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You Want to See the Culture Change, Others Don’t – Who Blinks?

November 1, 2019, 3:10 GMT+1
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  • Your efforts at changing the school’s culture began so well, but now they’ve started to falter. What should your next move be?
You Want to See the Culture Change, Others Don’t – Who Blinks?

It’s the start of a new year. You’ve had a great summer break, and now it’s time to present your vision for the school’s future to your colleagues and pupils. At the staff meeting you confidently outline where the future lies and the culture, behaviours and actions that will get the school there. It goes like a dream, and it seems everyone’s on board…

Six weeks later, something doesn’t feel right. A growing proportion of your colleagues seem to have forgotten the behaviours and actions you made the case for so convincingly just a short time ago. How should an effective leader put this right?

1. Express the purpose

A 1913 newspaper advert once read: ‘Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold … safe return doubtful.’ Yet 5,000 people responded to Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment advert for his third Antarctic expedition. Why? Because people thrive on having purpose. When you delivered your compelling vision, did you explain the purpose behind the change in culture you want to see? Did you engage people and encourage them to own what needed to be achieved? Or simply give them a to-do list?

2. Be honest

Leaders reap what they tolerate. If something doesn’t fit with your organisation’s culture, it’s your responsibility to be honest and address it. Leaders must often embrace discomfort and have difficult conversations that will ultimately lead to positive outcomes, so meet with your SLT. Ask what they’ve observed and share what you’ve learnt yourself. If they agree that things have started slipping, take action.

At the next staff meeting, acknowledge that you perhaps haven’t been sufficiently clear with everyone about why change was needed and their roles in making it happen. Be honest, stress that it’s okay to make mistakes and explain that you want to help people better understand the ‘why’ in what they’re doing.

3. Hammer it home

The only way to make a new culture stick is for its advocates to become broken records for the cause. Every minute of every day, you and your senior colleagues should go out of your way to catch people getting it right. Overdo the genuine ‘thank-yous’ and allocate time each week – in meetings, assemblies, emails – to acknowledge those behaviours and attitudes that support the new way of doing things. You’ll see colleagues gradually feel more valued and increasingly commit to the new vision.

Failing to resolve small issues can cause bigger problems to arise later on. If you notice a derailing behaviour, address it, though bear in mind that minor failings will often be unintended. Always approach such situations courageously, humanely, quietly and personally.

Katherine Powell is an executive coach and director of Lead Without Limits.

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