Candor in Communication

Laura Rittenhouse left Lehman Brothers in 1997 and began analyzing the candor of CEO communications.  As Sally Helgesen says in Strategy + Business there is no substitute for candor.

http://www.strategy-business.com/blog/Laura-Rittenhouses-Candor-Analytics?gko=d416c&cid=20131003aagC&utm_campaign=20131003aagC

Smoke and mirrors in the form of academic jargon and/or obfuscation has its price. If there were a Rittenhouse Ranking for organizations like yours, where would you rank?

Strategic Planning 101

From 12 ways to improve your leadership to 3 ways to a healthy lifestyle I think most advice from bloggers is too simplistic and often just plain wrong. The latest from Ron Ashkenas and Logan Chandler is the exception. These four tips for a better strategic plan are right on target. http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/10/four-tips-for-better-strategic-planning/

  • Test the assumptions.
  • Banish fuzzy language.
  • Escape from template tyranny.
  • Ask provocative questions.

A bad plan is worse than no plan at all.

Great Places to Work?

The Great Places to Work Foundation just published this year’s list of the 50 small and medium-sized organization that are great places to work.

http://www.greatplacetowork.com/publications-and-events/press/2281-great-place-to-workr-announces-2013-best-small-a-medium-workplaces-list?goback=%2Egde_1733557_member_275044989#%21

See any school districts on this list? This is a missed opportunity for smaller school districts. To my knowledge no school district has ever been on the list. This is a goal worth pursuing. Anyone want to step up?

Orchestration

Ron Ashkenas in his latest blog post to HBR makes an interesting observation about leaders and making decisions. There is no doubt that making decisions is part of being in charge, but we often neglect the other part – orchestrating decisions.

And while it may seem easier to just make the decisions yourself, in many cases this won’t lead to the best outcome — nor will it increase your team’s capability to make future decisions. The alternative, however, is not to shy away from decisions, but rather to create an orchestrated process by which the right people are engaged, including yourself.

http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/08/dont-make-decisions-orchestrat/

Understanding and achieving that balance between making and orchestrating is what makes our team.successful  And isn’t that what leadership is all about?

Education in Search of Relevance

My ancestors worked with their hands. They loved making things. For better or worse, I have inherited that gene. I have been a draftsman, a farmer, a carpenter and one day perhaps even a potter again.

My grandfather, Henry, worked at the Crane and Breed Company in Cincinnati, Ohio as a wood carver. This is the kind of work he used to do – hearses and caskets.

Image

After he retired, I remember him working daily at his tool bench in the basement making or improving one household item or another until he was satisfied. I often wonder what he would be improving, if he were still alive. I suspect he would be using an i-pad and a 3-D printer to do it.

The maker culture has finally made its way into education. Project-based learning is a logical gateway to transform the modern classroom into a makerspace. Stephanie West-Puckett in her blog on Edutopia provides a thorough explanation of how and why this should occur. read her post at http://www.edutopia.org/blog/classroom-makerspaces-transformative-learning-stephanie-west-puckett

Like you, students need to find nurturing places in real life and on the web to geek out with others who share their passion. They’ll thrive in spaces that perpetually rekindle their desire to make meaningful contributions toward personally relevant issues, ideas, people and interests.

Education in search of relevance to students. Now there’s a radical idea!

Teaching Failure

How many times have you heard fail fast and fail often to achieve success? Jason Seiken in his HBR blog talks about how he made it more than a slogan at his organization.

He writes, “Business-school literature has long stressed the importance of taking risks and encouraging rapid failure. In the real world of quarterly numbers, though, embracing failure mostly remains a throwaway line in CEO speeches.

At PBS Digital, we went beyond corporate lip service and demanded failure from each and every employee.”

Check it out…http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/09/how-i-got-my-team-to-fail-more/

I firmly believe that growth comes from failure, not success. I know “teaching failure” sounds like an oxymoron, but research shows that students who believe that failure is a temporary condition and are resilient are far more likely to be ultimately successful. Are you providing a safe space to fail in your classroom, in your school, in your district?

Have you made your quota of failures this week?

Mastering Meaningful Meetings

The start of the school year also means the beginning of that age-old institution, the weekly senior staff meeting. Whether it is a cabinet level or senior directors level, since it is the beginning of a new year, one cannot help but question the need for these sessions of senior level administrative over-think. Jeff Booker, now a deputy at Gaston County Schools in North Carolina, used to caution his staff about the relationship between the money that was sitting around the table and the work being done at the meeting. Peter Bregman makes a similar point in his recent HBR blog, http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2013/09/four-areas-where-senior-leader.html Both Booker and Bregman speak to making these meetings more meaningful. The alternative (if there is an unbalanced ratio of money at the table vs. the gravity of the topics) is to cancel the meeting. That’s leadership!

Education, Innovation, and Leadership

From Julia Kirby’s Harvard Business Review blog August 26 on Steve Balmer’s exit from Microsoft …”So the big lesson other CEOs should take away from this public trial is a cautionary one: this is how you, too, will be judged. We have known for a long time that innovation is the name of the game now. Peter Drucker made the point in HBR’s pages 18 years ago, writing that ‘Core competencies are different for every organization …. But every organization needs one core competence: innovation.'” Read the full article here  http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/hbreditors/2013/08/steve_ballmers_big_lesson_innovation.html

Educational organizations should no longer be content to sing with the chorus. It’s time to solo. We must innovate both with our business model and with our program delivery.

First Day of School: Planning 101

With the start of school everyone is looking at the demographic planner for enrollment information. A little advice for school leaders before you get to the podium:

  • Use a year-over-year comparison to get a sense of the volatility of the numbers. If your  planner didn’t hit projections at School A until day 10 last year, don’t expect to hit them until day 10 this year.
  • There is a lot of noise in the first day of school enrollment numbers. If the roles from the previous year have not been purged, the numbers will be high. If you just report the actuals, your numbers will be low on the first day. For this reason many states use the 20th day of instruction as the official enrollment, some wait even longer.
  • Enrollment also vary by demographics and grade level. Elementaries will equalize within the first week, middle schools a little later, and high schools may take up to a month to really settle. The enrollment at higher poverty schools will be more variable and more students will enroll during the first week of school.
  • Your planner should be able to guide you regarding the schools that will have big swings in the numbers. Attendance boundary adjustments, a new housing development or a new charter school in the attendance area are just a few of the reasons for volatility in a school’s enrollment numbers.
  • Make sure you know what you are reporting – total enrollment, average daily attendance, or another variation of attendance figures.
  • Always have your planner compare your school by school numbers with each school’s rated capacity (and know how that capacity is calculated). Often rated capacities are an “ideal” condition and schools that exceed that capacity by a small amount can operate that way until a solution is found.
  • The big concerns should be those schools that have exceeded their projections by the staffing ratio and are above classroom capacity. Work with your principals to reach an accommodation – team teaching in one of the larger classrooms, use of a smaller room (office and/or conference room) for a self-contained class that has just a few students, float an elective class, using the library/media center for pull-out classes, etc. Your school leaders should know their buildings and what may or may not be possible. Because of the logistics involved, moving a temporary classroom into place on short notice is usually not a timely answer.
  • A less than two percent variation between total enrollment projection and actual total enrollment is acceptable.
  • Concentrate on figuring out why some schools where you had to adjust the staffing were high or low. Ask your planner for an after-action report after the dust settles. You will want to concentrate on those schools in which the projected enrollment was one staffing ratio above or below the actuals. The goal would be to not repeat that scenario at that school next year.
  • Accurate projections are one of the tools of leadership. If you can’t trust the numbers, change the way they are developed.

Innovation from the Middle

Like the majority of government organizations, many school districts operate as Theory X companies – hierarchical, highly supervised, and compliance oriented. If your educational institution is not one of these, consider yourself fortunate. It is very likely do to your enlightened district leadership. Clayton Christensen believes that as an identity-laden industry, education will innovate very slowly. So far history has proven his theory.

In my experience, sustaining innovation (as opposed to disruptive innovation) comes from the middle. In their article in HBR on Stealth Innovation Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg give some great examples and explanations as to why this happens. http://hbr.org/2013/03/the-case-for-stealth-innovation/ar/pr

The important takeaway for me is that although the innovation did not occur at the top of the hierarchy, the innovator upon being discovered was celebrated and not chastised for “working outside of his or her assigned purview”. You will be amazed at how much progress can be made, if only the middle has the autonomy to innovate.