This article is chapter ten of TACSI’s Innovating Us series. Innovating Us is a look inside TACSI’s ongoing journey towards decentralisation. Each of the 10 chapters covers a different aspect of our experience, and some important things we wish we’d known before we started. The series was created over a number of interviews with CEO Carolyn Curtis and organisational development lead Euan Black, drafted by copywriter Cam Sullivan.
One more thing – while you’re changing everything, everyone still needs to get paid.
The thing which most consistently threatens to derail our journey isn’t any of the (significant) personal, cultural or leadership challenges it brings. It’s resourcing.
No matter how excited we are or how dedicated to our vision, there are times when we just don’t have the time or the money to devote to leading the change.
Part of this is due to the sort of organisation we are. Our funding comes from grants and fees-for-service, like any other not-for-profit. And, like any other not-for-profit, the money we make gets reinvested into our organisation. We also deliver projects equal in scale and complexity to the work of major corporate firms, with a fraction of the resources and certainly no other commercial activities to prop-up our social purpose.
All of this means that our resources are always limited. It’s not possible for us to have huge reserves of cash or funds set aside for our own organisational development. The reality is that we can only focus on decentralising TACSI – which we regard as some of our most important work – in between projects and initiatives that recognises revenue. Everyone still needs to get paid. Even our Organisation Development Lead, Euan, still spends the lion’s share of his time on project work, out of necessity.
This was never really emphasised in anything we read before we started this journey. In some ways, the principle is implicit – it’s obvious that organisational change requires resourcing. But the question of resourcing is also the biggest barrier to a lot of businesses being able to start and sustain this journey.
So what is it that keeps the momentum going when there are no resources and no time to devote to it? How is it possible to lead the change without the constant guidance of a ‘leader’?
We found the answer when we returned to our mission – who did we want to be collectively? We needed to instil the impetus for change in every member of our team, rather than relying on a top-down approach. This meant focussing on our behaviours, thinking patterns and culture so that our people could take ownership of the change in their day-to-day work.
This has involved everyone coming together to say what they want TACSI to be. Together we named the values and mindsets we want everyone to embody while they work here. We established our ‘Words to Live By’ in our interactions. We also created a whole new framework for acknowledging each other peer-to-peer, with a strong focus on cultural and interpersonal contributions as worthy of high recognition.
The magic of this cultural focus is that it allows the change to lead itself without being ‘guided’ all the time. In structuring our acknowledgment process around demonstrations of our values, everyone is empowered and motivated to behave differently. It becomes a virtuous cycle, sustaining itself even when it’s not our primary focus.
Part of our reason for sharing this is to show that no matter how little resourcing you have to make this change, it’s absolutely possible. It’s also something you’ll need to keep front-of-mind. The tendency to stagnate can become automatic – when things are busy and there’s no time to devote to driving the change, it’s easy to let it slide. The longer it idles, the harder it is to pick up again.
If, like TACSI, your organisation lacks dedicated reserves for organisational change, then you’re going to feel the resourcing crunch, as we do. But don’t be discouraged. Focus on your culture. Empower your team to build capability in each other. Trust and support your people, and they’ll lead the change themselves.
Interviews with Carolyn Curtis, CEO and Euan Black, Organisational Development Lead. Writing and editing by Cam Sullivan.