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The Pink Slip

  Terry Freedman     Jun 08, 2017

So, you've decided to implement a new system in school. Maybe it's a different way of reporting to parents, or a new way of assessing pupils without using grades or levels, or something really major like implementing a new MIS. Whatever it is, and no matter how large or small the project, chances are that at some point you will consult with other people to find out their views.

To do that, you are going to have to identify who the stakeholders are. OK, the boardroom-style language of 'stakeholders' is horrible, but focus instead on what the word actually means. A stakeholder is someone who has a stake, ie interest, in the matter.

Now, you might think it's pretty obvious who the stakeholders are. When it comes to reporting to parents, the stakeholders are the parents and the pupils, obviously. But it's also the teachers who write the reports. If they have developed a system of their own for making reports as informative as possible and the process of writing them as efficient as possible, they'll be a bit miffed to discover that everything they've put in place has been rendered obsolete overnight.

Here's an example: when I was Head of Department, I developed a template in Word that inserted the name of the module and a description of the content at the top of each report, so that parents could see what the comments were referring to. The marks were inserted automatically from a spreadsheet through the use of mail-merge.

Now, if the Deputy Head had announced one morning that from now on reports had to be A5 in size rather than A4, and not contain any marks, I'd have had to reconfigure my report forms. If that declaration had come at a time when I was about to embark on marking 200 exam scripts and then write 200 reports by a week later, I'd have been annoyed, to put it mildly. Had the powers-that-be asked me my opinion in advance, I'd have explained that I'd need time to change my way of doing things, and that the best time to do that would be when the impending marking and reporting season is over. I daresay the same would apply to every other head of department.

Sometimes, though, the identity of all the stakeholders is not obvious. Some years ago I was in charge of the educational aspects of a school rebuild. I identified all the stakeholders, including local residents whose road would be blocked at one end while a company laid down underground networking cables. At least, I thought I'd identified all the stakeholders: we suddenly received a complaint from a local vicar. Apparently, the blocking of the road meant that the entrance to the church car park was blocked as well. That hadn't occurred to any of us. With the benefit of hindsight, we should have asked the local residents if they could think of anyone else who might be affected – or taken a closer look at the map!

Identifying as many stakeholders as possible is important, because if you don't, you might miss an important part of a process, an aspect that you didn't know about. This is sometimes known as 'the pink slip problem'. What happens is that a brilliant new system is put into practice, and as soon as it starts operating someone says, "But what about the pink slip?", referring to the fact that between Stage 2 and Stage 3 (say), someone has to fill in a pink slip and get it signed by a supervisor before going any further. In fact, the example of someone having to reformat all their reports could be seen as a pink slip problem.

"Hang on a second", you say. "I'm in charge, so what I say goes. I don't have to consult anybody!". The trouble with that approach is that you could have a great technological solution for an identified problem – such as using Messenger to keep parents updated – but not implemented it effectively because of resentment. Also, if nobody alerts you to the pink slip problem, because you didn't give them an opportunity to, you could miss something pretty crucial. It's usually easier to anticipate problems before they occur than to fix them afterwards.

To identify who the stakeholders are, start by jotting down as many as you can think of, and then ask other people to do the same. In fact, you could start a Google Doc and invite everyone on the staff to contribute. You never know: someone might come up with a stakeholder that would never have occurred to you.

This stakeholder business does unfortunately add time and complexity to implementing change, but is an essential ingredient of success.

 

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Terry Freedman

Written by Terry Freedman

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