Our ever-changing world
I arrived early at Baddesley Clinton and I had the rare opportunity to see the house apparently float on top of a bed of mist that was rising from the moat. It was one of those slightly magical – how lucky am I – moments, but also a moment of reflection. It is nearly nine years since I last visited the property for my interview to join the Trust. It caused me to take a moment to think about what has changed and what has not. Thankfully, virtually nothing had changed to the exterior of the house. If conservation work has taken place – it has been of the best type because I was not aware of it. The interior though had changed a lot. My memory of it was definitely of a dark (slightly dull) precious place that guided me through ropes and barriers with several awkward log-jams of visitors. I have no memory of the story nor a sense of its particular significance. This time around it felt as though I could free flow through the house, the rooms were dressed but not overworked, the interpretation simple and integrated, it felt light and engaging. But it was the team that felt so different. The first group I met were ranger volunteers organising their day's work in the parkland, the next two were conservation volunteers and then a very welcoming lady on the main door. The staff meanwhile were on full throttle getting ready for a busy half term day. There was a very strong sense of 'people energy' and it made the whole place feel buzzy. The days of a stern looking room steward handing me a laminate in the corner of a dreary room, have long gone from this property.
The message was a simple one for me. We ‘do’ change in the Trust.
In truth I am getting slightly frustrated with the standard bullet point in virtually every presentation I am attending at the moment, that we are change resistant and we have an ‘optionality’ culture. True, change is a challenge for most people – particularly if it is not obvious what is so wrong with how we are doing it now, or if the benefits are not readily visible. The risk however is that we talk ourselves into something that actually does not reflect the level of change we work through virtually every day in our respective roles.
Talking of roles, mine has obviously changed and as I considered what had changed at Badesley, I also indulged myself in thinking about how different it feels to work in the Trust now, to what it felt in 2005. It is a particularly important question for me right now. I am currently advertising for two new Regional Directors for two of our biggest regions. Am I looking for something now that I didn’t think was expected of me then? The truthful answer is no. The role of the Regional Director has taken some twists and turns over the last few years but at the heart of it, I am fundamentally looking for a great leader. You will have heard me say already that I am a huge believer in the fact that if you have great people in the right jobs for them, everything else will fly. I need two leaders who can set a really clear direction for their region that works in the national context but also works and makes sense to their team. They need to be able to inspire their operating and consultancy teams to come with them and hold them to account in the process. I am definitely looking for a balance between external engagement/strategic thinking, and good old fashioned operational grip. That doesn’t mean detail. It does mean being ‘on it’ and making sure the delivery happens through their team. I am also looking for someone with energy drive and clarity of purpose. I unashamedly get my own energy from working with people who reflect and consult enough to know what they need to do, but then get on with it. I really don't do faffing about.
So to my mind, the essence of the Regional Director role has not changed, the environment in which we operate however has and will continue to over the next 18 months. Our move to a delegated framework fundamentally enabled our properties to take their destinies more firmly into their own hands and gave them the scope and incentive to get on with the job. We have witnessed significant growth over the last five years in terms of visitor numbers, and thankfully our conservation spend has almost doubled in that time, so by any standards we must conclude we got something right. If there has been a downside to the change that enabled delegation to work, it has been an erosion of the benefits and efficiencies that come from doing some things consistently at an organisational level, but most especially from a supporter’s perspective. We are quite simply inefficient in how we carry out some of our most standard and basic processes and we are wasting resources both in terms of time and money which I know drives you mad. Equally our supporters are not always getting consistent communication nor quality of experience and that clearly needs addressed.
So this is why SSP (Systems Simplification Project) is coming down the track and why the change it will demand is important. The trick will be to keep the delegated ability to get on with our jobs – clear about where we have choice and flexibility (without a million people interfering) whilst signing up to a more standard way of doing the things that should be consistent in an organisation of our scale.
The key thing though is that we are up for it – I haven't met anyone yet who enjoys spending hours filling in spreadsheets and there is genuine excitement out there at the prospect of getting new tills (we really should get out more) so not only do we 'do' change, we are pulling for and making it happen. That feels good.
Hilary McGrady, Director of Operations and Consultancy