At Keystone, we talk about culture, both internally and externally. Workplace culture is a huge aspect of a positive, efficient school. It's just as important as having good salaries but is much harder to quantify and even harder to change. Having a good workplace culture can increase your staff retention, boost productivity, make recruitment a lot easier – and more importantly, have an impact on the quality of education that your pupils will be receiving. `

Be willing to listen

I have spoken to a deputy head who complained that emails were sent in the evening and are expected to be actioned by the next morning. Although you yourself may be comfortable with these expectations, they are bound to have an effect on some members of staff. One of the key challenges to changing your workplace culture is gaining an in-depth, impartial understanding of the current culture. Much like the ever-so-British "I'm fine, thanks" whenever you're asked how you are, don't just accept a surface level response from your colleagues. To truly change the culture, you must understand it completely and be willing to face some hard truths.

Create trust

Most employees will have difficulty telling the truth about their working conditions if they feel that they would be judged or penalised in any way. Anonymous feedback surveys can be a fantastic way to get a true picture of how your staff feel, however, a much better approach is to create an environment where your colleagues feel able, to be honest. The first step is establishing two-way, open, honest conversations. Conversations shouldn't just happen at appraisal time to sign payroll telling the truth about their working conditions if they feel that they would be judged or penalised. They should be an ongoing part of school life. Creating a culture means building trust between the senior leaders (like the HR team) down through the rest of the team. Listening groups, workshops and surveys can be a vital step to being able to conduct a more thorough discussion around culture.

Be flexible

Flexibility comes in two parts.

The first is flexibility in terms of what good culture means in your organisation. You may think that a good culture is one where your colleagues eat lunch together, your children are smiling, and everyone goes out for a drink on Friday. These might be signs of a school with a good culture, but they are not the foundation. Good culture in a school is one where the children come first, staff well-being comes second and the other stuff comes next (of course, there may be exceptions to this). Good work culture is not set in stone. Your organisation should be one where all staff are encouraged to always strive to be the best they can be. They should be given the right tools to complete them. They should have enough time during the school day to ensure they can fuel themselves and enough time outside of work to rest.

The second kind of flexibility comes from how you will achieve it. There is little point in putting in place a well-being programme that is based upon the leadership's perspective of what will be well received. It is great to take the time to listen, to ask staff what can be better, what's challenging them, and what would they really value. Only then do you get feedback, and I'm reminded of the quote "You know you're listening well when the other person keeps talking". Running sessions where you listen to your staff will give a clear lead as to what you can do to help their wellbeing – it may well be weekly staff sports sessions, or fruit bowls in the staff room, or, simply, removing the need to complete a particular piece of paperwork which has little impact on their role. By asking the question, you'll know.

It can be easy to assume that you know how your staff feel and how changes to policies or procedures will affect them. Listen to what your colleagues say they need to feel happier and be more productive. This could be flexible working, split roles, a guaranteed lunch break… 

Build your staff up

CPD is an important contribution to keeping your workplace positive. Not only will it keep your colleagues up to date with the latest policies, procedures, and best practice, but it will also give them new techniques to tackle challenges you may have. It might be a cliché leftover from Covid, but we do live in uncertain times and good CPD can equip staff with the tools needed to adapt and manage those changes.

Good quality CPD can reinvigorate your colleague's motivation and increase their commitment to work towards the vision that your school or MAT has. The Campaign for Learning has found that staff who undergo CPD have a more positive perception of organisational development, were more able to address workplace silos and were more able to collaborate with colleagues from different departments.

Mental resilience is another way to build up your staff. Although Covid has put a strain on everyone's mental health, it has allowed for more conversations around mental health, especially at work. Ways to help improve your colleague's mental resilience and ability to handle stress could be:

  • Setting small achievable goals
  • Providing a safe space for them to discuss challenges
  • Providing adequate breaks during the day
  • Reward staff for excellent work
  • Have realistic expectations of what can be accomplished 

Don't be afraid to ask for help

Changing a culture can be one of the most difficult things to achieve. As Jack Welch, a famed American CEO, once said, "The soft stuff is the hard stuff." Culture is so ingrained in an organisation and so pervasive that it can be hard to see exactly how to change it, even if you know that you need to. Having an outside agency come in to see what is happening and how to change can be hugely helpful. It's one of the most popular services that Keystone offers and I love getting stuck into the challenge of helping a school or trust become the best version of itself.


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