The importance of step six


If there’s anything I’ve learnt while working in the charity sector, it’s that “working for a charity” doesn’t automatically mean feeling good about what you do, the people you work for, or even the cause. Working life still brings the same trials and tribulations that it does in the private sector or the public sector.

So, like anyone else, a charity worker – and that covers a multitude of vocations of course – is susceptible to overwork, stress, difficult relationships, disagreements with the boss, and job dissatisfaction. In fact, I would argue that this can be even more so than in the commercial sector. This is because lower than average rates of pay, expectation that above and beyond is the norm, and assumption on the part of managers, donors and service users that motivation is always there simply because there is a cause to get out of bed for, means that sometimes inadequate attention is given to the proper, proactive nurturing, development, appreciation and care of staff.

The other thing that I’ve been cogitating on is that for most people the days of the very structured career working up a hierarchy or ladder, and staying with an organisation for many years, are gone. Even traditionally static Civil Servants now are far more mobile than they used to be. The world of work is a true melting pot, and individuals move from job to job, sector to sector, company to charity, charity to company, far more often than a few years ago.

These observations lead me to a belief that now more than ever, individuals in the charity sector should take responsibility for making change happen when they reach a point in their career where it is difficult to leap out of bed every morning ready to fight for the cause. Or, for that matter, simply when difficult relationships or a lack of job satisfaction are leading to itchy feet or plain unhappiness.

When we want to introduce change in an organisation there are some basic steps. Whilst recognising that various management models will break this down further, add in feedback loops, and all sorts of other fancy stuff (we consultants have a lot to answer for!) these are:

  1. Recognise the need for change
  2. Identify, define and recognise the status quo
  3. Consider the options for change (including any merits of the status quo)
  4. Decide where we want to be
  5. Work out how to get there
  6. Implement!

OK … so now let’s apply those “change management” steps to an unhappy individual employee:

  1. Recognise the need for change (I’m not enjoying my job and I don’t see things improving)
  2. Identify, define and recognise the status quo (Is it me? / Is it my boss? / Have I moved on? / Am I being left behind?)
  3. Consider the options for change (Stick it out / Seek changes to my role / Internal move / External move / Career change / Move to Tibet to find myself)
  4. Decide where we want to be (I want to run my own business / work for The United Nations / become a teacher)
  5. Work out how to get there (Training / Study / Job-hunting / Fly to Tibet)
  6. Implement! (the brave bit)*

* Ah … step six. There’s the rub! Many of us will think though steps one to three regularly, lots of us will get to four, and some even to five. However, actually making things happen is a lot harder. It will require a leap of faith, considerable hard work, financial and/or reputational risk, and time we feel we don’t have. Or perhaps several or all of these things.

But it is SO important, simply because working through five steps of six is not going to make things better. If we are unhappy in our work then it is only by taking step six that we will see things change. In fact, this applies not just to work, but to relationships, studies, healthy lifestyle decisions, and so on. To life, in fact!

It’s not rocket science (don’t you just love a clichĂ©), it’s just common sense.

I’m not suggesting that if someone has a bad day at work that it’s time to move on. Or a bad week. Or even a bad month. But at work, and even in the charity sector, we shouldn’t live with things that make us unhappy for too long. No step six means no action and no action means no change. Yes, there will be risks and yes, there will be other people and responsibilities to consider, but life is far too short to be counting to five over and over again.

Based on an earlier article re-published July 2023