In this blog, John Hitchin CEO shares five thoughts on how we can create a more inclusive culture at Renaisi so we can deliver on a new strategy.

Our new strategy will centre on a very literal call to action:

“Let’s push things forward”.

It addresses the fact we are tired of the same conversations about social change with little real change emerging. Too often, we have the same research, the same debates, the same platitudes, and the same business models, which drive the same behaviours.

More of the same is not the answer. Instead, we must re-think how we work, who we work with and what we expect of each other. So this year, we’re creating opportunities for conversations about that in a series of events starting on 23 March.

At the same time, that re-thinking needs to happen within Renaisi – with our people – as much as elsewhere. So, how do we create the culture that enables us to push things forward inclusively? 

Renaisi team members smiling and chatting together.

In this blog, I want to set the terrain with five thoughts that I’ll be referring back to as we develop our culture. Some of this has been influenced by an excellent Maurice Mitchell piece on building resilient organisations.

1, Emotional connections between feelings of power and impact

The most strongly, emotionally committed people I know in the social sector are often the most angry and frustrated. They feel the most disconnect between what they’re doing and the impact they feel they’re having. 

We need to be willing to talk about the emotional connection we have to our work. There is a balance to be struck between emotions and our defined responsibilities – rather than a side to pick.

How do we make more job roles feel powerful? This one feels hard to progress, but we’ll be exploring how to strike a balance between organisational needs and individual self-efficacy – and we’ll share what we learn.

2, Clear responsibilities for flexible roles

Too often, rigid job roles can be a barrier to the kind of change we need.

If we’re serious about collaboration and using different business models, then it’s harder to give people jobs with fixed, heavily structured JDs that don’t allow for much adaptation and responsiveness. 

Yet we also know that clarity is essential for confidence, well-being, and development, so role flexibility can be a barrier to inclusive cultures if it’s poorly done. 

There’s a real risk that as budgets are cut, roles could get too defined: ‘just do this’, or too loose: ‘do everything you can’.

We need ways to lean into clarity of responsibility while allowing roles to shift and move – at all levels. So as we begin our new strategy, we’re keen to see how we can shift some of our roles within our teams to enable this. We know some small organisations do it well, and we’re keen to learn and share more on this front as we go.

3, Expertise – lived and learnt

I have a strong, negative reaction to how a lot of lived experience work is talked about in our sector. It so often starts well-meaning but ends up in some form of intellectually confused, patronising, tokenistic exercise that risks undermining the very purpose of shifting the power dynamics in our work. 

A non-exhaustive list of issues includes: 

  • turning people into ‘professional beneficiaries’ and defining them solely through the lens of the experience that we’re working with them on;
  • under acknowledgement that everyone has lived and learnt experience, and that simple binaries degrade us all; 
  • a muddle of approaches to payment or compensation for time and experience which can lead to people feeling an unclear and conflicted sense of value; 
  • a lack of responsibility from the organisation on what they themselves should decide upon and do, rather than pass over to the ‘community’.

Unless we’re all serious about acknowledging those challenges, we’ll never find a way through this to genuinely work in partnership and shift power to be more inclusive. 

Over the year ahead, we’re going to pull together our learning from a variety of organisations we’re supporting around participatory practice to think critically about this.

4, We don’t have to be perfect to be better

From the Mitchell piece:

A glass houses approach prioritises perfection (usually of a small group of people) over progress (on a societal level) by establishing unattainable tests that can consume individuals and organisations in a journey toward personal or organisational perfection at the detriment of broad and urgent change. This fixation with small utopianism can be both frustrating and unfulfilling. I would argue that “doing the work” should be viewed as ongoing day-to-day practice. This requires deep commitment to sharpening internal practices and culture as well as to improving and evaluating on a continuum.

We can all be much, much better at building inclusive cultures than we are. We should talk much more openly about what’s going well and what isn’t. But that shouldn’t stop us from getting on with our work. 

The only way forward is to talk about our progress publicly and not be ashamed of doing so. That’s why we’re committing to a series of events and creating more opportunities to talk more openly. Get in touch if you’d like to learn about those events

5, Finding the joy

I’ve had a few interesting conversations about joy recently. Some people love a request for more explicit acknowledgement of it in their work, others treat it with a healthy dose of suspicion – what are we really talking about here?

My view is that any work of change and improvement should find joy. If you’re doing a good job well, and you’re doing it with others, there is deep joy in that, even if you’re working on challenging or heart-breaking things. 

That appreciation of joy in our work can get lost because our roles obscure what we’re doing, or we’re not honest about the change we are and aren’t making, or because we prioritise looking worthy.

We should be joyful, but it will only come if we’re doing the other things, too – genuinely shifting power, having an impact, and seeing change. 

Joy comes from real, not surface-level, work and if we’re noticing more joy in our work, then maybe it’s an indicator worth paying attention to. We’re not going to measure this, but I am committed to noticing it – both when it’s there and when it’s not – and using that to tell me something about the organisation I’m in and the people I’m working with.

These five things aren’t sufficient, but they feel essential based on what I’ve understood about the challenges that we still face as an organisation in the social sector. If you’d like to share your thoughts on developing inclusive cultures, please get in touch …

John Hitchin Renaisi CEO