Welcome to the third in this short series of 5 posts concerning change management for schools considering a move to the cloud – if you missed any of the others you can read them here. My school, Fakenham Academy Norfolk, took a big leap into Google Apps in June 2013. In advance we spent nearly 12 months laying the groundwork to give us the best chance of success. Why so long?

We know that the school year is a peculiar thing, but that it is also one that follows a fairly predictable pattern for anyone who comes into contact with it (see blog 2). The window for change is a small one. Not long after the September start, staff and students become chronically time-poor to the point where survival trumps development and the change window is firmly shut. At Secondary School level it doesn’t really open again until after the summer exam season ends, allowing perhaps 4 or 5 weeks in June and July to even consider alternate ways of getting things done. Before too long, school is ‘out’ and the year is done.

If we want staff to be properly supported in a change process, for example in moving working practices to the cloud, there really is only a small opportunity to do it. It is going to take place toward the end of the school year when most staff, at least at Secondary level, are on slightly lighter duties. You will then have a couple of weeks at the start of the new year to further embed the change. Fail, and you have another 10 months before the window re-opens. 

That isn’t to say that nothing happens in the interim period - far from it. Such is the brevity of the change window that to give us any chance at all we need an absolutely comprehensive plan in place. This plan needs to describe the who, what, where and when. It needs to be understood, developed with and embraced by the executive. It needs to be communicated with all staff, and it needs to be given enough time and resource to give it a fighting chance of success. 

June 10th 2013 was the ‘change day’ at Fakenham Academy Norfolk. Everyone knew it was coming - this was the day when Google Apps would be switched on and everyone would move to the cloud. At least that was the plan. The previous 9 months had been spent planning and communicating. The Principal was on board. The SLT were on board. The IT Support staff were on board, and so were a team of targeted staff who were going to be our ‘change-makers’. What could possibly go wrong?

I remember feeling more than a little nervous at 9am that morning, and even more nervous as I entered the staffroom at break time. We needed a level of positivity from the staff at least high enough not to destroy the project before it had even got off the ground. The headteacher was there together with the SLT and technical staff. So were the ‘change-makers’. There had been a few hiccups that morning, but not enough to derail things. We had done it. 

Over the next 5 weeks staff and students started to live in our new Google world. We continued to make mistakes and had plenty of ups and downs however the momentum was unstoppable. After term ended, the technical staff and myself had 6 weeks to take stock and make necessary adjustments to be sure that the September return to school worked out just fine. It did. 

Let’s take a look at the next 2 change tips. 

4. Nail your elevator pitch

If you are lucky you will have about 30 seconds to convince people that your change ideas are worthy of further attention - about the time it takes to travel a few floors in an elevator. In this case, you have 30 seconds to explain to very busy people why they should change fundamentally the way they work, and have always worked. You are telling them that what they are doing is no longer correct and that you know a better way. Get the elevator pitch wrong and all is lost - at least for a while. 

In our case we started with a bit of design thinking, specifically clarifying the problem before we went looking for a solution. This problem took a long time to get to. It meant talking to all areas of the school, drinking lots of coffee and continual refinement. The final problem was, however, one that everyone was able to sign up to - ‘How might we change the way we do things so that staff and students can work smarter and not harder?’. 

We had our problem. Getting to the answer was just as demanding, but it was finally agreed that what we wanted to do was - ‘Give staff and students the mindset, skillset and toolset to allow them to work collaboratively, and in doing so improve communication, productivity, teaching and learning.’ . We had our elevator pitch.

Back to the elevator. “Hey Bob, we would like to push through some changes next summer. Everyone tells us that we need to help people to work smarter not harder. Specifically we want to use a new set of tools in Google Apps to improve our collaboration and communication. We have an exciting plan which we tell you more about as the year progresses. What do you think?". 

5. Plan and deliver an engaging communication plan.

No-one wants to be members of a ‘mushroom’ club - the one where members are kept in the dark and fed manure. Much better to keep everyone informed and up to date on a change project. There are lots of ways to do this and a bit of variety definitely helps. We had a countdown board in the staffroom. Each Monday we also published a 'Who moved my cheese?' Blog, adapting the original allegory to our own needs. We had posters and presentations, briefings and updates, meetings and help desks. The key again was to deliver this as part of a bigger plan. 

In the next piece I will take a look at the different type of staff members pretty much all schools have. How are you going to get the awkward squad on board? 

Missed my second blog in this change management series? Read it here.

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