Managing the Challenges of Change

Over the past couple of years the Community Interest Company (CIC), which I have been a part of since its inception in 2009, has been growing at a significant rate of knots.  As CEO, I am of course delighted to be leading such a successful social enterprise but at the same time I’m acutely aware of the challenges that come with such growth.  With this very welcome but rapid increase in business come the obligatory growing pains of a young organisation stretching itself to achieve, but at the same time working within the framework of its current structure. Anticipating the tipping point where the business can no longer feasibly operate successfully has been an important focus for our Board of Directors over the past year and one which has resulted with us working with change management experts, the Innovation Unit, to create a clear and transparent scale up process.

A key part of developing our vision for the future was mapping out a route to achieve sustainable and meaningful growth.  What became apparent very quickly was a need to strengthen the top of the organisation with two new management functions – that of operations and also communications.

To meet the growing demand for our mental health training products and all they entail there was a clear gap for a senior operations role and in particular, someone to whom I could deputise some of the day-to-day management tasks, freeing a portion of my time to continue driving the momentum of the organisation’s growth.  The other area which needed senior level resource was communications. Having driven demand through positive and targeted media coverage over the past two years, the Board could recognise the power of proactive communications but also the need to have a more strategic approach to the organisation’s ability to be proactive and reactive around internal and external communications.

In June this year we appointed two new roles; Chief Operating Officer and Director of Marketing and Communications – both positions representing a critical turning point in driving forward a company restructure. With a strengthened Senior Management Team it was possible to build on the business analysis undertaken by the Innovation Unit and conduct a detailed assessment of the current staff skills sets and workload allocation. What emerged was the need to create a fit for purpose central team and for this to happen, further change was required.

As with any restructuring process there are winners and losers and herein lies one of the challenges of change.  Having started as a team of three employees six years ago, the central team has grown organically, with new people joining the organisation along the way, with roles changing and people developing their skills as the business expands in different ways and into different sectors.  However, for the organisation to grow in a more strategic way there has been a need to assess which roles are still relevant and which new roles need to be introduced. The result has been a complete team restructure with two new tiers introduced to support the various directorates. Where possible we have offered current employees the option to slot into a new role but sadly redundancy has been part of the process too.  As an organisation which puts people’s wellbeing at the very heart of what we do, it has been hard to make decisions which may not sit easily with every member of staff but for the business to survive the next stage of growth it has been necessary at times.

Anyone that knows about organisational change will be familiar with Fisher’s transition model. As a leader, my job is to facilitate change in a way that grows sustainable business, supporting all staff (including myself) throughout the process, with minimum disruption to the day-to-day operation. Most change management case studies in recent times have been about efficiency and savings and in our current climate even with a growing business those factors are important too. Change, whether positive or negative, will impact on the people that make up the organisation however, I believe the values of our company for example those of empowering, innovating and caring, create the culture of our organisation and have given us the platform from which to successfully implement change.

We are currently nearing completion of the second phase of MHFA England’s change process and I think I can speak for the whole organisation when I say that it’s been a challenging few months. However we are getting to a settling point which I hope will create the foundations for the next phase of growth and take us into 2016 stronger and even better equipped to achieve our core mission of increasing the nations mental health literacy.


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Poppy Jaman

Poppy Jaman is an internationally respected mental health advocate, national policy advisor and the CEO of successful social enterprise, Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA). With 18 years’ experience of influencing and leading change in public mental health, Poppy has worked in a number of roles which have required her to challenge the public’s perception of mental ill health.