What does change mean to you? Does the idea fill you with dread or excitement? Does the term itself reek of management-speak and bring back bad memories of poorly handled restructures (if like me you ever worked in the arts funding system you probably lived through a few of those). Whether you love it or hate it – it’s hard to avoid change. So the question is how to live with it?
A couple of years ago as I was nearing the end of my Clore Fellowship I had some funds left in my training budget and was casting around for a course that would be useful to me as a consultant. I settled on a Change Management and Leadership course at Henley Business School (which I’d recommend) and was dutifully drilled in change theory (such as John Kotter and Tipping Point ) and project management and those double-dip change curves. I then found myself working for a year as a change manager in an arts organization. But beyond this formal business-school capital-C-Change I think there’s a far more interesting and important conversation to have about how we enable change within cultural organisations.
Reflecting on this past year’s experience, and looking back over research I’ve done before with MMM about what makes for financially resilient and successful arts and cultural organisations, I’m struck by how important the capacity to change – or learn from experience – is for arts and cultural organisations. And rather than seeing Change as something we have to address from time to time in a formal, separate way, I’d argue it’s better it we embed it into how we work on a day-to-day basis. I’m not the first person to say this by a long way – and certainly Mark Robinson’s paper about adaptive resilience raised the same issues within a far more rigorous conceptual framework.
One of the things I have learnt about change is that people see it in different terms – improvement, quality, adapting, innovating, learning. Change as learning from experience sits best with my way of thinking. Reading around Action Learning recently I came across a quote from that summed it up nicely for me:
‘for an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be at least equal to the rate of change in the external environment’ – Reg Revans
Given the political, social, technological and economic maelstrom in which we live I’d suggest applied learning needs to become an organizational priority.
So how do we create the conditions for arts and cultural organisations to learn? Over the next couple of weeks I plan to post a series of thoughts and tips about encouraging organizational learning – and I’d be interested to hear what works for you too.