First of all I want to say that I am passionate about change management and the need to understand the impact of change on personnel, culture and the outcomes we are trying to achieve. I know that rapid change can have significant implications and global leaders in this field such as Michael Fullan (Education), Dr John Kotter (Business) and many others through their writings and workshops are key mentors of mine. I want to present an alternative perspective however, especially in the context of education, given that our company‘s core business is to set up, manage schools and also improve school management.
Lets put some context around change management in an educational context:
Parent: My child is in grade 8 and I am very concerned about the quality of teaching that is happening and will likely occur over the next 1-2 years. How can you be sure that my child will be well prepared for grade 10 and beyond? My child has 8 teachers and I am only confident in the ability of one or two of them. What can be done?
Administrator: I would love to quickly turn this around however I have to be concerned about change management. I ask you to be patient about the quality of teaching your child receives from their teachers. It may take me some time to turn this around.
Yes, I am exaggerating to make a point but sometimes time is of the essence. When a child’s education is in your hands, turn-around requires urgent action.
When I was first appointed as a Principal I took over from a colleague who was at that school for 26 years. It was no secret that the school required change and that I would face some resistance from a school culture that was very resistant to change. The standard textbook approach would be to say that there should be little change initially and that we should be patient and measured in our approach.
I could not accept that though.
It was not that I did not have patience or that I did not understand the benefits of effective change management. It is the fact that children’s education is too important to take the “steady as we go” approach while we wait for people to adapt.
What did I do?
Make it clear that there will be changes
The facts were clear. I was a new Principal taking over from a longstanding principal. To deny, or pretend, that there would not be significant change was just fanciful. That does not deny that many things in place were not already good. Staff need to know that you are authentic, trustworthy and honest. Being clear up front sets the tone. In any organisation there are staff that want change and staff that do not. It make sense to find out quickly who will rally support and who will block.
Frame all change in the perspective of what is best for students and staff
It is very tough to argue against change that benefits all stakeholders. If it is principled and framed by undeniable values then resistance will look futile. When you demonstrate that you genuinely care for students and staff it is appreciated. I am not suggested a con job either. I am suggesting a genuine commitment to improving things for everyone.
Create opportunities for staff to have buy in to the changes
Committees, interest groups and key leaders who were clearly important change agents need to be involved. Not only will they ensure the changes have buy in and ownership, these key people have powerful influence over school culture. It is often easier to get buy in when staff know that the change will occur anyway. Professional people prefer to be involved rather be than victims of poor choices. Leaders need to understand that genuine buy in means listening to people who know things you don’t. Their knowledge about the issues are invaluable to you and to making the changes successful.
Focus change more directly on standards and outcomes rather than the process
My view was that I have a right to set the standards and outcomes but that staff could, and should, determine the best way. It is a leaders responsibility to set high standards and lead change towards that but it is naive to think that leaders know the only way. There are many paths to achieving success and local knowledge, including politics within the stakeholders, can be an obstacle if not harnessed for a positive purpose. Be clear about what you want to achieve then ask others how they think it is best achieved.
Be a good person
Stay true to your core values and beliefs. Empathise, be thoughtful and care about everyone. Making change should not be about power or achievement. Your passion and motivation should be grounded in a belief that what you are doing is important and in everyones interests. Authoritarian or autocratic leaders make changes to satisfy there own needs. “Because I want to make change” is not the reason and it is not the way. Authenticity can’t be faked. Be sincere and follow through with your promises.
Bend, don’t break relationships
I have often shared the analogy of a green branch as a metaphor for professional relationships.. In our professional lives, as leaders, we might sometimes need to bend, influence and persuade but we must never break the relationship. A mentor of mine once backed down amidst a conflict that I felt was on his side. I was surprised at his decision to step away and not hold ground on a matter that was important. He explained that when things go wrong, the level of influence we have over a broken relationship is almost zero. Be aware of the implications or consequences of an important relationship in your organisation. Some influence is better than none. A person in your circle might move their position over time. Your relationships, in all forms, are sacred. There are times you might need to step back from a point of no return. Understand the consequences of a push too far.
Again, I want to stress that I completely believe and and I am committed to effective change management within all organisations but lets not confuse this philosophy with complacency. Schools need great leaders. They need strong and courageous people to stand up and make a difference.
There is a way to change things fast.
Do not be afraid of big ideas and passion to make a difference!
Check out Greg’s video on this topic!
CEO and Education Expert
Global Services in Education set up and manage schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
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