• Kelly Cunningham

‘Keeping the lights on’ and re-imaging the future

Updated: Apr 1

Through York MCN we are continually working with people to think about the challenge of the now and the future we want to see, and it throws up lots of questions.


Who is the setting the agenda? The Network? York place based associates? People with lived experience? Everyone? Those at the top of the tree?

Where is the time and energy? How can this be created?


We’re thinking this through…so imagine you’re a busy operations manager working in the VCSE.


You may find yourself asking questions such as “Could this be easier? Who is this rule serving? Is this process creating barriers we just don’t need?”


You don’t have the immediate answers so you shift blame to your finance team who appear inflexible, your HR lead who starts every sentence with ‘can we just consider the risk to…’, or your rigid commissioning manager who’s driven by key performance indicator submissions.


So, what next?

You try to tweak things, you edit a process and re-train your team but still wonder why you need approval from your board of trustees for ‘that thing over there’.

You still feel like ‘this thing over here’ is culturally embedded and when you ask that simple question ‘Why?’ you hear something along the lines of: ‘Well, that’s just how we have always done it’.


Throw in the frantic juggle of budget efficiencies in to the mix, daily operational headaches and the mountain of emails from staff seeking approval and it begs the question- does this busy operations manager have the time to actually think of alternatives?


How do we carve out time, space, freedom, permission to dream big? And what does this require of an operations manager in terms of skills and mindset? Does stepping out of our comfort zone mean we lose control?


There is no blueprint or toolkit for this. But, on a positive note we are seeing greater resourcing for this work/breathing space.


Maybe it’s a call for bravery which goes beyond just the chance to challenge and a need for more disruption. Maybe it’s a call to stop fixating on fixing and to spend longer on the ‘why’ rather than jumping straight to the ‘how’. Maybe it’s a call to stop focusing on the importance of getting a comfy seat in the diagnosis phase just until you are ready to stretch into strategy.

We like to think about this about this in terms of the three horizons model (Bill Sharpe)



The three Horizons over time




Horizon 1 – the dominant system. It represents ‘business as usual’. Focus is on the “what”?

Horizon 2 - At some point the innovations become more effective than the original system – this is a point of disruption. Focus is on the “how”?

Horizon 3 - It is the long term successor to business as usual – the radical innovation that introduces a completely new way of doing things. Focus on the word ‘new’ - this is viewed differently by different people, as we have seen in York through the Network discussions. Focus is on the “why”?

Through the York MCN network we have and shall continue exploring where the energy is and what governance structures we can collectively put in place to help build a scaffold rather than a cage for that busy operations manager to perhaps re-imagine a better way.

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