LAST week we ran the first of what I am confident will become the flagship CFDG service for finance leaders, with leadership consultants Belina Raffy and Paul Jackson. The focus of the course was to draw on resources that are already present in us all and apply improvisation techniques to our work. In order to survive in these ever-changing times, finance professionals have to be able to adapt and flex to whatever is thrown at them.
We have grown used to the reality of uncertainty – that much is unpredictable and unknown – but despite this the classic approach remains to plan and strategise on the assumption that much is predictable and knowable. At best we practice planning on the basis of a range of possible futures.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for a strategy that lays out the steps towards a future state, and scenario-planning is particularly useful for considering what can be done in respect of possible reductions in income, especially in the light of public spending cuts.
Neither I nor they are advocating entirely throwing out our classic thinking and approach, but rather to nourish and encourage as a complement the responsive and fleet of foot behaviour present in our sector’s finance leaders.
Now I am no expert, but based on the lessons I took from the day, the concept of solutions focus – as developed by Paul Jackson and Mark McKergow – is two-fold
1. When we focus our energies on the things that fail to work we miss the opportunity to maximise the successful outcomes from what does work well.
2. When we paint our desired perfect future state, if we plan a clear step-by-step route to that point we set ourselves up for a fall. The reality is that while the future state itself may be clear, we almost never can predict each step with accuracy.
If one applies this thinking to Big Society, we can see that a lot of energy is focused on considering the problems left by reduced funding, the challenges and the barriers to achieving a successful future. We ask for a clear roadmap for how we are going to achieve this perfect future and reassurances that we will be able to progress along a clear and unchanging route.
Knowing that this level of clarity towards the vision is impossible, we focus on why it can’t or won’t happen rather than agreeing that the vision is one we can broadly agree on and focusing our energies on small steps in the right direction.
Kevin Carey, chairman of RNIB, delivered a provocative keynote speech at our recent annual conference, in which he felt it necessary to declare he was not a Conservative while setting out his support for some the underlying principles of David Cameron’s Big Society. I feel similarly compelled to declare an absence of political affiliation in this.
If we basically agree on the vision and recognise that we can only take small steps towards that future, we give ourselves the ability not only to maximise the things that work but also to improvise, react and adapt when opportunities arise, or when things don’t quite go the way we planned.
We all know phrases like, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time.’ So let’s start putting that into practice and get chewing.
Caron Bradshaw is CEO of the Charity Finance Directors’ Group and blogs regularly for Financial Director.