Starting with the difference you want to make

We were delighted to host a roundtable on 11th June at Bristol Zoo with several leading charities from Bristol and the south west.

Xavier Brice, CEO of Sustrans, delivered a compelling talk on his experience of strategic leadership through times of great change. His presentation drew on his experience as ‘Boris Johnson’s Bike Mechanic’ when he introduced the cycle superhighways to London;  his leadership in closing ticket offices across the Underground and more recent work at Sustrans.

His approach to change is simple yet profound. In his view, organisations often start with thinking about the money they have available, the people they can afford and the impact they can therefore deliver with the resources at their disposal.

Xavier makes the point that this is a fear-based view of the world, based on the mindset that there is a scarcity of resources. Represented pictorially, it looks like an inverted triangle with the biggest focus – money – is on top, and the level of impact is the smallest consideration, the narrow point at the bottom. One of the problems with this approach is that when it comes to people, organisations focus on holding on to them, rather than asking “are these the right people in the first place?”

Xavier’s view is that the triangle needs to be upended so that the organisation starts with the question of impact. Next, they work out the people and resources required and the final step is to seek the money. Essentially, we should start with our ambitions, not our limitations. This is a radical change of mindset with the point that if you put your vision out there, often the resources will follow.

The presentation described how in numerous situations this positive and aspirational shift in thinking has enabled organisations to navigate choppy waters and deliver exceptional outcomes. 

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