There’s a fine line between pushing others into something new and letting them decide for themselves.
It was only a matter of time. The decision to cut the budget by more than 50% was formally not yet taken, but only a miracle could save the organisation, a big music school in the South of the Netherlands. The school was mainly funded by subsidies. And as the crisis hit, government at all levels were suddenly short of money. The cultural sector was badly affected.
I asked the school director about viable alternatives. They had ideas, some with great potential, but so far not a single person within the organisation was willing to or capable of taking action. They all seemed to be waiting, hoping for another round of subsidies, hoping for a miracle.
From his room I could see a giant Cathedral, a copy of the St-Peter in Rome. The town was small and sleepy, so this was the least of places where I was expecting such a huge building. But then again: Roman Catholics never end surprising me.
A job well done but not leading to the desired result
I was being asked to lead a full-day session with the whole staff. And the idea struck me that the best thing to do would be to have a daylong prayer. It was the best thing to do if waiting for a miracle.
But the idea was to help people start thinking more creatively about their future and the future of the school, to help them think in terms of options instead of miracles. The school director hoped to reinvigorate the school and put it back on track on a different financial basis, with less government support. So I discarded the daylong prayer.
The day went well. And my co-facilitator and me led the group of 30 through an energizing programme in which we created space for people to think off and consider new possibilities.
However the impact of the day was way less than I had expected (though my client thought just the opposite). I sensed that not a single person in the group would be willing to make a difference and roll up his or her sleeves.
Be pushy and organise a miracle…
Should I have been more pushy towards taking action in my approach? The group would have resisted but the issues would have been clearly on the table. But my client also didn’t want me to stir the pot too strongly. The process was meant to be smooth even though the results might be lower.
So afterwards I was left with the awkward feeling of a job well done that did not reach up to my expectations. A few months later I heard that the smooth approach had backfired as the subsidies were cut by 70% percent.
Next time I should organise a miracle by pushing them more. Really! It’ll help people to cross the fine line they don’t want to cross by themselves.