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| Posted by: Borge Andreassen

Thoughts, learnings and experience from On Purpose CEO Programme

Prospectus is proud to partner with On Purpose to support their CEO Programme, which brings together cutting edge leadership development and hands-on problem solving over a six-month period. Now recruiting for their third programme we are pleased to share the thoughts, learnings and experience of previous participant Beth Green, CEO of Centre 33.

In 2016 I took on the CEO role at Centre 33, a charity that supports young people with their emotional and practical needs. My first year was dominated by responding to external pressures and internal crises, so at the end of that year, I felt really exhausted and keen to move Centre 33 away from being a short term reactive organisation to being a more future focused and resilient organisation.

I knew Centre 33 had many of the building blocks for this. It had a newly developed strategy, impactful work with young people and a very capable workforce. However, there were also hurdles. Centre 33 had grown substantially over previous years (establishing three new hubs and doubling its workforce) which resulted in its infrastructure being not 'fit for purpose'. Also it had just lost a significant contract which meant its funding was predominately short term.

Being new to the CEO role, I was keen to find personal support to enable me to overcome the hurdles and build towards a truly resilient and impactful organisation. I wanted to develop a peer network to gain ideas and challenge my thinking. I wanted time to reflect on my leadership style. I was also seeking practical ideas that would lead to tangible changes and I wanted to be re-energised without adding unnecessary work to an already busy week. So I certainly wasn’t looking for a standard leadership course but something tailored to my needs – the On Purpose CEO Programme fitted that bill.

I started the On Purpose CEO Programme in January 2018. A key part of the programme is the support it provides on your choice of a strategic impact project. I chose to focus on turning Centre 33 into a more data led and insightful organisation; one that systematically uses information to best focus its resources in those areas that would have the greatest impact on young people’s lives.

The On Purpose residential gave me time to develop the strategic impact project with the Programme Team and my peer learning group. Initially, I developed a comprehensive project plan on how I was going to achieve my aims of data analyst recruitment, staff training on excel and data analysis, and regular production of meaningful statistics and reports for all levels in the organisation. Where the On Purpose CEO Programme has really added value was in enabling me to think differently as a leader and focus on organisation culture as a conduit for change. My aim was to create a culture that can question its practices, is willing to challenge the status quo, and feels empowered to enact change.  

Centre 33’s new strategy set out a collective vision to deliver and demonstrate ‘high quality and impactful services’. This vision gave the ideal platform to make the case for the cultural shift. For example, I worked with staff regarding the attitudes and beliefs that needed to be in place to foster a more insightful organisation; I looked at organisational behaviours that we needed to exhibit such as using data systematically to inform decisions; and I advocated for a change in tone at the Trustee Board, focusing on 'the how' rather than 'the why' or 'the what'.

Centre 33 and I have been on an exciting journey and already I have seen step changes. For instance, analysed data is being used consistently in internal meetings to drive improvements to our services; there is a different conversation and focus with the Trustee Board moving away from compliance to thinking more expansively and strategically about the organisation's future; and our strong data has given us greater influence in external meetings – even leading to potential funding. Above all there is an increased energy and focus to deliver the highest level of support possible for young people and a belief that we will soon have the tools to do this.

Leadership programmes in the voluntary sector are few and far between, but if we are to be effective in solving some of the most complex societal problems, we need to invest in our leaders and staff. I would encourage those in the sector to invest in themselves, ideally with programmes that combine formal, on the job and peer learning.

If you would like to learn more about the programme On Purpose are hosting a Taster event in central London on Thursday 6 September at 6pm for October 2018 or 2019 start dates. Sign up here or contact Natalie Hildon, CEO Programme Manager here.