On the need for new approaches to old challenges

Almost every organisation – whether public, third or private sector, whether a trade union, special interest group or start-up, is facing a critical number of core challenges. In particular there are three broad contextual trends I see through my work that I believe need to be taken into account in order to make change happen.

The first is that traditional models of making change happen are broken. Direct lobbying of a government preoccupied with Brexit is not going to gain the traction it might have done in the past. Whilst those ‘big levers of government’ – policy, legal, economic, marketing – are powerful, they are not the only way of pursuing change. Emerging approaches to change combine the mobilisation of ‘bottom up’ pressure amongst the public, the co-ordination and amplification of the practitioner’s voice, and the support of policy-makers who are trying new things, all in respect of a single, priority issue. These might be at different geographies too, such as the focus on health within the Manchester devolution deal. Emergent practice that shows evidence of a new way of doing things in line with your ambitions is a powerful factor.

A not unrelated challenge is that we are operating in a world of significant ambiguity and uncertainty. Clearly, Brexit will result in the biggest policy and legal changes for generations. This will impact not only on the UK as a society but also on the capacity and willingness of the Government to actively engage with new policy ideas for the future that we might seek to promulgate. The public in general will feel this uncertainty too, and are likely to turn for security to some of the national institutions on which they feel they can rely. The NHS holds such a place in our collective consciousness.  

The way people access services, and their expectations of those services, is changing faster than ever. I believe this time is characterised in part by a shift away from what Heimans and Timms call the ‘old power’ of targets, command and control, hierarchical structures, managed engagement, fixed access times and the like. How will we emerge into a new power world of networks, emergence, self-organising teams and 24 hour access? A critical task in this respect is to work as midwifes for the new whilst offering palliative care to the obsolete.  

Finally, we see the nature of work itself is changing. Paradigms of a single career for life, for example, are being challenged. Questions emerge such as: how do we attract and support career-changers? What is the role for AI and automation? 

However, as my thesis of ‘social moments’ holds, when taken together these challenges might also increase the possibility of change. Collectively they represent a point in time at which the system is destabilised and in need of redesign; the way people access services, and what they want from them is changing, as are the demands people have from the role work plays in different stages of their their lives. 

Combining these a crucial question for leaders to address is how cto navigate these sea changes across social, political, cultural and economic domains. What do these mean for the way your organisation works?

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