The Sorting Hat
“There’s nothing hidden in your head The Sorting Hat can’t see, so try me on and I will tell you where you ought to be.”
For those of you that don’t watch Harry Potter, during the opening banquet at the beginning of each school year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the first-year students are lined up and their names read aloud alphabetically. Each then takes a seat on a stool and The Sorting Hat is placed on each head. After a moment of consideration, the hat announces its choice aloud for all to hear, and the student joins the selected house.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of The Sorting Hat to guide us or our children, or indeed our businesses, but we do have the skills and tools to hand to determine our future goals and put a plan in place to achieve these.
Back in October 2013, Jacki and I packed the twins off for a sleepover at Grandma’s whilst we set-up our own little camp in the lounge consisting of post-it notes, white boards and lots of coffee, as we busily set about planning the next 3 years.
Now the reason we planned 3 years is because we were transforming away from one business into another, plus James and Lily would both be starting school in September 2016.
Yes, they were only a year old at this point, but we knew the deadline for school applications was January 2016 and working back we wanted to give ourselves the appropriate time for agreeing what we were looking for in a school, what we needed to do in order to secure that “dream” school that satisfied as much as the criteria as possible, and plenty of time of course for research.
The first thing we did was to make a wish list of all those things that were important to us. Things like: safety, values, structure, support, growth, teaching styles & development, pride, access to learning & focus on health and wellbeing.
We then hit Google and drew up a list of over 20 schools in and around the area – regardless of state, independent, mixed or single. After further desk research, we whittled the list down and then set about registering for Open Days and organising visits, with the main aim of elimination against our clear set of criteria.
And this is when it got REALLY interesting….and where lots of lessons can be learned for all businesses (not just schools):
All the schools did have values, missions, or whatever you like to call them. But the single point of failure for most of them was that it was just a list, or at best, a few posters scattered here and there. Those few schools that truly shone out were those that had a vision and a set of clear simple values, but had taken the time to share these internally, explain why there are so important, built their school around them and everyone lived and breathed them from the receptionist, to the pupils showing us around, right up to the head teacher. They weren’t just a vanilla list of words; they were being translated and used day-in day-out and as soon as we rocked up to the Open Day, we knew what the school was all about and what is strived to be.
Does your business have a clear mission and do all your staff know what this is? It’s your rally cry, your reason for being, the reason why your customers are loyal and forgive the odd mistake, the reason why people want to come and work for you.
One morning, Jacki visited two schools back to back, both of which were clearly going to fill their allocation no problem. What was astonishing was the different approaches and “customer” experience. The first school ensured their Open Day was a warm, welcoming experience and an event in its own right – proudly showing off their work and walking around interacting with teachers and pupils during classes. An hour later at the other school down the road, it was as if their Open Day was a bit of a nuisance and we were in their way. There were signs up asking not to disturb the classrooms, the head teacher was “there” for questions but was slowly edging towards her office. It felt soulless, and there was no visible pride in having the chance to show off their school to their community.
Out of the eight schools on our hit list, only one school pre-qualified with a phone call before sending out their prospectus. This built up a relationship at an early stage and ensured they were not wasting time, nor money, sending out a glossy brochure. This school also called a few days before their Open Day to check that we were still coming along.
Following the Open Days, only two schools followed-up; it was evident these schools had clear systems and processes in place.
In business, we all know how difficult it is to attract potential customers in the first place and if we don’t follow-up leads, there is a competitor just around the corner ready and willing to pounce – even if their offering is far inferior to yours. It is a sad indictment that we only have to do a little more than our competitors to stand out.
Just three schools referenced Lily & James by name; again showing that they had invested their time to see who was visiting, and then being readily able to advise which class / year group they would potentially be joining.
They knew their prospects, their “Client Avatar” well ahead of our first meeting, they spoke our language – can you say the same about your clients before they interact with you?
As you can imagine, this process took well over eight months of focus, and our clear list of criteria meant we were evaluating schools on equal merits. We’re really pleased (and relieved) with our choice and confident it’s the right one thanks to all our planning!