Craig Dearden-Phillips: The third sector needs its own 'Drastic Daves'

If you look back at our biggest failures, have they been the result of drastic action or the lack of it?

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

Dave Lewis took over as chief executive of Tesco about five years ago. He has since earned his nickname of Drastic Dave for making decisive calls concerning the future of the supermarket giant. Arguably, he turned around a decline that would have seen Tesco out of business within a few years.

Lewis sold off Tesco's US operations, stopped building Tesco Extra outlets (the ones the size of 17 football pitches, where the staff go round on hoverboards) and opened a new competitor to Aldi called Jack’s. Oh, and he fired an awful lot of people at head office.

In the third sector, we don’t really have Drastic Daves. We tend, on the whole, to make smaller and rather less decisive calls concerning the future of the organisations we lead.

Indeed, when a chief executive does make a big call, like the excellent Mark Atkinson did when he was chief executive of Scope, we call brand them "radical", say how brilliant and brave they are, then go straight back to making small, incremental changes to our organisations.

So why don’t we have more drastic leaders in the third sector?

There are three main reasons. First, we don’t give people a licence to be drastic. We will bring them in with a mission to save the organisation, then give them 10 reasons why they can’t do the necessary drastic things to make good.

Second, we ask our chief executives to take such care to get everyone on board that anything drastic is cut out for fear of losing someone’s support, somewhere.

Third, the third sector struggles with the pace of change. It can take a year to get a new plan drafted, consulted on, written and into implementation, by which time it is really tired and there’s no gas in the tank to implement the actual change.

But would it be a betrayal of third-sector values and our people if we were to act quicker, with more decision and impact than we do?

I think not. Indeed, when you do a roll call of our biggest failures in the past few years, ask for each one whether it was the result of drastic action or the lack of it.

Yes, there is definitely a place for Drastic Dave in the third sector.

Craig Dearden-Phillips is founder of Social Club, a peer-support network of leaders in charities and mission-based businesses

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