Building Capital


Loss aversion has been shown to be a powerful force in psychological motivation theory. As humans, we are motivated to avoid a loss more than we are to achieve a gain.

It’s one of the reasons why an employee whose salary one year is cut from £100,000 to £75,000 will lose more satisfaction than the emotional gain experienced by another colleague whose basic salary of £50,000 rises to £75,000. The gain has less emotional weight than the loss.

It’s also, incidentally, one of the reasons why it’s so hard for a government to take away a benefit that it has already given to a population.

In a time of scarcity, the power of losses can be particularly debilitating. For instance, in an organisation laying people off, staff can feel the emotional loss strongly even if they themselves are retained; the loss of an anticipated benefit (e.g. a pension) can have a strong negative effect; the loss of a role, a right, an expectation all result in a disproportionate sense of dissatisfaction.

Linked to loss aversion is the tendency to ‘loss attention’; in other words, we pay too much attention to our losses and not enough to our gains. This is something which leaders need to actively mitigate. Where is your school’s attention going to lie over the coming year?

If it lies with trying to avoid (the loss of) slipping down the league table, then it is likely to be rather dispiriting year. If it lies with trying to avoid (the loss of) a curriculum subject due to budget cuts, or some other activity, then colleagues are likely to feel downcast.

Better, can you focus on the gains you are aiming to achieve as a school? What is it that you want to have more of by the end of the year? What is it you want to have accumulated, increased and built up?

These might be tangible assets: a new building block; increased pupil numbers; a new curriculum subject; more cultural activities.

But these might also be intangible: increased expertise by staff completing a new training programme; stronger links to the local community; better engagement with parents; more contributions to local, regional or national initiatives.

One gain in a time of scarcity of disproportionate value is the sense of social bond in the staff room; the cooperation, friendship, goodwill and generosity of spirit.

A lot of leadership is about making those intangible gains tangible. In the busyness of the school term, eyes get focused on the operational, reactive and practical. Part of your role is, throughout the year, to consciously raise people’s eyes to name how those day to day activities are building a set of real, meaningful, tangible assets- both for them as individuals and for the school. That may be hard because you yourself may sink under the swell of the operational unless you guard against it.

It’s no coincidence that people who own assets in life, tend to live more stable, organised, secure lives. It’s a myth that those assets are only material and financial. Some of the most intangible- emotional, social and cultural assets- have a small financial price but are the bedrock for a thriving community.

How does STEER’s AS Tracking help you achieve this for your school?

AS Tracking makes the intangible tangible. A huge amount of pastoral work is unseen; who sees what the effect is of all those small conversations, little interactions, thoughtful messages, personal touches? AS Tracking was designed to make the effects of all those little, hidden actions tangible, visible and measurable. It IS about reducing mental health risks; but it is also about capturing and evidencing what a school is already doing excellently.