5 ways to sustain a successful culture

5 ways to sustain a successful culture

How can leaders plan for sustained innovation and excellence in 2016? In my view, what will and won’t work is a question of timing and culture.

I like Andy Buck’s definition of culture as “The way we do things round here” in his book “What makes a great school?”

What makes a great school?

A key read for existing and aspiring leaders in any organisation.

Culture is transmitted by its constituents through conscious and sub-conscious communication. It can take an outsider to bring a fresh perspective on this. We all know of experienced colleagues who can walk into any setting and very quickly “sense” the prevailing culture.

Here are my thoughts about how leaders can sustain a positive culture:

1: Debate: ensure there are platforms for positive discussion and sharing – these can be physical and virtual. The conscious communication from a leader here is: “I don’t have all the answers or ideas for our next steps but I’m convinced they exist within our organisation.” Social media is an excellent springboard for everyone to make a contribution.

2: Invest: make your culture deliberately self-perpetuating and articulated in your vision. I was on an early cohort of the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers (NPQH) run by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL)*. It was a highly structured programme and there was nothing like it for aspirant leaders in the profession at the time. Ultimately it was the coaching, the people, the conversations, the time and the investment that motivated me. We cannot always rely on professional associations and NGOs for training needs.

From induction to system leadership training there has to be a culture of investment, a structure and a space to develop people – whatever their professional ambition.

3: Replace yourself: a few years ago, whilst headteacher at DHSB, I challenged those within my team to, “Replace yourself.” Subsequently two Deputy Heads went on to lead their own schools without denuding the quality or impact of the education on offer. Since leaving it is a joy to read my DHSB Tweetdeck timeline to see the school moving forward under new leadership. Feed the system – play your part in its future. Talk positively about doing this.


Share what you’re doing internally in the first instance and then, with the confidence of approbation, externally.

4: Connect: and communicate across sectors, for example by breaking down the perceived divide between business and education. In general and stereotypical terms, some teachers need to get over a prejudice against the “filthy lucre” of business and finance and some business leaders need to stop patronising educationalists about “the real world”. There I’ve said it; there’s so much to learn from one another.

5: Create opportunities: and encourage your people to seek them out. Whether this is through a well-being fund, sign-posted courses, or sponsored programmes of professional development; there is a massive cultural return on investment from energised, motivated colleagues.

Finally, be persistent. Be happy with the fact that some people won’t want to engage immediately. There will be natural scepticism if new communication routes are opening.

Be patient.


*much mourned.



3 thoughts on “5 ways to sustain a successful culture

  1. Michelle

    A specific emphasis on inspiring and reinforcing a shared vision of “sustained innovation” is significant – an organization can be “positive” and even “excellent” (in the short to medium term) without embracing the need for innovation (we only need to look at Woolworths, Kodak, Borders etc etc for examples of this). Being innovative takes courage, can be painful and involves risk, which can in the short term detract from “excellence”. In short, I think that you can have a shared vision of excellence, but without an equal emphasis on sustained innovation, through many of the strategies that you have identified (!), it will ultimately drift. In my opinion, excellence doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation, but effective innovation is necessary for sustained excellence.

  2. Kieran Earley

    Thanks for the reply – couldn’t agree more!

    Everyone has a stake in us getting this right.

  3. Richard Harley

    Insightful and thought provoking article. Whilst there are some remarkable success stories I agree that we need to keep creating opportunities for Business and Education to engage positively and constructively together. This will help remove perceived barriers, where these exist, improve everyone’s understanding of the challenges and opportunities that exist and most importantly allow individuals to achieve their potential. We all have a stake in developing our students, colleagues and ourselves.

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