All leaders are interested in pushing performance to the next level but it is no easy task, and depending on the existing culture, it might require careful management. Still, it is always worth it, as facing the challenge of culture shift will result in boosting performance throughout the entire organisation.
What is culture anyway?
Culture is not something that can be imposed, or rather, rarely succeeds when it is. Culture is the result of consistent behaviour, attitudes and a positive disposition.
In any service or school, performance is tied intrinsically to culture. Where there is a stifling culture, performance is often mediocre. By contrast, where there is a culture of trust and support, success often follows, as does consistent growth and learning.
Here are some simple and effective change management principles and considerations for any leader working toward improving the performance of their school:
1. Start with why
For any change to take place it is important to start with a clear, strategic vision and some simple questions - be clear about the why, the how and the what. Why is this change necessary? How will it impact others? What are the benefits to the community? Communicating the strategic vision and the ‘why’ will go a long way toward establishing the need for the coming change.
There are usually five key pillars in any school:
- Co curricula
Schools generally from time to time need to consider re-energising elements of these pillars. It could be teaching and learning, assessment or reporting mechanisms; sporting or enrichment programs; pastoral structures; staffing responsibilities or their values or ethos statements. The accepted need for change in any of these key areas of school life can often be a positive outcome after acknowledging that current practices no longer meet or suit the expectations of the school community.
An example that immediately springs to mind - it amazes me that so many schools still move their year groups on to a new Head of Year every year. With what we know about the impact of positive relationships on wellbeing, how have more schools not moved to ensuring less is more here? Rotating Heads of Year every two years and cutting down from six new relationships to three was one of the best decisions I think I ever made.
2. Get middle management onboard
In smaller schools the senior leadership team may be the ones to drive the change from above and that’s fine. In larger more complex contexts, change management is often distributed to middle managers, acting as on-the-ground project managers. Their support of the change is absolutely vital in communicating a spirit of confidence to the rest of the staff, with whom they often work very closely. For example - time to reconsider how you provide feedback to parents and students?
You’re bound to fail if it is imposed from above by the Head of T+L level alone. If however your Heads of Faculty come together say with Heads of Year to agree on a new style of academic conferences with parents and students to provide them with quality feedback on performance, that is going to have a greater chance of success with those that are affected by the change directly involved in its planning and implementation.
3. Provide the essential tools
Not having the tools and infrastructure in place to support change is one of the biggest points of failure. If you want to make your change stick and be sustainable, you have to ask yourself what new skills do people need to learn and what tools do they need to get the job done. If it is a new process or system, you will need to provide induction and ongoing training. Not only does this ensure staff members have the tools they need – but it also ensures they have the time and space to live and breathe the change. Want to introduce a more student-focused pedagogy in the classroom? Spend the money on professional learning, find a few supporters in each faculty to champion the shift and showcase it among others.
4. Measure results and seek feedback
Effective change needs to be tracked and feedback on what is and isn’t working. Collecting feedback can be as simple as asking people and gaining regular insights from colleagues on the ground. When measuring results, however, you have to set metrics that connect back to the strategic vision to assess if you are meeting your aims.
5. Be patient yet intentional
There may be temptation to expect things to change immediately, or try to do everything at once - how many times have I seen that? This expectation is a recipe for frustration and failure. Be patient with your team as you implement your plan for performance improvement and build in regular meetings to specifically discuss your progress.
Challenging the normal - the ingrained way of doing things will be an uncomfortable ride, but that is not a reason not to effect change.
Be conscious of change fatigue too; the frequent pace of change might be the source of resistance. Acknowledge both of these potential realities as, and when, they arise, and be willing to adjust as you come up against roadblocks.
6. Dealing with resistance
Consult, consult and when in doubt, consult.
You might not like some of the feedback, or at times it may not be helpful, but you must allow people a voice and an opportunity to be a part of the decision. Making yourself available for lunchtime meetings over a period of time for you to engage with staff, explain the rationale and listen to their perspective is absolutely vital. While you will always have opposing views, facing them and considering all perspectives is vital in decision making, as is allowing yourself the space to change tact if needed.
Whether your goal is to improve staff performance, inspire better collaboration or create a total cultural shift, these tips will help establish the foundation for implementing change successfully. It takes time and genuine commitment. As a leader you need to be absolutely resolute in your end goal, but flexible enough to adapt the roadmap to suit your context and daily challenges. Remember, schools are about people, not buildings or premierships - your staff, students and parent body are your greatest resources and will at some point be your greatest champions to support your cause. Treat them with the respect they deserve.