Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Management of the Absurd

I'm reading the book "Management of the Absurd" by Richard Farson (Simon & Schuster, NY, 1996).  Let me share with you how he opens the book.  "All of us like to think that human affairs are essentially rational, that they work like other things in our world, and that we should therefore be able to make them work for us. The wealth of experience that fails to support this notion never seems to faze us. Small wonder, then, that it may require some effort to accept the fact that life is absurd, that human affairs usually work not rationally but paradoxically, and that we can never quite master our relationships with others."
He goes on to say, "The idea that we learn from our failures is built on the notion that we learn from our own experience, that experience is the best teacher.  In one sense that is obviously true, because experience is really all we have.  But to learn from experience means that we have to process it in some way that makes it available to us. We have to analyze it. And, most of us, for some reason or another, don't do that. We don't take the time and energy, we don't want to know the unpleasant aspects of it, we don't want to look deeply into our failures.  Experience could be the best teacher, but it seldom is.  As an example, organization consultant Robert Tannenbaum says that too many senior managers who have been at the job thirty years don't necessarily have thirty years experience - they have more like one year of experience, thirty times."
As we consider issues in our organizational diagnoses, it is important to look for both individual willingness and organizational willingness to REFLECT on failures as well as success.  I might mention that Farson also says that "we learn not from our failures but from our successes and the failure of others."  True reflection - "nothing is as invisible as the obvious."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From great chaos comes great opportunity

Thomas Friedman, op-ed columnist for the New York Times (and author of The World is Flat) wrote an interesting piece today (1/21), the day after Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States.  I offer it to you (see the URLs list on this blog) not as a political statement but as an example of what our new President faces in his Organizational Development and analysis upon taking charge of this country.  Some may say that a country is not an organization. Probably not, but the government, as determined by the President, is (he picks the cabinet and other operational posts). 
How do you suppose Lewin would describe an organization in chaos through his Force Field Analysis?  Since turmoil has 'unfrozen' so much, the opportunity to restructure already exists.  How can we, as leaders, use this current chaos in our efforts to improve our organizations? This is a tremendous opportunity for us to add value to our existing organizations.  It is also a reality that should help you frame your projects.  Think about it - you don't need to create chaos for change  - it already exists!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Understanding Culture

"If you don't understand the culture of the company (or school, district or dept!), even your most brilliant strategies will fail.  Your vision will be resisted, plans won't get executed properly, and all kinds of things will start going wrong."   
Isadora Sharp, Chairman and CEO, Four Seasons Hotels

I am confident in saying that most educational leaders do not value enough the necessity of identifying the EXISTING culture of their school, district, academic department or program before they start off trying to make change - most often under the guise of "improvement."  How can you  know where the organization needs to go if you don't know where you already are? Change for change sake can't be productive. 
For a leader to truly have an impact on improving student performance it is critical that we understand the role culture plays in the educational organization.  Educational organizations are typically VERY stable and somewhat static organizations for employees. That must be where we start......

Friday, December 19, 2008

Organizational Development

The new definition of "Organization Development is the attempt to influence the members of an organization to expand their candidness with each other about their views of the organization and their experience in it, and to take greater responsibility for their own actions as organization members.  The assumption behind OD is that when people pursue both of these objectives simultaneously, they are likely to discover new ways of working together that they experience as more effective for achieving their own and their shared (organization) goals. And that when this does not happen, such activity helps them understand why and to make meaningful choices in light of this understanding."   Neilsen, "Becoming an OD Practitioner", Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Prentice-Hall, 1984, pp. 2-4.
For our purposes in class, we will also use some of the "old" definition of OD: "Collaborating with organizational leaders and their groups to create systemic change and root-cause problem-solving on behalf of improving productivity and employee satisfaction through improving the human processes through which they get their work done." The Center for Human Systems;
In both seminar and practicum settings we will be considering the issue of organizational change within either K-12 or higher education.  Please begin by reading from the URL listed below.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Awhile back, Lou Gerstner was hired as the new CEO of IBM. At that time he was inheriting a company that had once been the most admired enterprise on earth but had slumped to be one of the most troubled. Gerstner himself was hired, in fact, as a hard-headed, results-driven manager. His initial plan was to steer the company in a radically more goal-oriented direction. What he quickly discovered, however, was that IBM had drifted from its historically anchored beliefs.  He realized his main job would have to be to restore and revitalize IBM's soul.
Like IBM, schools and education have drifted from our core beliefs.  It is difficult to keep the faith when the pressures of reform constrict the purpose of education to producing results on standardized tests.  (Taken from Reviving the Soul of Teaching by Terry Deal and Peggy Deal Redman, 2008)
Instead of trying to make schools more data and bottom-line driven, we should be encouraging a return to our core beliefs and the hallowed principles of why we came to be teachers in the first place - "To make  difference for kids."  People and values first! "We are emotional beings in a social setting."
Let me end this post with some wise words from our colleague, Christina Palmer: " Implications for our group projects are indicative of the delicate balance between embracing technology without losing sight of the human dynamic. How can we remain visionary while maintaining our humanity? Can we facilitate forward thinking and positive change while simultaneously ensuring that the human element is central to our vision? It is clear that we must."
What I know for sure is that our future and that of our grandchildren and their grandchildren, to a great degree, rests in the hands of those current educational leaders who understand this 'delicate' balance.  Yes, we can make 'extraordinary' learning environments, and, yes, it IS in our hands.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The past and the future......

In 1916 John Dewey wrote a book, "Democracy and Education" that has sort of become my educational bible.  I believe strongly in most of what he says in this text.  Let me share a bit with you.... "A community or social group sustains itself through continuous self-renewal, and this renewal takes place by means of the educational growth of the immature members of the group." He goes on to say that the "problem is to discover the method by which the young assimilate the point of view of the old, or the older bring the young into like-mindedness with themselves. The required beliefs cannot be hammered in; the needed attitudes cannot be plastered on.   We must also consider how the social medium nurtures its immature members." Unfortunately, "in too many cases - the activity of the immature human being is simply played upon to secure habits which are useful. He is trained like an animal rather than educated like a human being."  Shortly thereafter, Dewey suggests that, "Making the individual a sharer or partner in the associated activity so that he feels its success as his success, its failure as his failure, is the competing step" (pp 10-14).  As Dewey continues, "The only way in which adults consciously control the kind of education in which the immature get is by controlling the environment in which they act, and hence think and feel. Any environment is a chance environment so far as educative influence is concerned unless it has been deliberately regulated with reference to its educative effect.  An intelligent home differs from an unintelligent one chiefly in that the habits of life and discourse which prevail are chosen, or at least colored, by the thought of their bearing upon the development of children." And, "Example is more potent than precept" (pp 18-19).
These words were written almost 100 years ago.  I wish we had leaders that would take them to heart as we build our society into the 21st Century.  As you design those learning environments of 25 years into the future, don't forget the value we can bring from the past.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Begin with Policy

As we look at designing new learning environments, we need to first ask ourselves how we want that environment to feel to the participants - students, faculty, staff, community.  If we want a supportive, safe (to encourage some risk-taking!), engaging environment then we need to decide what our "culture" will be like and thus we need to decide how we will "do things."  That is the point of all policy - to explain how things will be done.  I use the term policy because we don't think in terms of local policy much, since we typically call local policy "rules."  I call it policy so that we understand that ALL policy is about telling us how to do things.  And, what that policy is determines how it "feels."  Just look at the Federal and state policies that make no attempt at considering how those policies might feel by the participants (NCLB anyone?).
Thus we start by designing the affective environment by determining the policies that will provide for that positive effect.  This is the true soul of leadership - determining policy that will give you both the positive affective environment that you want, but also get your team focused on the appropriate results.
I'll tell you a little about how I did that as a Superintendent.  I had walked into a very contentious environment where teachers felt little support. I told them that the one thing we do every day in schools happens in their classrooms and that all of the rest of us are here to provide support (my "policy").  Appropriately, their response was, "we look forward to seeing that."  Trust would come only with consistent behavior over time, both by me and my admin team.  Fortunately, we were ultimately able to see the results of these layers of trust developing.  That was when I made the next "policy."  That was, all teachers will have laptops and projectors for their classrooms (among many other things...).  Added to that was all teachers will be able to choose their own professional development and those choices will all be available in monthly PD series.  My policy was clearly based on my belief that the teachers were professional enough to choose wisely, knowing their own needs.  And without having the technology they couldn't integrate tech or project-based learning as easily into their classrooms.  These decisions were clearly policy decisions in that they identified "how we will do things here" thus establishing a particular culture and climate.  The result of these policies was that a huge percentage of teachers engaged technology and project-based learning in their classrooms.  Since we did not force anyone to "change," they were much more trusting of the policy and felt supported in their willingness to try new things.
So, when I ask, what policy will you use I think you can better get the point.  1. What do you want your folks to feel about the environment, and , 2. what policy will help you with that? And, remember, it is the years 2030-2035!  DREAM!