Last month I wrote how Appreciative Inquiry can help an organisation develop a more meaningful vision. In this column, I want to explore some ways to think about the skills gap.

When an individual feels they do not have the skills to produce or perform what is being asked of them they might feel anxious.

This anxiety is a threat, and in some cases, when threatened, the ‘Flight or Fight’ response can kick in.

In the Flight response, some staff will choose to cognitively distance themselves from what is being asked.

It’s a curious phenomenon that you might also have seen in kids – when challenged to do something they can’t, despite having an expert on hand to help, some staff will choose to further disengage.

In the Fight response, some staff make choose to openly challenge what is being asked of them, citing all the times “we’ve done this before.”

In the Fight response, often staff will look to recruit reinforcements, and this can prove testing for even the most resourceful of leaders.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we should blindly accept new approaches, as change for the sake of change is rarely helpful or productive.

However, we should recognise that there are many who choose to continue to do the “old” thing well, even though they know the “new” thing is better and what they should be doing. But they don’t take it on because they don’t want to struggle with the “new” thing.

The way in which your organisation frames “struggle” and learning is vital in this regard. If staff feel they have to prove themselves, then many will be less likely to take on new initiatives.

However, if your organisation has a culture where colleagues improve themselves it increases the likelihood of staff considering different approaches.

I think too often we see staff not doing as we might hope and decide that they are lazy, incompetent or worse, malicious, but I would urge you to consider that they might be acting in a manner to protect themselves – figuratively speaking.

This could be because the vision hasn’t been communicated well, so confusion reigns, and of course, as I’ve discussed here, in many cases this confusion is coupled with anxiety.

Next month’s column will look at ways in which schools can support their staff in acquiring new skills.