School culture vital to addressing staff exodus, says Head
A school’s culture is vital to prevent staff disaffection and marketing strategy failures, headmaster Michael Bond has said in his keynote address to the AMCIS Annual Conference today.
Speaking to an audience of 200+ at the conference for the independent school sector’s admissions, marketing and communications professionals, Michael Bond, who is headmaster of Brentwood School in Essex (an AMCIS member school), has said that developing a strong organisational culture is even more important now, as schools grapple with trying to establish a post-Covid normality and the potential reality of a staff exodus:
“One of the questions with which we’re all grappling is the extent to which the pandemic has led or will lead to permanent change. Some believe that all but the most operational changes made, as a result of Covid, will evaporate almost as quickly as they were incorporated, whilst others suggest that we have an opportunity to make changes that wouldn’t have been possible, or certainly not likely, were it not for the events of the last two years.
“One thing we should all be considering is the idea that when things begin to return to normal, companies will see an exodus of employees who now feel secure enough to change jobs.”
Quoting management theorist Peter Drucker’s phrase ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, he said that a strong school culture, into which the entire school community ‘buys in’, can help to prevent an employee exodus as well as contribute to the success of long-term strategic planning and marketing:
“No matter how strong your strategic plan is, it won’t be effective – or at least not as effective – if those who work in your organisation don’t share your values, aspirations and vision. If your colleagues aren’t passionate about your school’s vision, they won’t be enthusiastic about executing the plan to achieve it, which means your strategy stands no chance of being successful. And organisational culture happens, whether you work on it or not. It’s at the core of every school and workplace and most of it is created by leaders – sometimes, and perhaps quite often, unknowingly. The actions of leaders speak louder than their words in the process of culture creation.”
Mr Bond quoted a recent Microsoft survey which showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting their jobs or changing professions this year. Another survey by career site Monster has found that 95% of workers are currently considering changing jobs and 92% are willing to switch industries to land a new position.
He said that school leaders need to ‘step up’ because, for many, the desire to leave their workplace will be driven by the lack of a sense of engagement or fulfilment at work:
“Whatever the reason, more people want to feel valued and connected to what they’re doing. And those who lead schools need to step up to that responsibility by redoubling their efforts on organisational culture. In short, we need our schools to be the ones to which people come during what has been called ‘The Great Resignation’.
Mr Bond believes that the pandemic has emphasised just how important workplace culture is:
“There’s probably no bigger test of whether we have a positive or negative workplace culture than how we manage during times of adversity, and those organisations with a positive culture are probably those that have not only survived but thrived during the Covid pandemic.”
He also believes in the importance of schools embracing their entire community:
“Culture has to transcend the traditional divide between teaching and operational staff. Getting to know each other is part of developing a culture, as is making sure parents understand the messages we are giving to their children. For example, all our assemblies are values-based, and, in my blog for parents, I always discuss the recent assembly topic, to reinforce the message and the school culture.”
During his presentation, Mr Bond discussed what he considers to be the five theoretical ingredients of a healthy organisational culture, together with five practical tips to help establish and maintain it.
On adopting workplace theories and practices from ‘big business’ to help build a strong school culture, Michael Bond says:
“Schools should acknowledge and embrace positive lessons from other businesses and organisations. We are communities first and foremost, but we are also charities and businesses and we’re foolish if we think we can’t learn from organisations that have been doing this for years. We can take the bits that are useful to us and use and adapt them for our own school environments.”