Hope is not a strategy

Good SBMs, in my experience, are strategic animals. We don’t hope that act vs bud will match at the end of the year, we set up a detailed forecasting analysis system that will allow us to closely monitor income and expenditure and report differences (I hate surprises). We don’t hope that a key member of staff isn’t going to leave – I’m thinking Senior Caretaker here – we engage in succession planning and take short videos of his boiler coaxing techniques in order to bring a replacement quickly up to speed, should the need arise. We don’t hope that our building next to the canal isn’t going to flood, we think about defences and business continuity for when the inevitable actually happens. 

I enjoy the strategic part of my job the most. It is woven into every aspect of my role and I’ve had to train my brain to think of the “what if” scenarios for every function and proposal. The downside of this is that it can make me come across to colleagues as a harbinger of doom, so it needs to be tempered with a decent slice of humour. 
A Business Continuity Plan and, it’s brother, the Crisis Management Plan need to be working documents. There is no point writing down carefully what you are going to do in the event of…if you don’t then test it out. I try to squeeze scenario testing into SLT agenda as often as I can. “What if there is an incident at home and we need to get a student back from a trip immediately?” “What if our admissions don’t reach PAN?” “What if the school kitchen is gutted by fire?” “What if the DHT snaps his Achilles?” This sort of exercise not only informs what we would do and keeps the documents alive, but also helps build us into a cohesive team, working together in an imagined crisis. 

Strategy can get lost in the day-to-day pressures of working in a school. Sure, we have SIPs and SDPs, we consult stakeholders on how they would like to see our community evolve, grow and improve but, with my business head on, I sometimes worry that we don’t look objectively enough. We don’t spend enough time on the strategic tools, such as SWOT and PESTEL; we don’t consider our brand or our USP to ensure we are maintaining how we want to be perceived by the outside world; we concentrate too much on fire-fighting the operational issues. 

I think that SBMs need to be the ones that are pushing and leading the strategic work in schools, keeping it regularly on the agenda and promoting debate with what-if questions. 

After all, an SBM is the sort who doesn’t just hope that it isn’t going to rain on their August wedding day, they say “Sod it” and wear their wellies. 

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