I used to work with a wonderful Catering Manager. She, like all good CMs was almost entirely self-managing and only ever really needed my input when it came to testing muffins (I’m something of an expert in my field), VAT (I’m hopelessly inadequate but I know a very nice auditor), or when there was a problem she couldn’t fix. Not that she would ever admit that. She brought me, instead of problems, what she called “Opportunities to Shine”. An Opportunity to Shine is basically where you take a seemingly unsolvable problem, turn it on its axis and try your damnedest to make something positive out of it. It’s a bit like the Pollyanna Principle but without the yellow hair ribbons.
At first I was somewhat cynical (this is my default position, even my Resting B Face has slightly raised eyebrows) and saw this as a thinly-veiled attempt to dump a stinker of a problem on my desk by putting a cherry on the top of it. But, and it’s a big but, there was a challenge in there too, and I can never resist a challenge (unless it’s something stupid involving physical exercise or cleaning up, obvs). Could I take a problem that an excellent middle manager couldn’t resolve, and turn an impending disaster into a positive? How could I resist? The problem was to do with two clashing members of staff who were sniping at each other across the tills. So instead of hauling them both in for a pre-process chat, I took a pinch of Devious, a drop of Machiavellian and mixed them together with a shimmy of Mary Poppins and came up with a solution. The solution was to put them in a team of two, together, and set the two of them a challenge to sell more whatever-it-wases between them than our finest whatever-it-was seller. After a little initial snarling, they worked so hard not to be the one to let the team down they they sold more between them in one sitting than we usually sold in an entire week. After a week, they were our new dream team and I didn’t hear a murmur of dissent from them again.
Buoyed by the success of my first successful Opportunity To Shine, I started throwing the phrase back at my middle managers who came to me with gripes and problems. It’s not just about bouncing a problem, it’s about a change of mindset; it’s about realising that the solution you need may not be the one you are looking for. Now I realise that sounds like a phrase you might find in a Dumbledore Christmas Cracker, but stay with me. The School Business Leader is very much akin to a political spin doctor – we take the crappiest of situations and try to get the best result we can for our school, be that in terms of doing a Stretch Armstrong act on our funding, putting together a tricky HR settlement or writing a press release which takes the reader away from a story of 25 year 11’s found in the village duck pond and introduces them to 25 passionate young nature-lovers communing with wildlife in its most natural and playful community setting.
It took a little while for the Site Staff to get used to the idea, those sh#t-shoveling bastions of the Land Beyond The Buck Stop, but they gave it a go. After a postal strike, instead of looking at 2 day backlog of deliveries to be taken all over the school, they decided they had an opportunity to visit and say hello to dozens of colleagues, get some healthy exercise and bring countless long-awaited resources to hundreds of eager learners. They turned from grumpy trolls to Santa’s elves overnight – saving Christmas and possibly the universe. It’s just a matter of perspective.
Got a jobsworth technician who will cite every H&S rule in the book to avoid getting the job done? Put them in charge of Health & Safety in their area and just watch the jobs list whizz by.
Got a blocked drain and the regular plumbers can’t get to you? Call the plumber down the road, tell him he’s got one chance to undercut your usual supplier if he can get there in the hour, and he’s got your next 5 call-outs guaranteed.
Got a broken-down oven an hour before lunch service? You’ve got an opportunity to really push the salad bar and hit your healthy eating target.
You see? It’s just about changing your mindset to look for the positives. It’s become something of a mantra for me and right now, given the current educational landscape, there are more Opportunities to Shine out there than there are cowpats in a field of friesians. So call it opportunity, call it spin, call it manipulation, it works. If you can train your middle managers to bring you not only the problem, but the solution and a better permanent outcome, you’ve made the world a better place and everybody wins.
Right, I’m off, I’ve got two ton of goat droppings to list on EBay as organic vegan compost.