Positive leadership through the change curve

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Emma Gray, chief finance and operations officer, Cotswold Beacon Academy Trust, tells us why you shouldn’t be afraid of change

In response to criticism of his change in political party allegiance, it was Winston Churchill who said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” We know that the education industry changes incessantly in nearly every area; policies, pedagogy, funding streams and best practice. We are all constantly on a carousel that challenges and frustrates us, forcing us to find solutions to continually improve, and it can be exhausting.

The experienced school business leader anticipates and embraces change, not because we are gluttons for punishment, but because we recognise that our contribution comes at a transformative time in the lives of our pupils and we need to keep up with their needs, attitudes and outlook.

We are also aware that not everyone shares this mindset. It can be healthy to be a little nervous of change but sometimes our colleagues can be very wary, and some can be terrified of it! “How is it going to affect my role here?” “Will I still enjoy my job if we do it this way?” “Will I be reporting to someone new?” “Have I got to learn new skills?” Barriers to success can be raised before you have even had a chance to implement first steps.

No one has ever said that leading change is easy. Even the implementation of a minor change in operations requires strategic thinking, empathy, planning and sustained focus to make it happen. Think back to the last time you initiated a change in your setting. Did you formulate a project plan or did you wing it? Did you manage to bring everyone along with you? Was your improvement a success?

As in most areas of business operations, there are models for change management to take you step by step through the process, but theory in itself can be daunting. I sometimes think of bespectacled boffins, sitting in tiny dark offices, formulating their generic instructions, when they have no experience of the school administrator who has been doing it ‘this way’ for twenty years, or the Headteacher whose risk aversion means they won’t even consider a new idea.

If you want your change process to be a success it really is worth looking at an established model, but it doesn’t have to be dusty and old fashioned. I love change. It can be fun and thought-provoking. It can inspire our colleagues to actively contribute to the change process and bring their own improvement ideas, and it can keep our schools fresh for the new pupils as they join us.

We all strive to be part of a culture which embraces change and demonstrates continual improvement. The school business leader is a key ingredient to the success of change and if we can also be ahead of the game, ready for the next step with positivity and practical solutions, our schools  development can only continue to grow. As it was Churchill who also said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

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