I started doing week notes nearly a year ago and about six months ago they become a record of both my week and my response to the pandemic. I’ve also reached just over three years as Chief Executive of Renaisi, so I’m going to use this week to reflect a bit.

Three years

I’m in an action learning set of other Chief Executives, and our facilitator asked us about our legacy. Or less grandly, what state our organisations would be in if we were hit by a bus. I gave a quick answer on the day but have dwelt on it a bit more since. A lot of the things about Renaisi that I think are great, are to do with the work of my wonderful colleagues. They are the ones that are making sure our work supporting economically excluded Londoners is relevant, high quality and impactful. They are the ones who listen to and learn from our clients, helping organisations of all sizes think about and understand their work, their impact, their teams and their strategies. They are the ones who are sorting through our finances and supporting our team members.

What, therefore, have I done?

  • I’ve made Renaisi and our strategy more explicitly about place, and I’ve tried to put our values and purpose at the heart of that. My first year was about simplifying what we do, before starting to build it up again.
  • I’ve made external communications and partnership development much more important, and in collaboration with lots of the team, I think I’ve helped raise Renaisi’s profile as a thoughtful and relevant organisation, that does, advises, thinks and acts on our mission. That was a lot of my work in year two.
  • To make that strategy real I’ve kicked off work in two of the places we know best, Hackney and Southwark, and I am connecting a lot of the learning (prioritising learning is another thing) from across our organisation into ‘place’ in general and those places in particular. That has been the focus of the last year.
  • I hope I’ve given space for lots of other people to lead and manage in the team – and I see their work in the breadth of our relationships, the impact of our projects, but also in things like the massively improved internal systems and the much more efficient use of resources. Renaisi is a much easier organisation to manage and understand thanks to so many people incrementally improving our practice over time.
  • What I haven’t done is significantly change the leadership of the organisation. At senior levels across the executive side, we’re still very white. Nor do I feel like I’ve cracked the business model. Things are tight, and each year feels hard.

If I were hit by a bus, whoever took over would be lucky to lead a brilliant organisation of excellent people, and they would have a lot of things to build on, but they’d also be taking on a few tough challenges. There’s always more to do.

One year

The last year, despite everything, has been the best for me as Chief Executive. I’m a Stoic by nature and I do believe difficulty reveals things about us to ourselves and the world. I’ve realised that it takes a lot of time for strategic shifts, new relationships and long-term business development to pay off. I’m starting to see the fruits of our work now. I thought it would all be a lot quicker, given I’d been at Renaisi for so long before taking over. But it doesn’t seem to work like that, and three years has been the turnaround time to make Renaisi what I believe it should be.

 Six months

Despite what I say above, the last six months have been really bloody hard.

As I look back at our COVID-19 response plan, where we tried to pull the organisation through different stages – before the pandemic into the initial crisis, that weird time in April and May when everyone was getting good at WFH but knew it wouldn’t last, to the forward-facing reset months before summer, to us taking stock in August – everyone, from the frontline to the board, has been brilliant.

We’re now into the next phase, and this one feels like it could be six months by itself. Who knows what we’re looking at over the autumn and winter, but we’re over the shock. We’ve steadied the ship but we have no idea how wide the sea is between here and the post-pandemic shores.

Two weeks

Before children I took a couple of three-week holidays with my partner, and I always two full weeks off and away each year. I remember long train journeys to the south of Spain and reading ludicrous amounts of books. I remember resting.

North Devon scenery

This year my two-week holiday saw the four of us have a week away in North Devon, and then I did some jobs around the house for a week. I did read a couple of books this time though. Breath by James Nestor and Autumn by Ali Smith, alongside almost all of an edition of the London Review of Books. I miss the reading, but also I miss the space you can give your head. I used to come back from holiday overflowing with ideas and new connections. Now I feel like I have one or two. All the more reason to try and hold on to the them.

Anyway, I wouldn’t swap that for digging holes on the beach with little people. It sounds like I’m complaining, but I don’t mean to. I just have to find ideas and energy from different places now.

Four days

Another thing I wouldn’t swap, is my Fridays. I don’t work Fridays and haven’t since my eldest was born. The loss of money pales in comparison to the benefit. But there are some weeks, like the first week back in work after a two-week holiday, where it just isn’t possible to get all your work done in four days. I think that’s definitely something I’ve gotten better at in three years (although I still have a long way to go), I’m more accepting of what is possible, and more discerning of what matters.

John Hitchin Renaisi CEO