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Podcast | Season 1 | Episode 34: Managing Change in Schools

How can a Business Leader drive change in schools? During these challenging times, hear from Simon Oxenham on how he managed to turn around a Multi-Academy Trust, handling hope and hesitations of an entire senior leadership team.

 ๐Ÿ“Ž Managing Change in Schools

  • Recognise the pace of change
  • Reflect on our response to leading change to deliver the vision
  • Become familiar with some approaches to leading change
  • Explore ways of leading and communicating change
  • Look at a real life case study

๐Ÿ’ก Simon Oxenham, Director of Resources, Southend High School for Boys & National Lead on School Finance & Efficiency, ISBL  

๐Ÿซ This session was recorded live on 14th November 2019 in the Business & Finance Theatre of the Schools & Academies Show at the NEC in Birmingham.

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Simon Oxenham
Good afternoon and welcome. So for those of you that don't know me, well, we've had a very blessed existence up until this point in time. My name is Simon Oxenham. I'm the Director of Resources for Southend High School for Boys. I also do quite a bit of work for ISBL, amongst other things. So this afternoon we're looking at managing change in schools so, if you're here for something else, you're in the wrong place. What are we going to try and get out of this session? Well, I want us just to recognise the pace of change because it is accelerating. So we're going to look at that. I want us to reflect on our response to leading change in order to deliver the vision that we have for our institutions. We also want to become a bit more familiar with some of the approaches to leading change. We also want to explore the ways of leading and communicating change. And we're going to look at a real life case study. So here we have some interesting pictures. This was the first commercial computer that was the US Naval Defence. This was the first computer operated by single person. This was the first mini computer Sinclair ZX80. Do we remember those? Yeah, anybody still got one? And then we got to the laptop, the first laptops, what period of time do you think that is? Have a guess? 50 years. Should we play the game again? Do you remember these? Then we had the first Apple Laptop, you remember those? This was the first phone with a camera and then 10 years later we got to that. So to go from there to there, just 18 years. See how the pace of change is getting shorter. Did you know that young people, the kids in our schools refer to things like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as old people social media. Unbelievable, isn't it? I've only just got on there.

Simon Oxenham
The question is seven years from now. So when your current cohort in your schools have just started, when they leave, what is the world going to look like? Probably very different from where it is now. So jumping into what's going on at the six school MATS, he had a new CEO, join, they had a retiring, part time Chief Financial Officer. They had contracts at each location for the same services, things like they all had HR services provided by the local authority, they all had their own broadband contracts, and so on and so forth. Absolute carnage, there was no centralisation of HR, ICT or facilities. They all had their own website contracts. Some of the websites were going to go unsupported because the suppliers were pulling the plug. They had no asset management plans. They done a joint tendering process because they thought now we're part of a MAT we'll do we'll do something together. So I went out to tender three of the schools was pulled out, three of the schools went in and that contract was unravelling. I had two locations with lifts, new lifts in buildings that were working, I had roofs leaking. They had a swimming pool at one location that wasn't being used because it wasn't working. They had latent defects on the buildings. They had six finance teams with varying degrees of capability and understanding. They had an audit report with the biggest list of findings I had ever seen. They had no internal audit function. They had an audit committee, and everyone on the audit committee went out once a year to visit a school as a responsible officer. So I pointed out what if you're the responsible officer, you can't be a member of the audit committee, therefore, you haven't got an audit committee. There was no consolidated management accounts no robust forecast. The first forecast I saw for all seven locations, six schools in the centre was on a single side of A4. I said, can you tell me what assumptions each school's made, no idea. I just came with delegation where everything was pushed out because what you had was a mate MATs with the lowest top slice in the country, so they pushed everything else. So effectively, you've got six schools running autonomously. And they had a very interesting composition of the board. Every Chair of every school was on the Trust Board, which of course, is allowed, but it's heavily frowned upon because you've got turkeys voting for Christmas.

Simon Oxenham
So where are we now? We've restructured all the school office staff. We have a central finance team in place. We have a hosted finance solution and a web based MAT budgeting system. We have consolidated accounts, budgets and forecasts, which is important because that builds confidence. We have a new scheme of delegation, executive team meetings, we formed an executive team. It's not a decision making body. But essentially what we've done is bring in the head teachers to make schools intimate the managers at the centre every two weeks, this is about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer, because of course, all these schools that thought they were going to be left to run autonomously and are being told no, we're now going to work as a trust, because that is what the DfE expects. We've changed the committee structures, we've seen Trustees change. Most of those that were Chairs and no longer part of the board. We have an internal auditor appointed, and we have one website contract.

Simon Oxenham
How long do you think it's taken to do that? Three years. Okay, let's keep going. We now have a central HR team. We are recruiting at the moment, a trust ICT manager. We have a property consultancy firm instructed that manage all the building projects. We've done condition surveys, asset management plans are in place. We have no leaking roofs, the sewing poles fixed, the latent defects are being addressed. And we've done all these various building projects. We've done all that in one year. So some other little bits. I happen to also be a Prince2 to training practitioner. I'm also a Lean practitioner. How did we get that to happen so quickly, where we created an issue list that demonstrated the need so I was saying have you got this? Have you got a compliance checklist at each location for the buildings? Have you got the data protection officer? Oh yes, every SBM in each of the schools is a DPI, can't be because you, you can't have the business manager as the data protection officer. So that gave us the need.

Simon Oxenham
I then set up the areas programme with project streams now use words and pictures. Now Ares in case you're wondering, was a great God. He was a God of determination. The bit that I didn't tell them was he was also the God of War, the consolidated accounts and forecasts, we've got those flowing straight away from FMS, using an Excel model that really boosted the trust builds confidence in what we were about and what we were doing. We developed a business case for the finance projects and recruited a central lead for that. We've got outside help for doing the restructure because there's only so much bandwidth when you're going through that amount of change that quickly that we have internally. We issued a request for information for the finance system and the web based budgeting tool, revised the scheme of delegation to bring everything back in. So we've now actually got teachers being line managed by the Chief Executive. It's not rocket So it's really easy. And we end the committee structure, because we also found things like the local academy committees, as they now called, because they're not local governing bodies. The local governing body is the trust board. They are the governing body. So the local Academy committees had all changed their budgets, after the trust, the board approved the budget? Yeah, these are the kind of things we're dealing with real, real, real carnage.

Simon Oxenham
So having been through all that change, we then did an exercise with the executive team, just for a moment reflects that and consider your response to the changes that you've been required to deliver in order to achieve your vision in during the last academic year. What works well? What lessons have you learned? Where can you improve? But don't just think about what you did, think about how you felt, going through those changes. Just think for a moment.

Simon Oxenham
So when we asked our executive team, how they felt, this is what I came back with. Now if you're like me, you're doing lots of changes. Lots of organisations much bigger than than academy trusts, you become a bit of an adrenaline junkie. So I felt excitement. Because if I'm not going to march through with my ass on fire, life ain't worth living. Others felt real fear from all the change, anxiety, stress, panic, anger, frustration, and a sense of drowning and we then said, Well, okay, so what did you actually do? What actions did you take? Some reach for the bottle, some found chocolate, others went for biscuits, others went for doing some exercise. Some of them said we became actors, like this one, gliding along, frantically paddling underneath, going out and telling staff everything will be okay while we were actually really panicked underneath. One of them joined the school's colouring club, staff organise some evoked an email policy which they basically will respond to emails at the beginning of the end of the day. We'll turn it off during the rest of the day, and we won't do anything after six o'clock. One said I had go see my GP to get some medication but probably not the best thing.

Simon Oxenham
The lesson to take from that is when you're going through significant change, lift the lid on emotions periodically, because actually the key to the successful delivery of your projects that you're trying to do, will be allowing those feelings to come out and talking about them. Change versus transition. Change is a shift in an external situation, ie it could be a restructure where you're going to be moving to a different location. Transition, is the psychological reorientation. In response to change. The stuff that's going on inside the experience, is what's going to happen to me with this reorganisation or this relocation. William Bridges, says that actually, the key understanding is that it's the transition, not the change that people fight against. It's their feelings. So if you want to see what transition looks like, this is an exercise we did with our executive site team. So you give half of your team a bag of Scrabble letters, and you ask them to form as many words as they can in three minutes. Then give the other half of the team, a specific person with the Scrabble pieces to watch and observe. Get it going and then stop after 60 seconds, at the 62nd points. Give some of the people with Scrabble pieces, blindfolds, tell others, they can't use their hands and turn a couple of them rounds the fight with episode got their back to the table, and then observe for another hundred and 20 seconds, what happens.

Simon Oxenham
What you'll end up with is something like this. So we've got time going along the bottom performance at the side. So when you first given them the pieces, they suddenly get going. They're on a roll. When you inflict the change, performance, massively drops. And then as they start to work it out. It gets going again. So the observations from the first part, people were being competitive. They were focused, they had a sense of calm. They look very constructive, but there wasn't much teamwork going on. Having done the change some look very I'm sure some were frustrated because they had their back to the table and didn't know what to do. There was fragmentation. Some people felt isolated because they couldn't use their hands and they know what to do. But I had to tell the person with a blindfold what led us to move, and then they got going, they started to realise we've actually got to work as a team to do this. Again, the lesson, take the time to lift the lid on feelings, it's people's feelings is the barrier to the success of the projects. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross takes us through some stages on death and dying. So stage one, you've got shock and denial why, what we're actually going through this change, then you get in stage two, you get the anger and fear from the disruption. Then in stage three, you start to get acceptance and exploration. And then stage four, you get rebuilding and commitments. But there's an important note here that you need to recognise. Not everyone will come on the journey with you. Some people will probably want to get off the bus and may indeed get off the bus is just a fact of life. It will go through significant change. William Bridges breaks into some stages, so first of all, you have the letting go stage. That's where you get the denial and the resistance, anger, anxiety, these are things that you're going to people are going to experience, then you move into the sort of neutral zone where you kind of start moving from apathy towards accepting and exploring, negotiating. Then you move into the final stage where you get sort of the action and the commitment, the new beginning, where people are actually moving on, and seeing the possibilities, the benefits that are gonna come from the adjustment. Again, thinking about people's feelings, it is quite possible as you're going through the change, they might just start coming into the neutral zone. But somebody says something or something happens, they'll drift back into the losing letting go stage so people can swing between the phases. Transition stages, denial, it's important to give the information confirm that the change is going to happen and explain what will happen and what to expect resistance when you're in the resistance stage. You need to listen to empathise, acknowledge feelings, not necessarily change what you've heard. needs to do but respond to concerns but remind them of the reality that this change really is going to happen in the exploration stage, prioritise, keep the focus, why are we doing what we're doing? Let's get it done. You need to be setting short term goals with frequent follow ups and you need to allow space for people to share ideas. We're going here but we've hit this problem. Is there a way we can get people together to think about how we might get around that particular problem?

Simon Oxenham
So when it gets the commitment stage, you want to be setting longer term goals, doing team building exercises, celebrate success, and look forward. That is Kotter and this comes from his book, My Iceberg Is Melting and this is about creating a climate for change. And going from step one, you are creating a sense of urgency, then forming a guiding coalition developing an efficient inspires then conveying that vision outs, empowering others to enact the vision generating short term wins sustain the acceleration of the vision, and then step by Institute permanent change. We can take that really in three chunks. Steps 1 to 3 it's about creating the climate for change and notice there's quite a bit of time goes and effort goes into that. Remember I said about creating that issues list which developed the need for change. Then I did the Gantt charts and the programme documents, which enabled the organisation to get hold of the vision that we had and then actually, only step seven and eight are really about actually delivering the change. So there's a lot leading up to getting on with making all those changes.

Simon Oxenham
Now clear, concise communication in a project is really important, communicating change. So we've got informal to formal, conscious and subconscious. These are the areas that they fit in. So you've got sort of your emails and directives, announcements and everything down in the bottom. So they're conscious and they're very formal. But conversely, if we come across to the top right, you've got walking the walk, how you actually act. Yeah, the nonverbal communication, it's about your style. Are you authentic? Are you professional at all times? How much In the bottom left, do you think people actually pay attention to how much they take in of that? Very little. Conversely 85% to 95% pay attention to the subconscious informal, how you're acting, how you're perceived. So think about that as well when you're communicating change. DVN so, dissatisfaction, vision and next steps, you need to articulate very crisply, why do we need to change? Thinking, again, back to that issues list that I created. What are we actually changing for in order to become compliant? To have better information to make better decisions to save, make savings, and then the how, communicate and articulate how we are going to go about doing this change. You need to consider the rational, the emotional and the situational. So this is all about feelings. Yeah, first of all, in the rational you need to direct the rider find the right spots. Script the critical moves and point out where the destination is, where are we actually hitting and the emotional you need to think about motivating the elephant. Because chances are there's kind of projects you're looking at doing and your institutions are going to be quite large. You need to find the feeling, what is he feeling? How are we going to motivate him shrink the change if you can make it smaller and grow your people.

Simon Oxenham
Then situational shape the path are the things getting in your way. Often when we're trying to drive a mountain with a project, you've got a whole herd of sheep coming the other way. We want to get off the bus with the key to it again, lift, the lead on the feelings, how are people feeling if you can deal with how people are feeling, there'll be a lot less resistance, and the chances of success of your project will be much greater. Dale Carnegie in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People says there are two ways to get people to do things. One is to hold a gun to their head, the other is to make them want to do it. Obviously, both approaches will have different sort of outcomes. So my question to you is how your team feeling The changes that you're currently planning to deliver, actually to go and ask them. Rosabeth Moss Kanter says this, we can no longer drive into the future was looking at the rearview mirror. What has worked before may not work now, the business environment has changed. We're in the business of running schools, but we are running a business. A couple of things not to try saying this to someone. If you're not fired up with enthusiasm, then you'll be fired with enthusiasm. You know, you have those certain members of staff, I use an example. Chris, you've been a long standing loyal employee of the school, your commitments, and the value you bring it is unquestionable. I just don't know how we're going to get along how we would get along without you. But as of Monday, we're going to give it a try. So cover conclusions. Change has never happened this fast. But equally, it's never going to happen this slow again. Yeah where are we going to be seven years from now? What is the world going to look like? And don't forget to lift the lid on the feelings. As I said, Do you know how your teams are feeling about the changes you're planning? I'm sure you're planning some changes, which is why you're in this session. Thank you very much. Good luck. See you later.

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