Everybody is Somebody’s Wingman

I’m feeling devastated by the announcement from my Wingman yesterday that she is leaving to take up a role in another school. Of course, as is the accepted way in Education, I knew she had applied and that she had an interview. I’d written her a reference and we’d had a discussion about what this new role might offer, but I never dreamed that she would actually go!

You see, in all my 15 years as a School Business Manager, this last year has been the most challenging. It has been a hard slog of almost constant change throughout the year. Together, my Wingman and I have had to find new ways of working, introduce new policies, cover for colleagues for whom the changes proved too much, as well as maintaining the day-to-day functions and the morale of other staff. I know it can’t have been easy but she has demonstrated such enormous resilience and, to my mind, she is leaving just when we are about to realise the benefits of all our foundation building work.

I know that I can’t expect to keep my Wingman forever; she isn’t the first one of mine to have grown sufficiently in confidence and skill to enable a move into a position of responsibility commensurate with her capability. Of course, I am thrilled for her success. But for a few days I am going to indulge in feeling bereaved, disorientated and unprepared for the future, so that I can move into a place that understands and accepts her choice.

When I told Barry, he helpfully reminded me of a recent statistic that (whatever they may tell you) 75% of employees leave because of the Boss! So as part of my grieving process, maybe I better spend some time reflecting on whether I could have anticipated and averted her desire to leave.

Am I a Team Player? One of the challenges of being an SBM is that you have to be an active member of a few separate teams. I consider that leading the Finance Team is one of my most important roles and my Wingman takes on all the day-to-day Finance function and staff. I like to do the budget and monthly MI, maybe sharing this will enable my Wingman to be more involved with the whole picture.

Do I push too hard? I accept that I am probably demanding to work with, not in a “do as you’re told” kind of way, but I’m conscious that I set quite a challenging pace. I expect my team to tell me when they have reached capacity. I’m happy to share work, I know there are peaks and troughs in our office and I can input a purchase order or count the non-uniform day bucket. But maybe they can see me working at capacity and don’t like to add to my workload, perhaps I should be more aware of this.

Am I too ‘hands-on’? As an ex-auditor my Wingman bought with her our saying ‘Trust is not a control’. Together we have set up some pretty tight controls, segregation of duties and risk management initiatives. She enforces these controls in the office very effectively and it does mean that I must take my role in the process and not try to do everything, perhaps I need to work harder at this.

So, after this weekend of feeling sorry for myself (and hoping she’ll come to her senses and stay!) here is the Wingman personality (in order of priority) I will be looking for,

Resilient – Not everything will go right, accept , resolve and move on.

Good listener – If I’ve got a problem, I like to talk it through. I find that explaining the issue to someone else is often the quickest way to discover a solution.

Policy enforcer – I recognise that I need someone to remind me of policy and protocol while I am in ‘solution-mode’.

Attention to detail – I need someone to help me control the minutiae. I find little, and avoidable, mistakes annoying. We just haven’t got time for them.

So, unless a miracle happens, I will need to demonstrate my own resilience and put an advert together next week. I need someone as soon as possible of course, but I don’t like rushing this process, the SBM Wingman role is too important to the wellbeing of the whole team and I also have to consider the person for whom I am Wingman. So, as I love to quote from Top Gun, you should be aware that, when it comes to choosing a new Wingman, “I will fire when I am goddamn good and ready.”

What do you look for in a Wingman?

Note: My wonderful Finance Assistant, who has been massively supportive, proactive and patient throughout our years together, doesn’t know about this blog. I have, of course, told her how much I value her contribution (and don’t want her to go). Feel free to share this with your Wingman. We need to look after them!

Collaborate to Innovate

 I read an article by the Harvard Business Review recently entitled ‘Innovation is as Much About Finding Partners as Building Products’ (link) which inspired me to go back to my love of applying Industry Strategy to Education.
The article asserts that the desire to innovate is no longer enough in any industry to guarantee success and that the task of creating innovation in today’s world requires such a range of qualifications and skills as to be unaffordable for any business other than the largest organisation with massive resources to draw upon. In Industry, you have to think of all the specialist and regulatory knowledge required in areas including strategy, technology, data analysis, production, marketing, finance, HR, health and safety, as well as understanding the efficiencies of the physical assets, before you can even begin to innovate.

It’s the same in Education in the UK. How can all our schools, working mostly (but not always) in isolation possibly hope to find any time to innovate to a degree that might go towards enabling the service as a whole to take a leap forward?

Harvard and I, we are convinced that collaboration is the answer.

And I’m not talking that well-meaning ‘come-and-share-our-training-provider-for half-a-day’ sort of collaboration. I’m talking about identifying your core skill, finding a partner to work with on improving it further and then sharing it far and wide.

So, what are you really good at?

As an employee of an Outstanding School, Teaching School and newly formed MAT you would think that we have a lot to offer. We have got some amazingly talented teaching staff and exceptional data analysts, we have an extremely effective technical team, and a clear strategy of where we want to head, but I have been dismayed at the barriers that are put up around us by other schools.

Contrary to what you might think, I believe this school, as a unit, is the right size. I don’t want a merger, I don’t want to force you into a MAT (although I believe the benefits we would both gain are considerable), I don’t want to make anyone redundant and I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. I do want to share our skills and work with you to improve the teaching, learning, assessment and business functions of both our schools. After that, I want to make what we’ve learned available to other schools because you can bet that the school down the road has got an idea to improve it even further!

As Harvard points out, for collaboration to work effectively the old and the new have to work together. Your experience has a lot to teach me, of course, but what if bringing your experience to tweak my new idea blows Education out of the ball park for the next generation of students?  I don’t believe I am being over optimistic when I say that the opportunities we currently have for both formal and informal collaboration could lead to a reinvention of Education in the UK, giving us the solutions, productivity and advances in delivery that we would wish for. However, it is going to take a real exchange of ideas and we are going to need to get over this anxious concern about competition and loss of identity. Yes, like anything, it is risky, but so is standing still and I know I’d rather keep moving forward.