People have very different thresholds for when they can be prompted to change something about their behaviour. Even when the benefits of changing can be stark and the potential risks of not adapting behaviours are grim, some can be reluctant to make adjustments to how they act… professionally and personally.
In the gym this week I spoke to a man in the changing rooms. He had been missing from classes for the last few weeks, so I wanted to check he had been OK. Having recently recovered from cancer in the Summer of last year, he suffered a heart attack at the start of December. Yet he was adamant that he wouldn’t be giving up smoking as he ‘loves it’ and giving up would just be ‘too hard’. I was shocked. Here is someone who has a partner, children and had benefitted from two lucky escapes. Yet still there is a reluctance to change.
For others, that kind of radical incident can be transformational. You only have to look at Tom Watson’s weight loss following a diagnosis of Diabetes Type 2.
As a leader it is very easy to charge into school at the start of a new academic year, or the beginning of January, armed with a whole array of resolutions that you intend to implement for the benefit of the children, the staff and yourself. For you the reasons for these ideas may be compelling, obvious and driven by a moral imperative. But beware that not everyone will be as open to change, some may well be resistant, and that you will most likely need a range of strategies to ensure that any progress is both achieved and sustained.
Begin with the end in mind…
What is it that you ultimately want to achieve? On a personal level you may want to run a marathon this year… but you have never even run 5KM. A NY resolution doesn’t have to be achieved in January. If you are aiming for a marathon, you can set that goal for April – if you are going for London – or look for an event later in the year, maybe the Summer. Then work backwards so that you have achievable goals that will take you closer to your prize. This means that you are less likely to get disheartened and you will know that these small steps initially are taking you in the right direction. On a professional level, if you want to try and change the school culture towards marking and feedback, that won’t be done in a month. Key markers naturally come in the form of half terms and breaks like Easter. Where would you like to be by then, and work backwards to plan meaningful steps that will help take as many staff forward with you as possible.
Break it into realistic steps
This isn’t the same as aiming low. Making resolutions that you can keep and that are practical. A popular goal at this time of year is to reduce personal intake of alcohol, chocolate, cigarettes… but it isn’t effective to immediately launch into a dry/cold turkey regime. On a personal level I wanted to cut the amount of sugar I used in tea & coffee. So I started by reducing to 1.5, then after a few weeks to 1. By Easter I had got it down to half a spoon per cup. Come the Summer I was no longer needing sugar in my hot drinks. This meant I had reduced my sugar intake by approximately 800 grams and I had sustained the change. Breaking up the longer-term goal into more manageable short-term goals can be beneficial and more rewarding.
With your staff, the short term goals need to be realistic and clearly linked to the longer term vision. Start with the WHY, then show HOW it can be achieved before scaring them with WHAT they have to do.
Focusing on one thing at a time.
One of the easiest routes to failure is to have too many resolutions. If you want to be fitter and healthier, do just one thing at a time. Give up drinking. Give up smoking. Join a gym. Eat more healthily. But don’t do them all at once, just choose one and do your best to stick to it. Once you have got one thing under your control, you can begin a second resolution.
Schools often start a whole range of initiatives at one go. Keeping an eye on all of them, ensuring they are being tackled properly, is impossible. At this time of the year you will probably still have School Improvement objectives to complete. Any resolutions need to be thought about in the context of what is already going on in school. If your staff have just benefitted from a break and a recharge over the holiday, don’t wipe that out immediately with a raft of new initiatives – even if they are well intentioned.
Make sure you know how well you are doing
If you have articulated the long term goal, broken it down into meaningful steps, ensured that you are only focusing on one key thing at a time then you will want to know what you are doing is working. There is a danger here that when you start to collect metrics you can subvert the real intention and introduce damaging behaviours (read the danger of metrics article here).
Establish how you will know that progress is being made towards the resolution. Agree when the information will be looked at/collected (without creating additional workplace pressures)… and make sure you celebrate it! Many people are scared or dubious of resolutions as they create targets that when missed lead to punitive actions. Instead of looking at what hasn’t been done, focus on the forward progress that has been achieved, celebrate success, highlight models of what you want to see and ensure that staff don’t feel threatened.
Make sure everyone knows the resolution and what success will look like.
It is a well known technique that telling family and friends about your New Year’s resolution acts as both a safety barrier and a face-saver. If you really want to cut down smoking or drinking, real friends won’t put temptation in your way and can help monitor your behaviour.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support from those around you.
For your staff, do they all know what the end goal is? Are all of them aware of what has to be done this week/month to keep the momentum going? Have they had their successes and efforts celebrated? Is the resolution still going to be mentioned beyond the first staff meeting in January?
Demonstrate the change yourself.
Be the change that you want to see in the world – Gandhi
Make sure that you are the embodiment of the change that you want to see. In my blogs about moving to G Suite I talked about how important it is for the leader to be an obvious and visible model for the change that is being attempted. Many efforts fail as the staff believe that the leadership team is imposing a change upon them that they aren’t doing themselves.
Trying to change habits on your own can be difficult. On a personal level, if you and your partner both smoke, drink and eat unhealthily, it is really hard for one partner to change their behaviour if the other is still engaged in the same old bad habits.
By having the same resolution as your staff, modelling the behaviour you wish to see, articulating why the change is benefitting the pupils the chances of success will improve.
Don’t fear failure
Accept lapses as part of the process. With any new initiative or strategy it is quite possible that performance will actually worsen at the start! That’s right, a consequence of your new initiative – the right initiative – is that things will GET WORSE!
As staff adjust to a new scheme or approach it’s inevitable that there will be lapses. The easy thing to do is give up and go back to the ‘GOOD/SAFE’ habits that were stopping you being GREAT.
Just like the trauma that can come with trying to give up smoking or chocolate, you shouldn’t feel guilty about giving in to your cravings – accept that it is part of the learning process. Bad habits have probably developed over years and there are no quick fixes in making major lifestyle changes.
We learn by our mistakes and every day is a new day – and you can start each day afresh.
Good luck and all the best for 2019!