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7. ‘Making change stick’: Managing change when introducing central services

Part 7 of CJK Associates Autumn 2022 blog series#schooltrustcentralservices

It's often claimed (though rarely proved evidentially!) that 80% of change involving technology fails to meet the initial expectations. It's certainly the case that making this kind of change successful is difficult. So this article considers the steps that make your project more likely to be successful.

“It’s essential we listen to people who will be using the service, not just assume we know what they want”

Service design

Careful service design is essential, using a pathway of plan>>>design>>>develop>>>deploy.


  1. Identify the lead service provider (e.g. Director of Finance if it’s a Finance service): Do they have time to commit to the detail of this?

  2. Form a project team: who’s going to manage the process? They need to have time, and the right skills

  3. Sequencing and timing: When we work with trusts in a consulting capacity, I aways consider a clear ‘road map’ for the planned changes to be essential. This should be realistic about time, resource, pace: I have seen some trusts rush quickly to new organisation or system choices, only to have to redo the change over the next few years. This is demotivating, frustrating and expensive. Better to plan ahead and be realistic. Trustees need to understand this, and the Exec team needs to be able to explain the reason for timing very clearly.


  1. Identify user requirements (e.g. Headteachers, Board, LGBs): it's essential to listen to people who will be using the service, not just assume we know what they want

  2. Develop a service catalogue and service agreements: based on user requirements, what is the service to be provided, to what standards? Some trusts go to a full ‘Service Level Agreement’ approach, others prefer ‘gives and gets’. I’m agnostic, but do believe this needs to be articulated


  1. Set out the details of system and process requirements. I would advocate for having systems in place before changing the organisation too much, or holes will appear in the service. Similarly, you will want to put new capacity and skills in place before removing roles from the old model. Ideally this is through slotting, matching and reskilling people who are already in the trust.

  2. Align governance and Schemes of Delegation: sometimes a switch to central services removes headteachers from having direct control of staff delivering, say, facilities services. It’s vital to ensure that accountabilities reflect this e.g. health and safety, budgets, staff management. Otherwise, people are left with accountability without agency.


  1. In larger trusts it makes sense to test a new service design with a smaller group of schools, so you can iron out issues before rolling out to the whole group. When changing systems like payroll you may want to run the new system and service in parallel with the old one for a short period, to minimize risk.

  2. Listen carefully to feedback from users and from service providers and aim for continuous improvement.

Supporting individuals through the change

It's essential to give careful consideration to change management, and especially, how individuals are affected:

  1. Awareness: involve people as much as possible in what’s happening, consult frequently, build energy and momentum from within the schools and services teams

  2. Desire: In change management it is normal to encourage change leaders to think about staff and answer the question “What’s In It For Me?” or WIIFM? In school groups that is also true, but more importantly, to have a clear view on WIIFTS: “What’s In It For The Students?”. If this isn’t crystal clear then you probably shouldn’t be doing it! If it is, then the answer is a great way to explain the change.

  3. Knowledge: Consult and inform about the design and timing as it develops. Build knowledge quickly though quick wins: Change can take a while, and build momentum and understanding by finding some early ‘wins’

  4. Ability: The change is a great chance to build the skills and career pathways for your existing staff, so invest time looking for these opportunities and make sure the training is delivered.

  5. Reinforcement: ‘Go live’ is just the start. To make the changes work, you need to continue strong project sponsorship: someone senior needs to continue to take full and visible ownership.

Change plan

Choreographing how the service plans and change management plans come together is the job of the overall change plan, which should set out the change at the level of the whole school group, including the strategy, planning and how the change will be measured and sustained.

I am optimistic that the steps above will mitigate some of the risk around moving to new services. Even so, there are still things that can go wrong. In the final blog this Autumn I will discuss the ‘shared service frustration equation’, and how to solve it.


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