When the Strategic Plan just doesn’t cut it! Lessons for leaders in a global crisis from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust

Mark Lacey - 3 June, 2020

Category : Blog

When the Strategic Plan just doesn’t cut it! Lessons for leaders in a global crisis from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust

In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19.  Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan,

In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19. 

Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk registers, as well as a strong set of digital tools, can help you pivot flexibly in a crisis. Most importantly, Mark highlighted the need for realism and compassion for staff.

As you’re planning your exit strategy from the current Covid-19 crisis, you might find it helpful to take a look at Mark’s planning document which he kindly shared with us. As you’ll see, the document addresses key risk scenarios and outlines the trust’s response, with space for the individual schools to complete their responses. Click here to download the PDF.

We’ve summarised Mark’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill below.

How well prepared were you for the Covid-19 crisis? 

I don’t think anyone was prepared for what has happened, but what we benefited from is we have a clear strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk register which gives us a strong backbone and allows us to adapt and flex when external events occur. 

We also pride ourselves on having an adaptive culture at the trust. We recognise that we don’t always have all the answers, but that it’s more important to share best practice, collaborate, and be open to admitting when we’re doing something wrong. This allows us to change direction fast.

How did you adapt to the crisis?

Earlier in the year, we had already experienced a large challenge – we went through 7 Ofsted inspections over a period of 10 weeks – which forced us to adapt quickly. This served as a test in some ways for what was to come with Covid-19 and we were able to learn important lessons so we could easily switch to a new rhythm of working. 

Given our schools are spread over quite a wide geographical area, we made sure above all that we worked tightly as a Central Team and that we set a clear direction. It was important that we were responsive in relaying information as soon and as clearly as possible to schools, and that we were accessible for whatever schools needed.

What have you learned about being responsive in a crisis?

The speed at which we’ve adapted to ensure emergency provision has shown us just how much potential we have for change. It’s also proven to us the importance of building into our strategic planning a focus on people more than process. We know staff will continue to feel vulnerable sometimes going forward and we believe taking a compassionate approach and prioritising wellbeing is really important.

When you return to more normal operations, how will your “people over process” approach change the way you work?

Putting people first is a difficult thing to measure and be certain about, but there are some concrete measures we can put in place. For example, we’ve seen that easy-to-use shared IT systems like Office 365 take a lot of burden away from staff and can help them feel connected. We also try to gauge how staff are doing through sending out digital forms and bringing representative groups of staff together to discuss certain issues. We aim to use the feedback we get from staff to build into our policy making going forward. A big emphasis across the trust is also social and personal development. 

How do you monitor wellbeing when working remotely?

A big focus of ours as a Central Team is looking after our Headteachers. Our Academy Improvement Team members have each taken responsibility for a group of Heads who they meet with every week using Microsoft Teams (video chat). Every meeting starts with questions about their wellbeing – it’s been important for us to understand all the different struggles Heads are dealing with at the moment, such as spouses who are key workers or having children at home. We’re learning a lot, and fast, about how to sense how staff are doing from their body language and tone over video. Many of the tensions Heateachers found with staff at the beginning involved miscommunications over email, so we’ve actively encouraged video chat to bring a personal approach.

Keeping regular lines of communication has also been really important. We’ve converted our monthly bulletins to weekly bulletins focused on wellbeing, in order to make sure everyone has access to helpful resources. 

How has your leadership style changed during Covid-19?

The most challenging thing we’ve faced as a Central Team has been working remotely and not being physically in each school. Whilst my natural leadership style is collaborative and approachable, this has been essential to emphasise even more, making Headteachers aware I’m here if they need.

Of course, we’ve been direct and interventionist where it was necessary. For example, we felt it was important to bring some schools together into hubs so that we had greater control of emergency provision and more staff could shield, despite some resistance from Headteachers.

How have you been using tech to adapt?

Because we’ve invested quite considerably in digital tools over the last two years, we didn’t have to suddenly bring on lots of new systems to cope with remote working. This crisis has shown us the real value of having systems like Arbor’s cloud-based MIS and Office 365 in place to rely on. It’s meant we can share data within and between schools easily, and communicate with parents using tools staff are comfortable using already. Some of our schools weren’t using some of the communications features before the crisis, but Arbor switched these on swiftly for us.

We’ve also seen the benefit of Arbor in our financial management during the crisis. We were able to set up our own Free School Meal voucher scheme and get all the data we needed from Arbor. 

Setting up students on Microsoft Teams has also made a lot of impact. Going forward, we’re going to ensure everyone has access to a remote learning platform. 

Has this crisis challenged your expectations on how quickly you can implement change?

It’s shown us the importance of being clear about what we all need to do together and what will have the most impact. It’s given us conviction and belief to step into changes more boldly in future. 

What are your future plans?

Having learned from this current situation, we’re going to be cautious about making too many plans going forward. Being able to adapt is much more important. We’ve got to be realistic about what can be achieved over the next year, given schools will need time to recover. 

In terms of planning towards wider school opening, we’re trying to make neutral decisions by weighing up the polarised spread of views out there. We’ve put together a risk assessment and planning document for our exit from the Covid-19 situation* which outlines key questions and issues, and the trust responses to each of them. It also provides space for schools to add their responses. 

* You can download Mark’s “Risk Assessment: Planning for Exit from COVID-19 Emergency Period” document here

What are your key takeaways from the Covid-19 crisis? 

I hope we will all go forward with a greater appreciation for what we have and more compassion for each other. I have been incredibly impressed with everything our staff have achieved and will not forget it. 

As a Central Team, we will aim to take collective responsibility for who we are as a trust and move forward with a strong moral compass.

 

The next webinar in our series “Adapting to Change” is coming up on 12th June. James will be talking to Derek Hills, Head of Data, and Andy Meighen, IT Director at Harris Federation, about how to monitor and enable online learning across a MAT. Sign up for free to hear how Harris Federation rolled out their online learning to over 36,000 pupils during lockdown, and what they’ve learned from looking at their data.

12th June, 11-11:45am
“How to monitor and enable online learning” – In Conversation with Harris Federation
Click here to sign up for free