August 10, 2016
Hubris in the sector?
By common consent, how we think about and deliver public services will change out of all recognition over the next decade. We also know that the third sector will play a big part in that change. For many years, our sector has claimed that it is uniquely well placed to do this work and that it has been continually frustrated in this by an obdurate state. None of what lies ahead will be easy, but this piece (anonymously written for the Guardian) offers some cautionary thoughts for the sector, and suggests a little humility would be no bad thing.
There is a pervading belief in the charity sector that because we all turn up to work to increase the good in the world, we cannot criticise each other. After 10 years I’ve had enough. The mantra “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” is holding me, my colleagues, and charities back.
This inability to criticise and accept criticism hurts our goals – we accept incompetence, so we raise less money and help fewer people. Then we moan to that one close colleague, fostering resentment and disillusionment. It means we don’t fight for what we believe in. This is absurd in a sector that exists to fight for what we believe.
One day, I even left work at lunchtime. The boss looked at me quizzically for a moment, but that was it.
At one charity my colleagues and I were never held to account for our actions. One colleague had a reputation for “telling it like it is”, which meant storming out of one-to-ones with her boss, slamming doors as she went. On one occasion I remember her making offensive comments as though this were normal behaviour in the workplace. Her boss and my colleagues dismissed this as “just the way she is”.
Another colleague had a habit of singling out individuals for long tirades in staff meetings. Not once did anyone suggest to senior staff that her behaviour constituted humiliating bullying. The offensive comments and bullying continued. Resentment that certain staff could behave appallingly with no consequences built, andconfidence, including mine, was shattered. Staff motivation was low and the charity suffered.
It’s not only other people either – looking back at my career I wish I had been held to account more. I did an offensively small amount of work in one role – I would walk to a colleague’s desk with a piece of paper in my hand, so it looked as if I was going to discuss work matters, but instead we’d have long conversations about what we were doing at the weekend. One day I even left work at lunchtime. The next day the boss looked at me quizzically for a moment, but that was it.
Today I cringe at how poorly I performed. I wish someone had given me a kick up the arse for wasting charitable time and money with idle chit-chat, and set out what was expected of me. I could have achieved so much more.
This doesn’t happen in the corporate sector. Friends there tell me that when sales are down or the organisation’s reputation is attacked, those responsible know all about it. And they come out fighting to fix it. The charity sector should be no different.
We’ve been nurtured to value amicable consensus above all else, even when we should be fighting for our cause and the value of our work. If we change this we could improve hundreds, maybe thousands, of charity careers and launch huge, brilliant campaigns.