Leading a change; a challenge or a headache?

January 20th 2014

The role of the CEO is a varied one and this week I found myself commenting on assignments LEYF staff had done on change. I was really rather chuffed by their thoughtful approach to the change process. Of course I was also very flattered to see them quote my book Leadership in Early Years!  Their most common reflection was that change comes no matter what, good or bad and the challenge is being ‘change ready’ because people will resist it even if it improves their lives. They reflected on the sense of urgency for change and the energy needed to make the change. Its right to assume that change of any kind makes you tired.  Just thinking about it makes your head ache. I was therefore reassured that all five assignments demonstrated a good understanding about the culture of change and the ability to seek, assess and incorporate new ideas and practice avoiding teaching people to get better at a bad game. They got extra marks for backing up their intentions with a robust action plans to ensure that each step of the change was plotted, planned and monitored.

LEYF is changing because we are growing.  As CEO I feel duty bound to grow the organisation so we can give the LEYF experience to 5000 children. Our magic is providing nurseries in those neighbourhoods often forgotten about and abandoned.  This means that right now we are welcoming new managers, staff and apprentices into the fold. We need to build our community of followers.  Apparently Lady Gaga calls her  supporters ‘little monsters’ and Justin Bieber’s are called ‘beliebers‘ so I am sticking to ‘BeLEYFers‘, a phrase coined by a LEYF senior manager who thought he was jesting!

Coming into something new is always a challenge and that’s why the research shows that if people are to leave they tend to do it during their first six months. Induction is therefore key as well as making people feel welcome. Michael Fullan in his book ‘Leading in a culture of change‘ reminds us about the importance of leadership in the change process. He has five dimensions for leading change:

1. Have a moral purpose for leading the change. In other words, if you don’t have the guts for it, leave now.  Its is all about culture and core values with leaders enthusing and encouraging a belief in their staff for the change.  Though he reminds us to listen and expect to have your own practice scrutinised.

2. You need to show you understand change because change is a messy business. He says (and I love him for it) that change is rocket science because it’s so complex and we are so often given contradictory advice. (he has an interesting view on management consultants!)  His best advice is that the best way to handle change is to allow it to happen.  He is not keen on coercive or pace setting leadership but keen on authoritative, affiliative, democratic and coaching.  In other words, conduct the team in a harmonious song , while engaging their views as they try it out. I feel an episode of the choir coming on. (though if anyone is interested I would love a LEYF choir….!?)

3. His third element was the importance of relationships. He reminds us that most people want to be part of their organisation and want to know the organisation’s purpose and want to make a difference. Leaders must nurture the next generation of leaders and build a strong organisation. Good ideas come from talented people working together and for that to happen we need an organisation that nurtures relationships and has an emotionally intelligent approach to the way we do business. We need happiness.

4. He advocates the importance of knowledge building that helps everyone understand the context of change. So, in the case of LEYF, its child poverty, inequality and access to lifelong education which shapes our ambition to create a new form of childcare.

5. Finally, Fullan concludes with the notion of coherence making as the counter balance to the disturbance needed for mobilising us to confront problems that have never been addressed or manage the chaos of change. A sort of ying and yang of the change world.

So, welcome to the new LEYF staff who are entering a changing organisation. Hopefully, we will keep our culture strong and remain emotionally connected to our staff but if ever there was a time to grow a business that wants to demonstrate another way of providing community childcare  designed to meet the needs of a global urban environment, then it’s now. Another great book is The Challenger Spirit  – Kurshsed Dehnugara

‘The Challenger Spirit is rooted in being able to challenge norms conventions and habits both inside ourselves and the environments we need. before we can challenge them we have to be able to see them clearly with the best interests of the organisation at heart.’