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When Trust Turns To Rust!

'Head of Communications, Chief Economist Royal Bank of Scotland' how would you like that as a job title, or even on your CV? Well, yesterday I met the current incumbent and what a refreshing and surprising experience it was!

When I saw the agenda for the latest network meeting for the SCEL (Scottish College for Educational Leadership) Fellowship programme my first reaction was something like, 'aye, right, what's this guy going to be able to say about leadership that is going to have any credibility?' I assumed he would come into the room stoop-shouldered, with the cares of the world almost visible on his shoulders. I was wrong. Never assume! Dr Andrew McLaughlin hails from Ayrshire, has played and coached football for many years, and likes to quote Burns, in addition to his responsibilities at RBS. He's a youthful 45 year old, has a family and obviously loves his job, and all the challenges it presents. Don't you always find people who love what they are doing look a lot younger than their chronological age? He's a realist and understands the monumental challenge he and the Bank face to rebuild confidence and credibility. But, like all good organisations, they have a plan and a strategy! I understood all this in the first five minutes of his presentation, which he told us was going to be themed around 'The Business of Trust.'

He explained he was first and foremost an economist, this had always been his passion. But as he took on the mantle of 'Head of Communications' for RBS he realised he needed to develop more skills and knowledge. He needed to find out about marketing. In marketing he felt there were two key elements to consider, brand and reputation. He stated that if the connection between the brand and the reputation of an organisation or company  became too big then they were in trouble, RBS being the prime example of this. He recognised that rarely would brand and reputation be in the same place, and if they were this was just a moment in time. What was key, was keeping the two connected closely to each other. 'The thing that keeps these two elements tethered together is trust' was his key message.

Andrew thought people often found it easy to talk about trust and use the term but were unclear of the the elements that were crucial in trust. He identified these as character, competence and intent.He represented them, and their connectedness, by the Venn diagram below.

What he noted was that when there is a breakdown in trust it was because of deficiencies or problems in one, or more, of these three elements. To illustrate his point he asked us if we had ever worked with a teacher or Headteacher who were fantastic practitioners, but whom we didn't trust? All of us had. In that scenario, it was likely that we were questioning the intent of the individuals, not their competence. Though we might also have questions about character. Then you could have people who had good intent, and sound character, but whom we had concerns with around their competence. Andrew argued that when there is a breakdown in trust with individuals we should be prepared to have conversations with staff around which elements are causing concern. He felt the diagram allowed us to have a focus for such conversations.

He then shared another model with us that he and RBS were using to try to turn around perceptions, 
reputation and performance of the bank. This was as follows:

In this he showed the elements the bank was focusing on in their turnaround strategy, and in what order. As a result of the crisis faced by RBS and other banks from 2007 onwards, Andrew identified that they had to start with their staff. Staff, like customers, had also lost confidence and trust in the bank and senior management.They had become disengaged from the bank and what it was trying to achieve. This needed to be addressed if they were to regain, and build, customer confidence and engagement, the second step on their road to achieving their central aim. If staff are disengaged and don't buy into the plan, they pass this disengagement on to customers and their performance, leading to the plan heading off track very quickly. By achieving customer engagement again they would then generate more repeatable business and customer advocacy. If customers are happy with the service and products they receive, they are likely to purchase more services, and more likely to recommend the bank to others. If that happens, then the bank would achieve the final element of the plan, higher earnings and increased profitability. This is essential if the bank is to survive and begin to grow again and achieve their stretch aim. Andrew pointed out that when the bank collapsed they had got this model the wrong way round! They were so focused on growing and profits they lost sight of, and often contact with, the customers they depended on and the staff who needed to deliver the service necessary. The arrows in the plan then ran the other way, and this led to disaster. He was keen to point out that this whole model is now underpinned by collective values. One of the first things they did as they began to try and re establish the bank was to get right back to core values, and agree these with all staff. 'What are we about as a bank?' 'What is important to us and for our customers?' Were key questions. All of these actions were designed  to achieve their long-term aim for RBS, expressed in the centre of the model, and where they wanted to be by 2020.

Andrew admitted his lack of knowledge about schools, but he felt that this model was one that would work for all organisations, including schools.  We too should start from our values. We need to engage with our staff, so that they understand and share these values and the vision for where we are heading. As a parent of children going through secondary education, he felt this had been an issue for CfE for many teachers. He observed that too many teachers felt they hadn't been involved in developing the vision enough, and that was why so many of them felt disengaged with what the curriculum was trying to achieve. Engaging staff in the vision is crucial. Then we need to engage our 'customers' pupils, parents and community, so they too share and understand the vision. Next we need to consider how we are going to deliver. What actions do we need to take to achieve our vision? If we get these right, then we should be delivering on the ultimate aims, increased attainment, increased achievement and the closing of the attainment gap for all. It's one model, but it does work and might help schools shape the steps they need to take to deliver on their vision and intended direction of travel.

He left us with another couple of key messages. The first one was that all Headteachers and school leaders should be able to tell the story of their school and what they were about in about two minutes. He felt we should rehearse this then keep sharing it at every opportunity and through every interaction we have with parents and pupils, so that it is visible and understood by all. He then recommended a book to us all, 'It Starts With Why?' By Simon Sinek. I really liked this message as it really fits with my own favourite question 'For what purpose?' He noted that all companies and organisations ask three key questions: Why? How? And What? Most spend far too much attention on the What? then the How? and not enough time considering and establishing the Why? I must say this resonated with myself and others, when considering schools. My own thought is that there are too many schools who are incredibly busy and active, but haven't spent enough time thinking about the why? or the for what purpose? questions. All of this leads to minimal sustainable impact for pupils.

I really enjoyed this different perspective from Andrew, and his willingness to be open and honest about the organisation he represents. I think we all thought that if RBS has quality people like Andrew in place, then it won't be long before trust begins to grow again in RBS. Like the bank, schools depend on trust too. Parents need to trust schools. Staff need to trust Headteachers. Headteachers need to trust local authorities and Government. When trust breaks down, so does everything we are trying to achieve for all of our pupils. We all need to build trust, nourish trust and cherish trust throughout all elements of the system.

Trust me, it's worth the effort!

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