My mistake cost my charity four members of staff and my pride
Posted on October 30, 2014
A tech social enterprise I co-founded ran out of money. It was my fault. And I had to make four people redundant. I’ve never had to deal with that before, and I was overwhelmed with shame and guilt.
I’ve morphed from puppy dog to hang dog over the past few months. At the third and final residential for the Clore Social Leadership programme, I arrived feeling pretty low. It’s been a tough, old summer.
My deadly mistake was a schoolboy one. I fully knew the HMRC needed to be paid each month when folks are on salaries, but with the myriad of other responsibilities I had inveigled myself in, I hadn’t checked that it was happening for the staff working on our app. Salaries were going out, and that was the number one thing.
When it was discovered in July that we owed HMRC a hunk, we realised the money was basically up. Suddenly, this powerhouse of a team of four, got reduced to zero. All because of my oversight.
The bill is paid, no one is liable, all four employees are now in great, secure, much better-paid jobs. And, the platform we’ve developed is ripe for being whitelabelled for other companies and organisations who want to use it. It’s the end of a chapter, not the story. Despite all this, and the fact that my primary charity, Spark+Mettle, was simultaneously going from strength to strength, the guilt and shame would not budge for months. So I arrived in Nottingham to see my Clore Social peers with low energy and low self-esteem.
The first morning of the residental we were asked to draw our journey since the start of the programme, and where we felt it was heading. Mine was filled with craggy peaks, gently flowing rivers, the whirlpool of doom (signifying my low summer) with towering mountains beyond. But, crucially, I included the Clore Social Supplies Ltd – a store packed to the rafters with all the tools and equipment any emerging leader might need to get out of whirlpools and over mountains.
We had a stellar line up of speakers and activities over the week, but it was the penultimate day that I loved the best. A sports coach led a session around the importance of conversation in allowing us and those with whom we work to perform at our best. For someone who felt she was performing at her worst, it couldn’t have been more appropriate. The nub of the day came down to a simple but effective formula: performance = goals + skills + mental attitude. His theory was two-fold. As leaders we often spend a huge amount of time looking at developing goals to improve performance, and then spend some time supporting others to develop skills to achieve them.
But that’s not the half of it. It’s people’s mental attitudes that are crucial to being high-performers. As leaders we don’t think about supporting people’s mental attitudes enough, and when we do, our approaches to motivation are often unskillful. So it is through a conversation – a calm, encouraging, focused conversation that we can encourage those we work with to be determined.
Through the conversations I had, I realised what an effect the week had in shifting my own mental attitude to a more positive one, and how combining that with small steps, I was actually feeling a lot stronger than I had done for several weeks. I’m certainly no wide-eyed puppy these days, but if I had a tail, it would likely be wagging once more.
This blog first appeared in the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network as part of the 'Diary of a Clore Social Fellow' series.
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