that we create what is valuable to others, not just what we value? How do we take the social impact we can have as seriously as health and safety? How do we find ways to translate our impact so that organisations outside the sector can understand our value as easily as they do other sectors?

    Our organisations can often be machines for maintaining the status quo, they form habits that repeat, proposing answers, rather than exploring questions. Cultures ossify, and as Peter Drucker noted, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, so a dynamic culture is at the source of a dynamic organisation. Dynamic organisations seek the risk of uncertainty, the reverberation of the unknown, the knowledge that curiosity is the renewable power-source that fuels dynamism.

    At people make it work, dynamism has delivered a shift in our strategy from a focus predominantly on organisations to a focus on the sector as a whole – we now see our role as to support the cultural sector to change and develop. Because we have come to understand that we can’t restrict our focus to those organisations who can afford to pay for our work. To our traditional work of strategic consultancy support for individual cultural organisations and cities, we have added free tools and resources accessible through our website for anyone to use, and we focus more on transformational programmes often delivered in partnership (Change Creation, Culture Reset, Coventry City of Culture Leadership Programme, Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries Development Programme, CEP National Leadership Programme). That shift in strategy means collaborative initiatives are at the heart of our future impact (watch this space for an Organisation Development programme with and for cultural workers of colour, which Suzanne Alleyne is devising in partnership with me, The office for Leadership Transition, developed with Sandeep Mahal, and a Transforming Governance programme with Anisa Morridadi and Beatfreeks) These feel to me like manifestations of dynamism – responses to (in this case, systemic) needs, built on data, with a focus on people and culture – being developed collaboratively so that insight and ownership is built in across our sector.

    Asking these questions about who we are listening to, how needs are changing, how we are fuelling our entrepreneurial instincts, what skills and culture we need to be able to read society and generate our essential response – these questions generate insight and suggest shifts in practice, culture, skills and process – changes that will in their own way regenerate your organisation by exposing yourselves to the case for change, and giving you the insights that imply innovations and shift your impact. 

  • Give someone a bloody good listening to…

    Give someone a bloody good listening to…

    We know that being listened to has a transformational impact. We advocate giving people a bloody good listening to – rather than a bloody good talking to – next time you notice that performance is slipping, energy is slumping or attitudes are hardening.

    In my experience of working with organisations across sectors it’s being listened to that makes the biggest difference to culture and engagement. When we truly listen to our colleagues we demonstrate that they are important to us, their views count and that the organisation is built upon their insight.

    If we want to improve our ability to listen then a coaching course can be a good idea, as well as ensuring we find environments where and when it’s easier to focus and really listen.

    I’m certain our clients get more impact from the way we listen than the way we speak (and we can be pretty eloquent when we want to be!) and that’s because listening is about creating time, attention and insight… and we all need more of those.

    Image credit – BBC – Fi Glover – The listening project

  • It’s not the trees waving that causes the wind to blow…

    It’s not the trees waving that causes the wind to blow… and it’s really important to know the difference… what has a causal effect on which…

    I often notice that people focus on behaviour when they might spend more time thinking about conditions, culture and support. When staff in a theatre aren’t always that welcoming to patrons, could it really be that they don’t know how to smile? Perhaps it’s more likely that they are frustrated and uncomfortable about some things that are happening in their environment that are more present to them that the ticket buyer in front of them.

    It’s important to know what is a result of our actions and what is a cause of them… and as leaders whether we are a tree that is being blown out of shape, or the wind that is creating the deformity.

  • Change is done BY people, not TO people

    Change is done BY people, not TO people

    When we start thinking about creating change with our clients, the conversation is invariably about how people need to change the way they work, think and behave… and most times the conversation assumes that we’re going to help our new client to change them…

    But when we think about change management, we think about creating an opportunity for everyone to explore, decide and develop how they need to change themselves… rather than hear how someone else thinks they ought to change.

    All the changes we imagine happening in an organisation (save the ones that we personally deliver) are already owned by someone and their understanding, appetite and engagement is what we need in order for them to go about changing.

    So we see change management as a social process, of enabling people to see the changes that they can make… which cumulatively will add up to an organisational change… rather than a project process where people are told what they need to do and forced to do it…

    No one can make us learn a new skill, build a new strength or feel a different way, and while leaders can inspire people to want to change, the change is still the individuals to deliver and realise.

    So we put involvement at the heart of the way we create change with clients, so that change is done by people, not to them.

  • What do I do for a living?

    What do I do for a living?

    People ask me what I do for a living. They ask me how come I’m always so energetic when I talk about my work. They ask if I’m ever bored.

    So that got me wondering, and its really clear to me that I’m never bored when I’m working with or thinking about people. I run people make it work, and as its leader I help direct programmes and support the team as they work with our clients.

    I love helping leaders understand their amazing strengths as well as the areas that will benefit from some attention and development.

    I really enjoy helping organisations and their leaders to explore and develop their ideas, expanding their sense of what is possible and turning audacious ideas into real, solid cultural businesses that are resilient and create extraordinary impact in our society.

    I believe in people make it work, and the ethos that we all embody – that human beings have infinite potential, that each of us is always on a development journey, that connecting with our values and our organisations’ mission can release huge amounts of energy, that organisations thrive when they tend relationships, support each other and grow positive cultures.

    We work in the arts because I fervently believe in the power of arts and culture to transform lives through helping each of us understand the world through other peoples eyes, connect with our wider humanity, see opportunities beyond our direct experience and have sublime experiences.

    The people in this team are a daily inspiration to me, and it’s a humbling experience to support our clients in their magnificent endeavours.

    I guess that’s what I should say when people ask me why I enjoy my work so much… or maybe I’ll just send them a link to this blog entry…

  • We don’t resist change, we resist BEING changed

    We don’t resist change, we resist BEING changed.

    I’m pretty sure that being contrary is a very strong human driver… perhaps third in line after survival and procreation is the urge to disagree. We are built to be skeptical, to question and to look for alternative explanations.

    When we are creating change in an organisation it is so easy to accidentally trigger this contrary response within our colleagues, and to characterise that resistance as destructive, obstructive and personally targeted. It’s normally positively motivated, insightful and likely to have some core truths in it that might save our change… and ensure it works.

    We put involvement at the heart of our organisation development work for this reason. People have to own the changes that are needed in their organisation and they normally have the greatest insight about what those changes are – once we remember to ask them and get them involved.

    When I hear clients talk about the fact that people in their organisation don’t like change, I often think about how much novelty, innovation and change those same people are making throughout their lives outside of work… and once we’re looking at them from that perspective, we can start to identify and dismantle the barriers to change that we have created within the workplace.