Family friendly: If not our schools, then who?

Okay, we are in the kid business. Who better to take care of our fellow educators’ young children than us? Yes, I understand that budgets are already strained and daycare is not part of public education’s charter…So let me ask you this. How do you feel about as associate whose answer to your very reasonable request is, “That’s not in my job description”? Shouldn’t we feel the same way about an organization that says, “That’s not my job”?

The latest business publications have run stories on  accommodating children at work. Here are two:

As a design professional with many years working in education I believe if we really worked at it, we could find a hundred different ways that childcare could be offered at little cost to staff in a public education setting. Who better to nurture the younger generation than education professionals?

Wouldn’t childcare differentiate your value proposition from you competitors? Wouldn’t childcare reduce teacher turnover and keep you from losing your irreplaceables?

Shouldn’t we at least be as family friendly as the for profit business down the street?

By Any Other Name

All education organizations are risk-averse. It comes with the territory. We believe that no parent will ever entrust their child to an organization that is the institutional equivalent of Fast and Furious. But here’s the thing…every parent (and grandparent) wants their child to receive the absolute best in terms of instruction. Often what that means in this day and age is innovation – at least some variation to our time-honored pedagogy.

Yes innovation is scary. But how can we teach our kids that it’s okay to fail, if we are afraid to fail ourselves? Lisa Bodell, one of my heroes, says in her latest article in Strategy + Business,

Making it safe to try new things is critical for innovation to happen.

And yes, my educator friends, we must innovate! Think about it. By the time our current fourth graders graduate from high school, it will no longer be necessary to know how to manually drive a car. Maybe “FAILURE” just has too much cultural baggage in the educational environment. We need to find another term for a temporary lack of success. Any vocabulary suggestions?

In Praise of Mentors

Marshall Goldsmith is one of my heroes. He speaks, I listen. His latest in Talent Management magazine is

My department was unusual in the school district. I required two things of everyone that worked with me – I wanted everyone to take the Gallup StrengthsFinders test (all results were posted to the rest of the team and in each office) and I asked everyone to find a mentor to meet with regularly. Mentors provide a perspective and career maturity that cannot be found elsewhere. It worked so well for my team members that when I was named to the superintendent’s council, I felt I had to find a mentor as well. She provided great insights and I grew as a result of her guidance.

What is your Reputation?

James O’Toole in a recent blog in Strategy + Business talks about the perils of a new CEO being appointed and in order to be distinguished from the old CEO, fixing things that are not broken.

Yet in trying to differentiate themselves, new CEOs often abandon successful strategies, programs, and even organizational missions.

I wish I could say that this never happens in educational institutions, but unfortunately it does…often. Whether the former superintendent was a well-respected leader or someone who had to leave town under the cover of darkness,  we all feel the need to distinguish our administration from the former administration.

Here is my suggestion to avoid this pitfall. As a new CEO/superintendent, find a seasoned, authentic staff member who has no problem telling truth to power, check your ego at the door, and let them advise about what you are thinking of changing. Review with them the logic behind your proposed change. Realize that almost any change requires a cultural shift, as well as a structural change. And remember “Desperately searching for a tree on which to leave a mark”  is not a career builder legacy, nor the caption you want scribbled under your portrait in the lobby!



10,000 hours of Leadership Practice?

There has been a great deal made of the 10,000 hour rule to accomplish mastery discussed in Gladwell’s Outliers and Colvin’s Talent is Overrated. Unfortunately, most of the references neglect the other part of the research that says that 10,000 hours must be spent on deliberate practice.

There is a great discussion of the Anders Ericsson research regarding deliberate practice in the book, Influencer. The authors apply it to the practice of leadership.

Granted, business schools typically offer a course in giving presentations and speeches where the performance components that students are asked to practice are so obvious. but this is not the case with other important leadership skills, such as addressing controversial topics, confronting bad behavior, building coalitions, running a meeting, disagreeing with authority figures or influencing behavior change – all of which call for specific behaviors, and all of which can and must be learned through deliberate practice.

OK, so how many of you have practiced those crucial conversations? Think it might be time for some role play? Your executive staff could probably use some practice as well.


From Anne Lamott’s latest book, Stitches:

People who teach others to read or to navigate a library, who don’t give up on slow or challenged students, will get the best seats in heaven. I don’t know a lot, but I know this to be true.

My brother teaches special education at a local high school. I think he will be seated near the Godiva chocolate fountain on the other side of eternity.

What good is a performance review, if it doesn’t change behavior?

Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone in their article in the January-February issue of Harvard Business Review say that feedback, a necessary component of continuous improvement, is problematic because it creates a tension between two very human needs – the need to learn and grow and the need to be accepted for who we are. They describe the three ways criticism can push your buttons – truth triggers, relationship triggers and identity triggers. then they suggest six ways to be a better receiver, that is ways to find the coaching in the criticism. Here is the article.

Understanding and adjusting your attitude when you are receiving or delivering a review is one aspect of the process. This sensitizes the giving as well as the receiving. The other aspect of the productive review is frequency. In order to make reviews more productive they must be delivered frequently. Timing is everything. More work? Not necessarily. Go back and review One Page Talent Management by Marc Effron and Miriam Ort. This technique absolutely nails the productive review process. The review as described by these experts eliminates complexity and adds value…and changes behavior! And isn’t that what you want?

The Science of Neglect

This video from the Center for the Developing Child contains some very profound observations regarding the effects of neglect on brain development.

Changing Culture in order to Succeed

On November 14, 2013 Booz & Company published a whitepaper containing their survey findings about culture and organizational change. They surveyed 2,200 executives, managers and employees and analyzed the results. 

As an enabler of change, culture remains stubbornly under leveraged. Both the survey data and our years of experience observing a wide range of companies trying to transform some aspect of their business or operations suggest that culture is usually pretty far down the priority list.

Day-to-day attention to organizational culture from leadership is the only way to make sure change is successful. Your strategic plan must stress the “why” and its connection to culture. Change management consultants frequently use the analogy of a ship’s trim tabs as an illustration of how to apply leverage and change direction. Organizational culture is the trim tab for change. Recognize culture’s importance, or your initiatives (regardless of how logical or well-meaning) will likely fail.


Maeda Exits


John Maeda announced on Wednesday that he will be leaving his post as president of Rhode Island School of Design. RISD is one of a handful of premier post-secondary institutions. His interview by Shauncey Ferro in Fast Company is here.

Although the fact that he is leaving to join a venture capital firm is surprising, it is this comment that I found most thought provoking:

RISD’s in great shape. At the [MIT] Media Lab, one of my mentors was a man named Stephen Benton. He once told me, “John, the role of someone in a job is to make the job more attractive for the next person.” I’ll never forget what he said to me. In that spirit, I have worked to make this job a better job for the next person.

How many of us can say we have done this? How many teachers, principals, superintendents that leave for a promotion, or another career, or another challenge have worked to make their current job better or easier for the next person?