Monday, 26 October 2009

An eventful week...

So, we have to move from one of our current sites - and we have to have a new site ready to occupy from the beginning of the next academic year! Quite a challenge, given that we do not yet have a clear and agreed option.

Have spent the last 2 weeks (or so!) in detailed discussions with out LEA and Leadership Team exploring about 20 odd possibilities; briefing staff and governors; writing to parents, letting pupils know (interesting challenge as we are a Special School with a range of relatively low-functioning pupils) and finally waiting for the storm to break, I am very pleased at the lack of response.

For me, the message from all of this is the value and success of letting people know as soon as possible about a situation that will affect them. In this situation the message had to be "We have to move but we don't know where to. We will keep you in touch, listen to and address your concerns." Now that might seem like a non-message but it has been very well received and my faith in people to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity has been reaffirmed. Some will need more support that others through this journey and we have put/are putting in place support mechanisms.

As a change leadership professional (I have to earn a living somehow!) I am often asked about the critical actions during change - my answer always includes "Communicate, communicate, communicate". Even when there is nothing to say, you have to say that there is nothing to say, in order to quell the rumour machine.

So far, so good.

Saturday, 24 October 2009


I spent 90 minutes yesterday with school colleagues being updated on the latest stuff re safeguarding.Very useful although I have offered feedback about the dire 'lesson plan' - if one of our teachers had delivered the lesson they would have done well to get "Unsatisfactory"!

Still I did learn a bit and it was particularly relevant in the light of my recent participation in a Disciplinary hearing in respect of a (now ex-) staff member who had failed to co-operate in the CRB process.To cut a long story short, it has taken an VERY excessive length of time to dismiss an employee who was offered a conditional contract (conditional on satisfactory CRB check). The circumstances were that, for a while, they worked during the processing of their check (always supervised, etc so minimal risk)

BIG question...once ISA gets up and running we will break the law if we employ anyone without ISA Registration, but they still need a CRB so dare we let anyone actually start work with ISA but not CRB? Personally, I woudl not do so but the delays in the CRB process are such that to make such a conditional offer might seriously disrupt staffing arrangements.

We need assurances that applications will be processed much faster in the future than at present, and we need processes that rapidly 'get rid of' actual or potential staff who do not co-operate in new or revised checks. HR are concerned about the employment law implications of being so harsh, I am concerned about safeguarding and would hope that any Tribunal would weigh the risks and find that safeguarding 'trumped' the other issues.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

People who plan the battle, rarely battle the plan

We face a challenging year or more with significant change for pupils, staff, parents and all stakeholders.The challenge in change is not to 'design a solution' or to 'manage the processes', it is to keep the people on board.

I recall making myself slightly(?!) unpopular with a new Managing Director once when they guy spent half an hour expounding what he was going to do to the company and I asked "Well, that all sounds interesting Mr XXX, but I do wonder if you understand that you will get what the 4500 people who work here want and that may not be what you say will happen".

Well sometimes as leaders we have to make difficult decisions (whoever said leadership would be easy had not been there!) and we should not shirk from them. However implementation needs all of our people on board and that is truly what leadership is about - helping the people get to somewhere they might not have thought of going themselves.

There is no room for "mushroom management"; exhortations just tire out the voice; instruction leads, at best, to compliance. Only genuine involvement in the processes of designing (if possible) the end-point and figuring out how to get there leads to commitment.

Schools, and Education Authorities, can sometimes be very bureaucratic organisations, often led by formalities around statutory processes. But just because we have a formal process to go through does not mean that we cannot treat our stakeholders as human individuals with current needs for information, clarity and support. Those of us involved in change and leadership know full well that it is the 'dark' side of organisations that gets things done - the informal networks through which things can be made to happen, or not. We must feed and work this informal side of the organisation well - their power is such that we need them with us not against us.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Principles of Effective Communications

We have a big change facing us (our pupils and staff to be more accurate) and I have been thinking about what principles need to lay behind our communications. I came up with these, based on some work I did a few years ago when I was facilitating a major organisational change. What do you think? Should we add/subtract anything?

• Those most affected will be the first to hear
• Our people will hear things first from their managers
• We will use multiple channels to communicate with our people
• “One hymn, one hymn sheet”
• We will be as quick to give any bad news as the good
• We will be as open as possible
• Face-to-face will be our preferred route for all major communications
• Wherever possible we will avoid jargon, where not possible we will explain it
• Individuals making decisions will have personal accountability for ensuring that those affected by the decision are communicated with effectively
• We will ensure that there is an unfiltered feedback route from our people to the top team
• There will be regular updates on progress
• We recognise the existence of The Grapevine and will try to be sure that it deals in facts not fiction

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

I wish we were not here...

How often have you found yourself somewhere you would rather not be? Not in a geographic sense (although I would generally rather be in the South of France then here!) but in the sense that 'stuff' has happened, or not happened, that leaves your GB in a situation that you think could be better - could have been better - had there been more forethought and/or strategic thinking as the 'stuff' went on without your involvement. Well, that's where we find ourselves at the moment. I won't go into the detail, because I don't think it will help to air the specific detail, but what concenrs me is how we handle the situation from here on in.

We are in a situation where it seems to me that there has been a serious lack of joined-up-thinking, lack of future planning, lack of full consideration of the consequences of a decision that has big effects on us and we are left making the best of a pretty bad situation in a ridiculously short timescale.

Option 1 - create a mega-fuss about lack of involvement etc.
Option 2 - accept that we are where we are and seek the best solution now available
Option 3 - take option 2 and subsequently have a pst-mortem with the intent of learning how to avoid the same thing happening to others.

Creating a mega-fuss (and it could be very mega) would be the first response of many, yet it would only divert attention from the very real urgent need to solve our problem.

Acceptance is necessary yet to simply accept misses the point about learning (and we are operating in a learning environment aren't we?)

So Option 3 seems like the way forward. It causes all sorts of emotional hassle because as others find out what a mess we are in their emotional response kicks in and needs handling, and that itself diverts attention. We need to find ways of handling the emotional response in such a way that it energises our search for a solution rather than creates barriers - we need to recognise that as individuals we have different degrees of tolerance for cock-ups and differently strong reactions; those who react strongly need especial help to deal with their response so that they can move on. Classic Elisabeth Kubler-Ross territory.

How often, I wonder, have I (or you) failed to deal with, or harness, the emotional issues arising from change in a constructive way - they are inevitable, we cannot and should not deny them, yet how many of our organisations are equipped to cater for this eventuality?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Reducing time on admin at meetings

First meeting of the year coming up - admin, admin, admin...

We have some very significant issues on our agenda yet we still have to do all the stuff about appointing committees, Code of Conduct etc. Think I am going to establish whether or not we need to do all this every year or if we can just do it once and change when necessary.