Posts Tagged ‘ organizational improvement ’

Graduation Question

This is obviously graduation season. The latest commencement addresses are on the news. Families and happy college and high school graduates are out celebrating with their families and friends at local restaurants. Groups of young men and women with gowns and tasseled mortar boards seem to be at every arena in town.

Since I regularly work with superintendents and their staffs all over the United States, I have to ask…

Do you know how many of your former high school graduates obtained a post-secondary degree this year?

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Questions, not many answers.

Here is an example in The Atlantic of how data is used for analysis that changes strategy. Sabermetrics correlates statistical data to outcomes and has been used for strategy in baseball since Billy Beane began using them in Oakland (Moneyball). It is now as unthinkable in baseball to build a strategy without using this tool as fielding a team without a pitcher. The current controversy is about who should really get credit for the win. What if the pitcher didn’t have a single strike out for the entire game? What if the catcher made every close pitch look like a strike? Does it matter? Only if you are responsible for outcomes.

How do we develop sabermetrics for education? Do we measure outcomes for teachers or students? What’s the educational equivalent of winning the World Series? What’s the equivalent of winning a division title? How about the equivalent of winning one of the 162 games in a season? How about the outcome for each inning of each of those games?

I love baseball, the great American pastime, and the correlation of data to outcomes that sabermetrics has brought to the game make all the more effective and exciting.

More importantly I also love education, the great American ask time. A time of inquiry and discovery. The current correlation of data to outcomes is that a child’s family income is a good predictor of their test scores. Is that as deep as we can go? And once we have the data, can we use the information to change outcomes?

“Not My Department!”

I am a strategic planner. If you tell me what you intend to accomplish, then you need to tell me how you are measuring your progress toward that goal. If your vision and mission statements talk about a goal of student “success”, shouldn’t you measure how many of your graduates acquire post-secondary degrees? A high school degree alone, unless accompanied by skills training for a trade, is not a guarantee of a living wage – clearly a threshold measure of “success”.

In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education Beckie Supiano analyses a report from the Pew Research Center on “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College”. The economic disparity between younger workers with a college degree and those without is growing. The number of college graduates with career building jobs is also much higher than for those with a high school diploma.

I know that as a superintendent with less than five years in the job, you are measuring the success (or lack thereof) of your predecessor. Nonetheless, if your vision is the success of all of your students, one measure must surely be how many of those students graduate from college. If your graduates are not making a living wage, how can you claim they are successful?

Remember the 1965 Tom Lehrer satire?

Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?

That’s not my department, says Wernher Von Braun.

Aren’t we subject to a similar satirical criticism by claiming success is just high school graduation?

 

Matthew May’s Three Hour Vision

Matthew May has it right. We no longer can afford to wait until the annual offsite retreat to react to the latest innovation in the education business. His three hour vision meeting is a good alternative. Perfect? No. But if you build some flexibility and interim decision points into the key projects in the last step, you will be miles ahead.

Educational institutions are notoriously risk averse. What if you get it wrong???

You have still learned much more about the problem than if you did nothing. Still worried? Don’t bet the house, use Peter Sims tactic of Little Bets.

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?

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.

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.