Helping to see the wood among a forest of priorities

Lichfield Cathedral

Consultant: David Saint

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David Saint

“David has extensive experience in our sector, which gave him a sympathy and understanding of where we were. He has the ability to tactfully narrow down to the nub of the issue and apply just the right amount of pressure to bring out your best. This has been a really valuable exercise.”

Simon Warburton, Executive Director, Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral is one of the most beautiful, historic and architecturally unique cathedrals in England. Beneath its three medieval spires, day-to-day Cathedral life is a hive of activity, with various needs vying for the attention of Executive Director Simon Warburton.

In 2020, with Covid-19 throwing a sizeable spanner into the works, Simon found himself trying to rationalise a vast and growing list of priorities, which had begun to lack form and direction. In particular, the strategic vision, last updated in 2014, was in need of review.

Simon’s Fundraising Director brought his attention to our Pearls of Wisdom campaign and they decided to apply for David Saint’s Troubleshooting offer. While the cathedral was certainly not beset by troubles, as the offer title might suggest, the promise of help in putting these various priorities in order was appealing and they were delighted when their bid was successful.

Pearl of Wisdom:
Troubleshooting - from Action Planning Chairman David Saint.

David began by asking Simon what was the main question or problem he needed help with. They spent some time narrowing that down and agreed that the strategic vision was where they could make the most difference.

Having agreed on their objective, David began to look through strategic documents, current funding applications and other paperwork, getting a feel for where the opportunities lay. Over a series of Zoom calls, he supported Simon in a first sift through his priorities, helping to streamline them, commenting on evolving documentation and ensuring the priorities were meaningful for an external audience.

David advised Simon and built his confidence as he prepared for various meetings with the Dean, Chapter (governing body) and other senior members of staff. As work progressed, he was asked to facilitate a meeting between the Dean, the Leader of the County Council, the Chief Executive of the Diocese and Simon, to look for synergy between the strategic priorities of each of these stakeholders and how they might work more closely together for mutual benefit.

David began work in June and continued to support Simon through to the beginning of 2021.

The outcome of David’s work with Simon was a revised set of strategic objectives, including a plan for coming out of Covid, which was adopted by the governing body and cascaded from the top down. Simon reports that it has had “a really positive effect and provided a renewed focus as we hope to be coming out of COVID”.

Consultant’s insight:
When everything seems both urgent and important, how on earth can you prioritise? Especially when different stakeholders have differing opinions on quite how urgent and/or important each priority might be? Really, the only way is to apply fairly rigorous logic, blended with a healthy dose of pragmatism. But this can be very hard to do when you are in the thick of it. So I was delighted when Simon asked me to work with him to try to bring some sort of order to multiple competing priorities. Simon and his colleagues are the experts in managing the ‘business’ of the Cathedral – my role was to keep asking the right questions so that the logic behind each priority became clearer, and to challenge assumptions so that pragmatic choices were ‘refined by fire’.

About Pearls of Wisdom:
Pearls of Wisdom is our campaign to mark the 30th anniversary of Action Planning, for which we have given away £100,000 worth of free consultancy, spread over 56 separate packages. You can read more about it here.

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