There are a few things more demoralising than working in an sector that is clearly in decline.


Getting up every morning, going in to a work place where your future is uncertain, your colleagues are on a downer, management is being evasive and you’re expected to offer a great service to customers is very difficult.



Between late 2010 and early 2011, I had to manage a service that was going through a massive restructure, where 50 percent of the full time workforce lost their jobs in one hit.

It was a very somber time for our service.


I was fortunate to have been successful in gaining one of the new senior managers posts.


But celebrating my new job was difficult when many of my colleagues who I had worked with for the last 7 years were being made redundant over the next few months.


As Operational Lead, it was my responsibility to ensure that the workforce continued to deliver on our core business, while the service was being dismantled and reconfigured.


This was probably the most challenging period in my entire career.


I finally had the opportunity to really implement change within the service.


To innovate and make what I knew to be the improvements we had been waiting to see for years, but at the same time it was change that was tearing us apart.


Trying to mobilise a mourning, grieving, angry, resentful, uncertain, shaken, insecure workforce into action pushed me to the limit.


I was being stretched out of measure on a daily basis.


I had to draw for every single grain of leadership ability I had, and learn and absorb more as quickly as possible.


When I look back on that time in my career, and really assess what was going on, one key word keeps coming to mind.




It was innovation that was causing all the pain, and innovation that also held the remedy.


Why Innovation you ask?


Well, this is the crooks of this post.





Youth Work has an issue with Innovation, and need to get over it.




The use of this word in english language and literature has increased significantly over the last century, over 200 percent (According to Google).


Innovation is the buzz word of this modern, technologically advancing society we live in.


Every company, every business, every designer, every developer is striving to out innovate its competitor.


Every investor is looking for the next great innovative idea to back.

Now, we never really link innovation to pain.


But innovation is painful.




Lets look at a few synonyms:

Change, Alteration, Revolution, Upheaval, Transformation, Metamorphosis, Reorganisation, Restructuring, Rearrangement, Recasting, Remodelling, Renovation, Restyling, Variation.


Every one of those words involves the doing away of the “Old” and bringing in the “New”.


Often times we don’t mind getting something new, if we can keep hold of the old at the same time.


I’m sure you’ve still got some old shoes or trainer in your house somewhere, that used to be your favourites.


But fully letting go of what we are so used to is difficult, even painful.


Change is painful because it requires us to get outside our comfort zones and things become unfamiliar to us, and unfamiliar can be scary.


We are creatures of habit, and change messes up our routine.


Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States said,

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”


Research shows that any significant organisational change will produce the “rule of thirds.”


That is, roughly,

  • One-third of the people will be excited about the change;
  • One-third will have a “wait-and-see” attitude; and
  • One-third will oppose the change.


In my experience, it seemed like the entire workforce were in opposition, but this was not the case. It’s just that the negative and challenging situations leave more of a mark in your memory.


Innovation is what everyone is pushing and striving for.


Consultants in every industry are being paid millions to explore and implement new innovate ideas.


Innovation does not mean inventing.


Innovation can mean changing a structure or business model and adapting to changes in your environment to deliver better products or services.


Innovation is crucial to the continuing success of any organisation.


So why do we resist change so much?


Here are some of the most commonly heard reasons why people resist change:

  • Don’t understand the reason for it,
  • Lack of information,
  • Don’t see clear direction,
  • Fear loss of power, prestige, money, status, friends or work,
  • Don’t perceive a need to change,
  • Feel they have already changed (enough),
  • Don’t know what it means for them personally,
  • Are reluctant to give up something that is comfortable and familiar,
  • Were not asked for input about the change,
  • Fear that they may not be able to learn enough to be successful,
  • Have been hurt/betrayed by previous changes,
  • Don’t believe anything will really change,
  • These are all very genuine reasons that come from real feelings and emotions.


High-RopesNow, Lets just think about what we, within the youth sector, encourage, motivate and support young people to do.


We work with young people to help them explore new opportunities and embrace change in their life.


So why are so many within the youth sector resistant to change within the sector?



Change is inevitable.


If innovation refers to renewing, changing or creating more effective processes, products or ways of doing things, why resist it?


For businesses, this could mean implementing new ideas, creating dynamic products or improving your existing services.


For youth services, this could mean implementing new approaches, creating dynamic projects and programmes or improving existing services.


Innovation can be a catalyst for the survival and growth of the sector.
And like any successful enterprise, keeping the customer central is the key to success.
Everyone can and should innovate on a regular basis, with a focus on improving the service they provide to the customer.
Innovation should be an in-built part of your strategy and the strategic vision, where you create an environment and lead in innovative thinking and creative problem solving.


I understand peoples passion and enthusiasm to “fight for the cause” and save the sector.

But my take on it is this;

He who pays the piper calls the tune.


If you’re being paid by someone to deliver services, that someone can dictate exactly what they want you to do.

For years I heard youth workers moaning about how they don’t agree with the way the service is being run, or the changes being made.


But what I’ve come to realise is that it’s going to be, what it’s going to be.


If you look at those groups who are truly independent, many faith groups for example, they can serve young people in a way that they believe to be right, and are not dictated to by those who hold the purse strings.


I agree, if they apply for funding for a particular programme, then there may be conditions attached, but regarding their day to day, universal provision, they are free to do what they want.


I’m sure you will agree, that most people within the youth sector have an amazing creative ability to develop fantastic projects and programme on almost anything, and also leverage the resource to make it happen.


If they had a change of mindset, and transferred that same amazing creative ability to develop something that could fund and sustain provision for the young people they are so passionate to serve, they would have the freedom and flexibility to work with those young people in the way that they believe to most effective.


But again, innovation is the barrier.


Many fear and resist change, and therefore will never really have the opportunity to innovate.


So, If you don’t like what’s happening to the sector, and you’re passionate about serving young people, innovate and go independent.


Start your own organisation, go freelance, pool together with others who share your passion and vision.


Having gone through the transition from employee to independent myself, I know the challenges first hand.


But from the other side looking in, I encourage you to, give yourself some breathing space, then jump.
Answer this question in the comments below:


Q: What is preventing you from being innovative?
I look forward to hearing from you.