Stella Smith: Moving forward without fear

We must embrace the new and make tough decisions about what we have to stop doing

Stella Smith
Stella Smith

There is something exciting about the new year and the potential for what the coming 12 months might bring – all those projects and plans just waiting to happen.

This sector never seems to lack enthusiasm for the new: whether it be original ways to use technology, inno­vative schemes for generating income or different systems for monitoring work, we just seem to love new ideas.

However, our great ideas often fail to fulfil their promise because we can’t give them the time and energy they need. We love the shiny new projects, but we struggle to find the space in our diaries to do them justice. Our enthusiasm for new projects is simply not matched by the same level of focus when it comes to deciding what we are going to stop doing.

Instead of doing some clear-headed prioritising, we kid ourselves that we can do it all, and the new work gets added to our already long to-do list, until just reading the list is a task in itself.

So why are we so unwilling to stop doing some things? Perhaps because we are "people people", we keep delivering services and activities that might no longer be relevant, not wanting to disrupt or upset staff, volunteers or service users.

There is always of course a disappointment when you have to close a project or end an initiative. When you have ploughed thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours of work into something, it’s difficult to accept that it’s had its day or it’s not going to be the success you had hoped for.

The sector also has many senior staff with an overly heightened sense of loyalty to their work. These people, who have contributed greatly to their organisations, are not keen to move on because they are convinced that no one can do the work as well as they can.

Whatever the reason, our reluctance to close projects, stop doing work or delegate to others is not healthy. Not only does it prevent us from making the space both physically and mentally for essential new initiatives, we also become stressed and overworked.

What’s more, not delegating work brings particular risks. It deprives our organisations of the new energy that different staff can bring to a project as well as deskilling some of our brightest young talent – who, without enough challenging work to do, soon find themselves bored and demotivated.

Of course, it’s not easy to stop doing familiar work. It takes us out of our comfort zone and there is always a worry that we might not have the skills for the new work or that we’ll lose control or status if we’re not involved in the minutiae of old projects.

However uncomfortable it is, though, if we do not stop doing things and really embrace the new, we become stale.

The potential for 2019 is certainly exciting, but before we start listing lots of great new projects and initiatives, let’s also take a moment to list what we are going to say goodbye to. What are we going to stop doing? What tasks are we going to take off the list? What things are we going to delegate, giving the opportunity to other staff to take them on?

Then let’s enjoy the opportunity to give the time and energy our brilliant new ideas need so they can really flourish.

Stella Smith is a consultant and facilitator


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