I am immensely proud to chair the Governing Body of Montpelier Primary School in Ealing, West London. The school has just been graded outstanding under the new Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education) framework, a feat considered by many to be almost impossible. There are some lessons for business in our journey so please read on.
The school was long overdue an inspection but when it came we had two working days notice. Paperwork was examined, data dissected, every teacher had at least one lesson observed, the pupils were questioned, the parents asked for opinions, the headteacher and I were both interviewed and the middle managers grilled to within an inch of their lives. The process was rigorous and exhausting but in the end we got the result we had planned for.
The outstanding grading was not achieved overnight. It has taken us nine years. The journey started with the resignation of the former Headteacher. She left behind a good school but the Governing Body was convinced the school could be a great deal better. We wanted it to be the best school in Ealing, at least, and we knew that we needed the right Head to make that happen. So what are the lessons for business:
- Know where you are heading. Develop and share a clear vision for your business. What will you have achieved in 10 years time?
- Build the right team. No-one can do everything. Recognise your strengths, develop the talent within your organisation and bring in the skills and expertise to plug the gaps. Work as a team. Have fun together.
- Raise the bar. Set high standards. Lead by example. Praise where it is due. Support and challenge those who are struggling. Be prepared to let people go if they can’t or won’t embrace your standards. Be consistent and fair.
- Take calculated risks. If they don’t pay off the first time learn the lessons and have another go.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Coasting ultimately will cost you business. Challenge yourself and your colleagues and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
- Borrow good ideas. Look around you, where are other people having success, how can you apply those lessons in your business?
- Understand your numbers. Where are your profits coming from? Who are your most profitable customers? What are the returns on your investments? What is under-performing? Then make a plan to improve the areas of weakness.
- Seek advice and constructive criticism. It is all too easy to get too close to ourselves and our own businesses to recognise where there is scope for improvement. A business adviser or coach can help you think constructively about the areas for development and then assist you in implementing a plan of improvement. If you need help to get started email me.
- Invest in resources. Be clear about what will help you achieve your goals whether that is people, knowledge, skills, equipment or software. Look for ways to make the investment affordable. Could you lease equipment? What about getting ‘virtual’ help from a self employed specialist?
- Believe. Believe in your ability to achieve your goals. Make sure you have a support network to prop you up when you wobble (as you inevitably will). Use positive affirmations e.g. I can do…, I can achieve…
Most of us in business will never have to face the rigours of an Ofsted inspection but it might help us if we did. At Montpelier we have a clear idea of what we are trying to achieve but also understand how we will be judged (although those goalposts do move regularly!). We have been prepared for an inspection for about three years. Would your business stand up to inspection? If you are running a food business could you get a 5 star score on door if the food inspectors showed up this afternoon? Would your financial records stand up to scrutiny by the tax inspectors?