Creating and sustaining high performance is the driving force that makes great cultures stand apart from good cultures.  Just as other businesses strive to make their culture stand out from their competitors, every Head knows that the right school culture is essential in attracting parents, staff and pupils to the school.

With the independent education sector facing tough competition for every school place to be filled, it makes sense to invest time and attention in the best possible ways to ensuring the school’s culture is at the top of its game, with high-performing staff who bring the best of themselves to work everyday and are agile and motivated enough to face tough challenges – such as a change in education legislation or a change in senior management – without long-term dips in their performance.

So how can a Head really make a difference to the culture?

When I help leaders understand exactly how to supercharge their culture, I start by breaking culture down into three key areas:  What we believe, what we use and what we do

  • What we believe

This is about knowing your purpose, why you exist and your ambition: what you want to achieve and why.  This is a great opportunity to make your school stand out by having a powerful and overt belief that staff can get behind and embrace.  After all, it’s not just Heads that sell schools – every member of your staff, academic and non-academic – are your brand ambassadors when it comes to influencing parents.

  • What we use

In business, this is an area which can take their lion’s share of attention and focus and schools are no different.  Often, systems and processes have been in place for years and are often inherited from previous leadership teams and directives.  The real challenge is asking yourself how much time is channelled into these procedures and, crucially, do they truly add real value for your school?  If not, it’s time to ditch them.

  • What we do

In my experience, well-intentioned investment in culture often makes little difference unless it gets to the heart of inspiring people to take action. Yes, people need to share the belief about what is important and yes, they need the right systems and tools in place to support them.  But the one area that consistently fades from the spotlight is helping people own the behaviours and make it happen.

As senior leaders, your responsibility is to ensure that people are given regular investment and encouragement that helps them live the school’s belief and deliver the very essence of what the school stands for.  But, as we all know, encouraging people take on new actions is incredibly tough.

This is the key area where leadership can have phenomenal influence.  However, it takes personal investment in people that goes beyond annual appraisals or pay reviews. I regularly work with leaders who have lost touch with the importance of making time to nurture, coach and develop their people in order to build lasting relationships.

The quality and depth of these relationships yields huge influence in helping people performing at their best.  Not surprisingly, it’s no co-incidence that companies that are ranked as the top places to work also have stronger financial performance

Leaders often admit that they feel they don’t have time and other priorities simply take over, despite their best intentions. Yet I’ve repeatedly found that leaders and managers who do make time even for an informal chat, a moment to discuss performance or a chance to review a piece of work together, are better influencers of performance than those who don’t.

In fact, one global leader I know was able to generate double-digit growth in his area by intentionally allocating 10% of his time to coaching across his organisation, at all levels ( not just senior positions) His message to his managers was simple: make time for your teams, make the investment because great things happen when you do.

Schools are, of course, different to global businesses - but the objective is the same: deliver excellent value by creating the most flexible, agile and engaged workforce you can.  And it starts with you being the greatest influencer of performance in others that you can be.


This article was written by Jane Sparrow, Author of The Culture Builders