Business is putting people first - and that's good news for education which often inherits its philosophies, writes Phil Revell
The business world loves gurus. Each new idea picks up a wave of enthusiastic adherents and a clutch of consultants who work the conferences like evangelists. Usually the whole phenomenon crashes leaving the businesses gasping for breath and the consultants looking for the next big idea.
Sooner or later, some of the ideas drift into education, usually about five years after business has replaced them with a new fad. Remember "aims and objectives", a concept which hit schools in the Eighties, a good 20 years after it had burst on the business scene? Did you ever learn the difference between an aim and an objective?
A decade ago business was obsessed with the "lean" organisation. Companies would downsize, reshape, re-engineer, outsource - and in some cases go bust. Hierarchies would be flatter, reward strategies would become targeted and individualised. Roughly translated this amounted to heavy redundancies as organisations tried to squeeze their budgets. Then there was performance-related pay - which is just raising its educational head again - tied to ever-increasing targets.
The good news for teachers is that the business world has rediscovered people. This year's conferences are full of seminars and presentations about making the most of your workers' knowledge and their commitment. A whole series of books has appeared to proclaim the message that employees need to be valued, nurtured, listened to. People, it seems, are important to organisations.
The knowledge and experience of the people inside a large organisation are its intellectual capital, a term developed by the American Tom Stewart. Intellectual capital can be greater than the tangible assets, says Andrew Mayo, who advises big companies on personnel strategy. He argues that many business mergers and takeovers fail because the people dimension is ignored.
"Most of these things are driven by macho chief executives, by lawyers and accountants," he says. "They look at the products, the markets, figure out a business plan - they misuse the word synergy, which means "We will save money by firing people' and the whole people side is just assumed to happen. The evidence is absolutely clear that these things go wrong because of people issues - either cultural clashes or key people who leave.
"IBM paid seven times the book value for Lotus. IBM, a smart company, probably valued the intellectual capital quite carefully - but most companies don't."
His views have been taken further by Kevin Thomson, chairman of MCA, an international marketing company, and author of Emotional Capital who argues that bosses must win the "hearts and minds" of their workers. "Most are failing to do that," he told the Institute of Personnel and Development in Harrogate last month.
A survey by MORI, the pollsters, discovered that the majority of employees in Britain's biggest organisations, including the public sector, feel undervalued and uninvolved. The survey attempted to measure people's emotional commitment to their employers: only 9 per cent are sure that they are valued; just 15 per cent have confidence in their leaders.
Mr Thomson talks about "buy in", the way to win hearts and minds. Effectively, he says, about one in five employees are saboteurs, and the way to change this is to communicate effectively, to produce engagement. "People need to feel that their contribution is valued, their needs are recognised and their participation makes a difference to them personally and to the organisation as a whole. That is what we mean by engagement," he says.
He divides people at work into four types: bystanders, loose cannons, weak links and champions (see box, above right). These are familiar figures in any staffroom. From the colleague who's seen it all before, whose cynicism corrodes morale, to the madly keen teacher whose energy is not matched by the ability to follow procedures or work with others.
Most of the examples Thomson gives are from industry and commerce but he's keen to point out that there's a public-sector dimension to the study. "Too often the focus in the public sector is on pay," he told The TES.
"Time and time again I encounter situations where senior managers think that employee dissatisfaction revolves around pay. Far more attention needs to be paid to working conditions, training, letting people know that they are valued. Pay is not the only motivation."
The implications for policies on "naming and shaming" are obvious, but the new business theories of emotional and intellectual capital have a resonance for other aspects of education management.
The communication that people like Mr Thomson have in mind is not the morning briefing or the ministerial pronouncement.
He argues that organisations must listen. "People no longer want to be told what to do, they demand to be involved," he said.
Heads looking to transform their school, may or may not find the books useful. Most of their thrust is aimed at the business world. But the current crop of management theories, with their emphasis on people strategies, could be more welcome in the education sector than some of their predecessors.
A government that valued the intellectual and emotional capital inside schools would not have allowed mass early retirements which leached a great pool of that capital out of the system last year. In the past schools have had to wait for business ideas to become rust-stained and redundant before they were launched on unsuspecting teachers. Perhaps these are one set of theories which schools should try to get a look at before they go out of fashion.
'Emotional Capital' by Kevin Thomson (Capstone).'Intellectual Capital' by Thomas Stewart (Doubleday, New York).
KEVIN THOMSON'S GUIDE TO WORKERS
* Bystanders are unengaged, know what they need to do, but lack commitment.
* Loose cannons are keen and committed, but lack a clear understanding of what is going on.
* Weak links are switched off, they lack both commitment and any real understanding of where the organisation is going.
* Champions are both committed and who also have a good understanding of what the organisation needs to do to succeed.