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Four ways to understand organizational change

River and Forest

cc-nc-nd by *wb-skinner

You cannot step twice into the same river. (Heraclitus)

The above quotation was on the wall of my classroom at my previous school. Heraclitus is also attributed as saying, “The road up and the road down is one and the same” (also on my wall). Heraclitus recognised that whilst there is nothing fundamentally new under the sun, nevertheless the whole universe is in a constant state of flux with nothing fixed. Heraclitus believed the secrets of the unvierse could be found in finding patterns in the changes that take place.

David Bohm was a quantum physicist who, in the 20th century, developed a theory that ‘invites us to understand the universe as a flowing and unbroken wholeness.’ (Morgan, 1998:214) A useful metaphor that Morgan uses pace Bohm is that of the whirlpool in a river. Whilst such a whirlpool has a relatively constant form, it does not exist separately from the movement of the river.

Four ‘logics of change’

Morgan addresses four ‘logics of change’ in his chapter Unfolding Logics of Change, namely:

  1. Autopoiesis
  2. Chaos & complexity
  3. Mutual causality
  4. Dialectical change

1. Autopoiesis

Traditional organization theories frame organizations in reference to their external environment. A new approach to systems theory was developed by Maturana and Varela which they termed Autopoiesis (from the Greek auto – for self- and poiesis for creation or production, literally ‘auto self production’). They argue that all living systems are ‘organizationally closed’ and make reference only to themselves. The idea, therefore, that such a system is open to an environment is the product of an external observer trying to make sense of it.

Maturana and Varela believe living systems to be characterized by autonomy, circularity and self-reference. These three features allow the system to self-create or self-renew. The aim of autopoietic systems is to produce themselves and therefore their own organization and identity is paramount.

Artificial BrainIn order to back up their theory, Maturana and Varela point to the brain as a ‘living system’. The brain, they contend, is ‘closed, autonomous, circular and self-referential.’ (Morgan, 1998:216) Although it seems obvious to us that the brain processes information from the external environment, Maturana and Varela point to the impossibility of the brain having an external point of reference:

If one thinks about it, the idea that the brain can make true representations of its environment presumes some external point of reference form which it is possible to judge the degree of correspondence between the representation and reality. This implicitly presumes that the brain must have a capacity to see and understand its world from a point outside itself. Clearly, this cannot be so. (Morgan, 1998:216)

Taken as a metaphor for organizations, the theory of Autopoiesis has three main implications:

  • Organizations are always attempting to achieve ‘self-referential closure… enacting their environments as extensions of their own identity.’
  • Many of the problems that organizations encounter are a result of their attempt to maintain a particular identity.
  • Explanations of organizational evolution, change and development must give attention to the factors that shape patterns affecting organizations.

Morgan contrasts what he calls ‘egocentric organizations’ with ‘systemic wisdom’. The former have a fixed notion of who or what they are and are determined to sustain this at all costs. ‘This leads them to overemphasize the importance of themselves while underplaying the significance of the wider system of relations in which they exist.’ (Morgan, 1998:219) The example Morgan gives is of ‘watchmakers’ and ‘typewriter firms’ failing to take account of developments in microprocessing and digital technologies. Their identity as producing a certain kind of equipment led to their downfall.

Contrasted with this is the idea of ‘systemic wisdom’ where organizations have an ‘evolving identity.’ Morgan believes that organizations can never survive being against their environment:

In the long run, survival can only be survival with, never survival against, the environment or context in which one is operating. (Morgan, 1998:221)

To be successful, therefore, organizations must be willing and able to transform themselves along with their environment in an evolutionary manner.

2. Chaos & complexity

complexityAlthough it is usual to draw a clear distinction between ‘chaos’ and ‘complexity,’ Morgan (1998:222) states, it makes more sense in terms of organizations and their environments to consider them to be parts of the same interconnected (evolving) pattern. Using evolutionary theory as a touchstone, Morgan talks about the ‘random disturbances [that] can produce unpredictable events and relationships.’ However, ‘coherent order always emerges out of the randomness and surface chaos.’ (ibid.)

Rather than internal complexity, randomness and diversity being organizationally-threatening, Morgan argues, they can actually become resources for change. Random systems develop an (albeit temporary) equilibrium as tension between two or more ‘attractor’ elements. These tensions will, every so often, lead to ‘bifurcation points’ due to changes in one or more of the attractor elements making the system unstable. Such ‘forks in the road’ lead to different futures and ways of operating for organizations.

Small changes can lead to huge consequences. The most famous example of this is the ‘butterfly effect’ where a small and insignificant event such as a butterfly flapping its wings in China can influence weather patterns on the other side of the world. The butterfly doesn’t cause in any meaningful sense the hurricane, but the tiny change it causes in its environment leads to another change and another change, and so on…

How can managers and leaders cope in the face of such chaos and complexity? Morgan suggests five key ideas:

  • Rethinking what we mean by ‘organization’ – especially in terms of hierarchy and control
  • Learning the art of managing and changing contexts
  • Learning how to use small changes to create large effects
  • Living with continuous transformation and emergent order as a natural state of affairs
  • Being open to new metaphors that can facilitiate processes of self-organization (Morgan, 1998:226)

What do we mean by ‘organization’?

Although somewhat frightening, chaos and complexity theory stresses that there is no ‘grand design’ or central organizing principle at work in such systems. Instead, ‘patterns have to emerge’ without being imposed. Hierarchy and control are temporary conditions or outcomes of the system, mere ‘snapshot points’ on a self-organizing journey (as Morgan puts it).

The fundamental role of managers is to shape and create “contexts” in which appropriate forms of self-organization can occur. (Morgan, 1998:227)

This is an extremely insightful point, and one that resonates with me. Take setting up a new online community, which I’ve done (and attempted to do) a few times. An authoritarian, top-down approach is guaranteed not to work in this arena. Instead, as I’ve attempted to do with EdTechRoundUp, procedures, norms and contexts are negotiated that allow the organization to evolve successfully.

Changing contexts

Sometimes, if a particular system is inappropriate within an organization – for example a school or hospital is ‘failing’ and not reaching external targets, then the role of managers and leaders is to cause instability that causes the system to change. The aim of such instability would be to cause those within the organization to re-assess their role and day-to-day practice to change the system for the better. ‘The important point,’ says Morgan, ‘is that the manager helps to create the conditions under which the new context can emerge.’ (1998:230) Without creating these conditions, organizations ‘end up trying to do the new in old ways.’ (ibid.)

Small changes -> large effects

If systems are conceived as involving several ‘attractors’ that are in tension, it follows that changes in context are achieved by either introducing new attractors or changing the influence each attractor possesses. Doing this will generate ‘bifurcation points’ that affect future development – often by creating ‘tensions between the status quo and alternative future states.’ (Morgan, 1998:231)

Creating a paradox leads to system instability, and therefore a need for a ‘reframing’ of the situation which would resolve this paradox. Managers and leaders need to help change the system incrementally so fundamental change occurs. Such incremental changes can create a ‘critical mass’ effect which leads to an overwhelming force for change.

Emergence as ‘natural’

Leaders and managers cannot force complex systems into lasting comprehensive changes. They can merely nudge and push a system in the desired direction. They should be aware of feedback loops and provide room for experimentation with ‘new realities’. Introducing new images and metaphors of the roles of individuals within the organization can help

3. Mutual causality

Feedback loopsChange, according to the theories outlined above, does not unfold in a linear fashion but via circular patterns (loops not lines). A does not cause B under such a system. Instead both A and B ‘are co-defined as a consequence of belonging to the same system of circular relations.’ (Morgan, 1998:234) Magorah Maruyama has shown how positive feedback loops can lead to complex systems:

[A] large homogenous plan attracts a farmer, who settles on a given spot. Other farmers follow, and one of them opens a tool shop. The shop becomes a meeting place, and a food stand is established next to the shop. Gradually, a village grows as merchants, suppliers, farmhands, and others are attracted to it… [T]he homogenous plan has been transformed by a series of positive feedback loops that amplify the effects of the initial differentiation. (Morgan, 1998:235)

Often, human nature makes us want to explain and analyze situations in terms of finding a specific ’cause’. However, phenomena actually reside within overall patterns of positive and negative feedback.

Peter Senge, leadership guru and author of The Fifth Discipline believes that many systems are unstable because of delayed feedback between elements. This leads to people within organizations either underplaying or exaggerating their behaviours.

Morgan comes across as a great believer in loop analysis and presents some of his reasons for thinking so. Here are three of them:

  • It cultivates ‘systemic wisdom’ – the approaching of organizational problems from a mindset that respects patterns of mutual causality.
  • It provides insights on how small changes can have large effects.
  • It invites us to understand the patterns that lock the system into vicious circles because of positive feedback loops.

4. Dialectical change

ying-yangIt is a truism that we cannot fully understand something without knowing its opposite. You cannot truly know the meaning of ‘hot’ unless you understand what ‘cold’ means. You cannot conceive of ‘day’ without knowing ‘night’. And so on. Such dialectical philosophy has a long history and tradition, chiefly through Taoist philosophy which originated in ancient China. This philosophy understands the universe to be subject to the dynamic interplay of yin and yang, creative and destructive powers.

Dialectical principles

Taoist philosophy influenced the work of both Hegel and Marx who developed some of its principles into theories of social change. Morgan uses a neo-Marxian perspective in this section to settle upon three main principles:

Principle 1 – Whenever one person attempts to control another a process of resistance undermines that attempt. ‘The act of control itself sets up consequences that work against its effectiveness.’ (Morgan, 1998:245)

Principle 2 – Negations of negations retain something from that form, leading to an evolution in patterns of control.

Principle 3 – Changes in quantity lead to changes in quality. Water absorbs increases in temperature up to the boiling point. Camels can be loaded until the straw that breaks its back. ‘A process of control and countercontrol may continue until control is no longer possible, leading to a new phase of collaborative or destructive activity.’ (Morgan, 1998:245)

Putting these three principles together we can see that organizational arrangements set up contradictions and opposition by their very nature. This leads to a Hegelian process of negation and counter-negation. This process continues until a limit is reached and the qualitative state of the organization must change or be destroyed.

Dialectical management

Dialectic analysis has two main implications for management, believes Morgan:

  • Restructuring is not a solution to a problem as it is itself a manifestation of a deeper problem. Instead, they should be dealt with through ‘social and political initiatives.’ (Morgan, 1998:248) Contradictions can only be tacked through an appreciation of what is creating the context in which they are able to flourish.
  • Managers and leaders cannot wait for ‘macro-problems’ to present themselves. They must deal with ‘microflux’ in order to keep an organization running smoothly and understand ‘creative destruction.’

Managing paradox

If not managed properly, new initiatives or directions instituted to cause positive organizational change can become ‘mired in paradoxical tensions that undermine the desired change.’ (Morgan, 1998:249):

Although there may we ways of resolving the paradoxes, the fact that the tensions are experienced as contradictory may in itself be sufficient to negate transformational change. For example, if people feel that the new demands for “more innovation,” “improved morale,” “more collaboration,” “increased decentralization,” and so on, are inconsistent with what seems reasonable or possible, inertia is the most likely outcome. (Morgan, 1998:250)

To my mind, this seems almost as though leaders and managers, although being explicit about the organizational vision, should keep the purpose of other changes and maneuvers ‘hidden’ as this could prejudice their outcome?

‘Paradox,’ says Morgan (pace Kurt Lewin, whom he cites), ‘cannot be resolved by eliminating one side.’ (Morgan, 1998:251) The task of the manager or leader is to find a way to integrate competing elements. They must create new contexts that reframe the key contradictions in a positive way. For example, Japanese manufacturers have transformed a traditional paradox by showing how improving quality (by elimating waste, simplying processes, etc.) can lead to lower costs.

‘Creative destruction’

cc-nc-nd by =keepwalking07Dialectical processes directly affect innovation. New innovations lead to the destruction of established practice and displace old innovations. In turn, the solutions the innovations provide create a new set of problems, which require new innovations. And so the cycle continues. As Morgan notes, this leads to important implications – not least that innovations create the basis for their own downfall. :-p

Many companies embrace the above and succeed in chaotic and turbulent environments because they ‘systematically destroy the breakthroughs created by their own products and initiatives by coming up with better ones.’ (Morgan, 1998:253)

Although so-called ‘creative destruction’ can be a powerful tool, it leaders must take care that it is not over-emphasized. Destruction should be a by-product of evolution, not a conscious aim.

Conclusion

Morgan outlines what he believes to be the three main strengths and the one major limitation of the ‘flux and transformation’ metaphor.

Strengths

  • Offers new understandings of the nature and source of change.
  • Offers new horizons of thought that can be used to enrich our understanding of management and leadership.
  • Offers to leaders and managers a powerful new perspective on their role in facilitating emergent change.

Limitation

  • Is ‘powerless power’ a message that managers and leaders really want to hear?

I’m a bit more cautious about embracing a ‘chaos and complexity’ model of organizational change. I’m much more comfortable with the ‘brain’ metaphor that I blogged about recently. However, I can see that if an organization is striving to become the ‘best of the best’ a decentralized anti-structure as proposed here would perhaps be the best method to achieve this.

What are YOUR thoughts? 😀

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Are organizations like brains?

Images of OrganizationAs part of my Ed.D. course through the University of Durham I had to take some taught modules. One of them that I took back in 2006 was entitled Management, Leadership & Change. It was an excellent course from which I gained a lot. Unfortunately, unlike many of my classmates, I wasn’t then at a time where I could use this knowledge being then only just finished my second year of teaching. Now that I’m in a position that carries more responsibility, management responsbilities and leadership opportunities, it’s time to revisit that course and related reading.

One of the books I read for the Management, Leadership & Change module was Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization. I found it a revelation, especially being so fond as I am of metaphor. Morgan uses eight metaphors as a lens through which to view organizations:

  1. Organizations as Machines
  2. Organizations as Organisms
  3. Organizations as Brains
  4. Organizations as Cultures
  5. Organizations as Political Systems
  6. Organizations as Psychic Prisons
  7. Organizations as Flux and Transformation
  8. Organizations as Instruments of Domination

Each of these perspectives teaches the reader something about organizations; it’s a very clever and interesting way of presenting insights.

Having just come across this neat overview of Daniel Goleman‘s idea of the various leadership styles, I wonder how much overlap/synergy there is between the two?

Goleman - Leadership Styles

I’m especially interested in the idea of organizations as ‘organisms’, ‘brains’ or ‘cultures’ as I believe these lenses to be the most powerful for effecting positive change. The remainder of this post will look at organizations as ‘brains’.

Organizations as brains

Morgan starts off the chapter comparing brains to holographs where ‘everything is enfolded in everything else’, there is not centre or point of control and, most importantly,

Pattern and order emerge from the process – it is not imposed. (Morgan, 1998:73)

The philosopher Daniel Dennett, someone who I read fairly widely at university during my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, suggests that our highly-ordered stream of consciousness is actually the result of ‘a more chaotic process where multiple possibilities are generated as a result of activity distributed throughout the brain.’ (ibid.) Competing parallel activities can make complementary and competing contributions into a coherent pattern.

‘Just In Time’ and perceived chaos

Morgan gives the example of ‘Just In Time’ (JIT) manufacturing as being a process that is highly organized yet without ‘boundaries and patterns of membership’:

To an outsider, it may be impossible to distinguish who is working for whom. The fundamental organization really rests int eh complex informaiton system that coordinates the activites of all the people and firms involves rather then the discrete organizations contributing different elements  to the process. (Morgan, 1998:75)

Clay Shirky - Here Comes EverybodyThe above leads Morgan to wonder whether it is better to refer to a ‘system of intelligence’ rather than an ‘organization’ when describing such states of affairs. These systems break what Herbert Simon, Nobel laureate, called the ‘bounded rationality’ of human beings. To my mind it’s Morgan picking up on the start of what Clay Shirky has shown to be completely revolutionary in his excellent Here Comes Everybody (which I’m currently reading).

Understanding how organizations can become capable of learning in a brain-like way is similar to understanding how robots and other objects in the study of Cybernetics are able to ‘learn’. The latter discipline involves negative feedback. That is to say error-detection and correction happens automatically to maintain a course towards a desired goal. In order to be able to self-regulate, systems must be able to:

  1. Sense, monitor, and scan significant aspects of their environment.
  2. Relate this information to the operating norms that guide system behavior.
  3. Detect significant deviations form these norms, and
  4. Initiate corrective action when discrepancies are detected. (Morgan, 1998:77)

This negative feedback system is only as good as the procedures and standards that underlie it. So long as the action defined by these procedures and standards is appropriate dealing with the changes encountered, everything is fine. The ‘intelligence’ of the system breaks down, however, when these are not adequate leading to negative feedback attempting to maintain an inappropriate pattern of behaviour.

In order to prevent the above happening (so called ‘single-loop learning’) the model of ‘double-loop learning’ has been promoted by Donald Schön and Chris Argyris. This builds in a self-review ‘loop’ to the learning process:

Double-Loop Learning

Image cc-by-sa Ed Batista

There are three major barriers to double-loop learning: budgets, bureaucracy and accountability. One of the most famous examples of double-loop learning and organization being thwarted by these three barriers came with the US Challenger space shuttle explosion.

Learning organizations

So, how are ‘learning organizations’ created? Insights from cybernetics would suggest the following:

  • Scanning and anticipating change in the wider environment
  • Developing an ability to question, challenge and change operating norms and assumptions
  • Allow appropriate directions and patterns of organization to emerge (Morgan, 1998:82)

Morgan follows this with stressing the importance of ‘framing and reframing’ which reminds me of Lord Bilimoria’s discussion of the value of regular SWOT analyses (see this post). ‘Many organizations,’ says Morgan, ‘become myopic, accepting their current reality as the reality.’ (Morgan, 1998:84)

Organizations that embrace double-loop learning sound like the type of places I want to be part of:

For successful double-loop learning to occur, organizations much develop cultures that support change and risk taking; embrace the idea that in rapidly changing circumstances with high degrees of uncertainty, problems and errors are inevitable; promote an openness that encourages dialogue and the expression of conflicting points of view; recognize that legitimate error, which arises from the uncertainty and lack of control in a situation, can be used as a resource for new learning; recognize that since genuine learning is usually action based, organizations must find ways of helping to create experiments and probes so that they lear through doing in a productive way. (Morgan, 1998:85)

Emergent organization

Coming back to the metaphor of brains, the intelligence of the brain is not predetermined. It is not centrally driven. It is emergent. A top-down approach to management leads to single-loop learning and therefore is the opposite of such a model of emergence. To prevent chaos and incoherence targets should take the form of vision and value-sharing.

Morgan continues on to articulate a vision of ‘holographic organization’ based on five principles:

  1. Build the ‘whole’ into the ‘parts’ (i.e. ‘networked intelligence’)
  2. The importance of redundancy
  3. Requisite variety (i.e. ‘internal complexity must match that of the environment’)
  4. Minimum Specs (i.e. don’t define more that is absolutely necesssary)
  5. Learn to learn (i.e. ‘double-loop learning’)

Conclusion

After fleshing out these princples, Morgan concludes this chapter with listing the strengths and limitations of the brain metaphor.

Strengths:

  • Gives clear guidelines for creating learning organizations
  • Shows how IT can support the evolution of organizations
  • Gives a new theory of management based on the principles of self-organization
  • Addresses the importance of dealing with paradox

Limitations:

  • There could be conflict between the requirements of organizational learning and the realities of power and control
  • Learning for the sake of learning can become just another ideology

I can live with these limitations. I think the ‘organization as brain’ metaphor has a lot going for it. What do YOU think? 😀

Open Source Schools – Open Source Software: an overview

Cooliris wall

Click here to jump straight to the presentation

I’m down at Felsted School, Essex, tomorrow at the invitation of my good friend and conspirator collaborator, Nick Dennis. The Heads of ICT departments from independent schools in the area get together every so often to share and discuss ideas. I’ve been asked to do a presentation on Open Source Software – presumably because I’m involved in the Becta-funded Open Source Schools project. 🙂

Although I’ve tinkered with Prezi as a presentation tool in the past, I’ve decided I’m not a big fan as it’s a bit clunky and slow when putting your presentation together. It’s also completely ‘closed’ meaning that not only is it against the underpinning of the presentation, but other people (including me in future!) can’t re-use elements of your presentation.

A few months ago I read Alan Levine’s post Tricking out Cooliris as a presentation tool. I thought it looked cool, forgot to experiment, and then forgot about it. That is until last week when I saw that Alec Couros and Dean Shareski had used the method in their presentation entitled 2 guys. Suitably impressed, I decided to have a go. :-p

It all looked very complicated at first until I discovered that Cooliris have a program called PicLens Publisher that does all the hard work for you. All you need to do is save your presentation as a series of images, drag-and-drop the images onto PicLens Publisher and it produces the HTML page and RSS feed required.

Once that was done, all I needed to do was customize the HTML page and upload the folder via FTP to my website. Done! 😀

Update: Dai Barnes captured the audio using his Livescribe. Check it out here!

Acceptable Use Agreements, Definitions & Digital Guidelines

Over the past week I’ve been working on policies and documents relating to E-Learning and electronic resources at the Academy. The following are links to the Google Docs that were created with feedback from my Twitter network. They are very much still in draft form and I would therefore appreciate further feedback! 🙂

The idea is that the Acceptable Use Agreements stay relatively static, with the ‘Digital Guidelines’ and definition of what the Academy deems ‘inappropriate’ being more flexible and fluid.

Creative Commons License

All of these policies and guidelines are available under a Creative Commons license. You must give attribution, not use them for a commercial purpose, and share any derivative works using an equivalent license. Other than that, use away!

I’d like to thank Andrew Churches, whose excellent Digital Citizen AUA was the starting point for the Primary and Secondary AUA’s above. 😀

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Acceptable Use Policy – feedback required!

I’m in the process of putting together the Acceptable Use Agreement (AUA) that students at the (3-18) Academy will sign in September. Although everything’s subject to change, I’d like to base on principles and make it as short as possible, rather than have some monolithic document that people sign but never read. The latter state of affairs means that although the Academy’s back would be covered from a legal point of view, it would have little or no effect on thought processes and behaviour modification.
This is not my first foray into the world of the AUA. I discussed Acceptable Use Policies (AUP’s) on this blog last year in AUP 2.0.

blocked

BLOCKED by ~Devastis @ deviantart

As Director of E-Learning at Northumberland Church of England Academy, I don’t want a situation similar to the one depicted above. I want clear policies whereby both staff and students know where they stand when it comes to internet access and filtering. As far as I’m concerned, resources should be available for teaching and learning unless a clear case can be made otherwise.

I’m in the process of putting together the Acceptable Use Agreement (AUA) that students at the (3-18) Academy will sign in September. Although everything’s subject to change, I’d like to base on principles and make it as short as possible, rather than have some monolithic document that people sign but never read. The latter state of affairs means that although the Academy’s back would be covered from a legal point of view, it would have little or no effect on thought processes and behaviour modification.

This is not my first foray into the world of the AUA. I discussed Acceptable Use Policies (AUP’s) on this blog last year in AUP 2.0 after some thinking about how access to the internet via mobile devices was likely to completely change the landscape. David Warlick, around the same time as I was doing this, put together the School AUP 2.0 wiki to collate resources and thinking from around the internet. That’s a useful resource and I’ve spent a good deal of time looking at the various options and permutations.

To my mind, the best AUA I’ve come across is Andrew Churches’ Digital Citizen AUA which he’s kindly released under a Creative Commons License. I’ve taken that and – after discussion with the Principal Director of Operations at the Academy – adapted it. This is how it stands currently for students in the Secondary phase:

1. Respect Yourself
I will show respect for myself through my actions. I will only use appropriate language and images both within the Learning Platform and on the Internet. I will not post inappropriate personal information about my life, experiences or relationships.

2. Protect Yourself
I will ensure that the information I post online will not put me at risk. I will not publish full contact details, a schedule of my activities or inappropriate personal details in public spaces. I will report any aggressive or inappropriate behaviour directed at me. I will not share my password or account details with anyone else.

3. Respect Others
I will show respect to others. I will not use electronic mediums to bully, harass or stalk other people. I will not visit sites that are degrading, pornographic, racist or that the Academy would deem inappropriate. I will not abuse my access privileges and I will not enter other people’s private spaces or work areas.

4. Protect Others
I will protect others by reporting abuse. I will not forward any materials (including emails and images) that the Academy would deem inappropriate.

5. Respect Copyright
I will request permission to use resources and suitably cite all use of websites, books, media etc. I will use and abide by the fair use rules. I will not install software on Academy machines without permission. I will not steal music or other media, and will refrain from distributing these in a manner that violates their licenses.

By signing this agreement, I agree to always act in a manner that is respectful to myself and others, in a way that will represent the Academy in a positive way. I understand that failing to follow the above will lead to appropriate sanctions being carried out.

Those in the Primary phase would be asked to sign a slightly simplified version of the above with more age-relevant words included. The ongoing Google Docs reflecting how they currently stand can be seen here:

I’d really appreciate feedback, comments and ideas on the above! 😀

What I learned at TeachMeet North East 09

TeachMeetNE

Last night I attended my fourth TeachMeet – TeachMeet North East 09 – having previously been to the last two at the BETT show and TeachMeet Midlands 09 last month. It was held at the wonderfully-refurbished Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At the previous three TeachMeet’s I’ve presented either for 2 minutes or 7 minutes, but this time I decided to take a bit more of a back seat and be an ‘enthusiastic lurker’. 🙂

I met lots of people and came away with a few great ideas. These are the ones that stick in my mind:

Steve Bunce’s Neural Impulse Actuator

Neural Impulse Actuator

Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, usually things at TeachMeet I’ve either used in a different context or am planning to use. That is to say they’re ‘on my radar’. I was surprised and amazed, therefore, when Steve Bunce demonstrated a Neural Impulse Actuator last night. This takes the form of a band worn across the forehead that responds to muscle movements and brainwaves. Steve demonstrated fairly simple and straightforward applications using games and controlling bars.

Mark Clarkson’s Collaborative Tools

Mark Clarkson

Prezi is a tool you either love or hate. It was used to great effect by Mark Clarkson in his 15 collaborative tools presentation. Lots of fantastic ideas in this presentation. Mark also created and co-authored an Etherpad document that took notes on everyone else’s presentations. 😀

Fergus Hegarty on ‘Real independent learning’

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the enigmatic Mr Hegarty. He presented on a ‘needs must’ situation where he recently completely revamped his teaching of Sixth Form Chemistry due to a massive teacher shortage in his department.

He spent hours getting all of the admin sorted for the rest of the course, ‘chunking’ and labelling the material needed. Students then organized their own time and decided which work they had to do when he was present (e.g. practicals) and things they could do during ‘independent learning’ sessions. This gave Fergus time to spend with groups of different abilities. Such approaches engender exactly the skills that are needed in young people – I just hope he gets the results so he can feel vindicated in his pioneering work! :-p

flashmeetingIf you’d like to view a replay of the TeachMeet, it was streamed live via FlashMeeting which created an archive of the event here (followed by an extension here)

Lord Bilimoria on leadership.

Lord Bilmoria

Lord Bilimoria is the founder of Cobra Beer, having previously worked in audit, tax, training, and accounting at various organizations.

I took away the following points from watching Bilimoria’s ten 4-minute videos on the 50 Lessons website.

Starting from nothing always ‘against all odds’

Every time you start from nothing there will always be big sacrifices to make and involve frustrations. The key thing is that during hard times you don’t give up. Have faith in both your ideas and yourself. Long-term goals are important – as is instilling the belief that as an organization you are going to reach those goals.

Consult end-users

Never take forward ideas without checking them out with consumers or end-users. Bilimoria gives the example of his beer being called Panther until last-minute informal customer surveys showed that they didn’t like the name. Instead of ignoring this research, the organization changed the name of the beer (after feedback) and it was a success.

The lesson from this is that you come up with the ideas, but you should always check these with the end-users before going ahead. You may not be able to have large, formal research programmes, but you can always carry out informal research.

Dissatisfaction leads to innovation

Channeling dissatisfaction can lead to the generation of new ideas. Every time a good idea comes along, people always ask, ‘why didn’t someone do that before.’ This is usually because you have to ‘make the leap’ to cross the ‘credibility gap’ (which is that nobody knows you or your ideas). People will only let you close that gap if you have confidence and passion – and leads to same on their part. Trust your own judgement as many ideas overlooked as seeming too straightforward.

Contant innovation is a must

It is important to be innovating constantly as other people will always copy what you do. In order to do this you need not only have right environment within your organization but work with the best advisers; this gives you the edge. In addition, the ways in which you work with these advisers, making them part of your team, is important. Always move on and innovate – even if what you think you’ve got is great!

Long-term vision

Having a long-term vision for the organization is vital so everybody knows where you’re headed. In addition, you need smaller, achievable bite-sized targets in line with the vision. Look ahead, but have to have ‘finger on the pulse’ r.e. what’s happening right now.

Mission

‘Mission’ is the ‘what’ of the organization. It is measurable, permanent, and something you can go back to time and time again. You need a role-model in business that can help you understand where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Everything you do should be carried out with integrity – even if you are working against all odds.

Turn obstacles into advantages

Any organization or individual within it is going to come across obstacles. These must be surmounted in some way – by going around them, through them, under them – however. These obstacles can be turned into advantages. Bilimoria gives the example of Cobra Beer being limited by the bottlers to a 660ml bottle instead of a more traditional (in the UK) 330ml. They thought around the problem and now every major brewer has a 330ml opton. Consider how to turn every negative into a positive before dismissing the idea altogether.

Go for ‘will rather than skill’

What makes organizations successful is people. There are two halves to this: getting the right people and then creating environment in which they can flourish. When you recruit, go for ‘will rather than skill.’ Bilimoria gives the example of refugee who spoke very poor English who was desperate to be one of their first door-to-door sellers. They took him on, despite appearances and he is today a member of the board.

Whilst it’s ideal to have both the will and the skills, always go for the former if it comes down to a choice. To allow people to flourish, have to create ‘limitless’ opportunities – if you have too many rules and barriers that can limit opportunities available to individuals and therefore the organization.

Create a culture of idea-generation

Organizations need entrpreneurial spirit and innovative spirit that is pervasive and not just limited to the senior leadership team. People need to feel in control of their own work and this can be done by  putting people’s ideas into action. Leaders need to ‘let go’, giving trust and respect to people. Allowing employees to be flexible comes back as trust and respect for organization.

It’s not about employees ‘earning’ respect, it’s about giving it away so that it comes back. If you ‘let go’ and allow people ‘get on’ with it this leads to a ‘buzz’ around the organization. Create an atmosphere where there’s no fear to come up with ideas. For example at Cobra, people encouraged to put ideas into ‘ideas box’. The top ones are selected each month and prizes are given.

Turn threats into opportunities

It’s useful to go away from the office to carry out blue-sky brainstorming sessions that include SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Bilimoria gives the example of someone identifying at such a session that increasingly, people are drinking wine with their meal. Cobra investigated the wine business and then entered it.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

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Gill Rider on leadership.

Gill Rider

Gill Rider is the Head of the Civil Service Capability Group, a part of the UK Cabinet Office. Rider has previously worked in the financial markets, healthcare and government industries. She also worked in the customer service area examining industry best practices.

The following is what I took away from watching the collection of her seven 4-minute videos on the 50 lessons website.

Competence and Confidence

Rider talks of a ‘virtuous’ circle of competence and confidence: if you feel competent than that leads to a feeling of confidence. People assume a lack of confidence means a lack of competence, meaning that you need to show and prove that you are competent through projecting confidence. Some people will misunderstand assertiveness and confidence as your being egocentric and arrogance.

Good leaders need to be good teachers

In order to be a good leader you also need to be a good teacher. You can foster this in others by getting them to teach topics outside their comfort zone. They will becoming engaged by this, enjoy the teaching, and will provide a good model for more junior members of the organization.

Rider talks of a ‘teachable point of view,’ an idea she gathered from a more well-known speaker (whose name I missed). This ‘teachable point of view’ consists of binding up ideas, knowledge and opinions to pass onto others. Junior members of the organization are ‘hungry to hear about experiences and stories.’ Leaders therefore need to confidence to go ‘out there’ and teach. Leaders who teach become fulfilled and become the most effective leaders. It improves the overall quality of work being produced and leads to a virtuous circle.

The importance of listening

Listening is a vital skill as it enables you to udnerstand what people are feeling and wanting. You can find out exactly what you want to know by careful listening. A combination of listening and asking questions is important in any dialogue; Rider quotes Mark Twain‘s advice that ‘you have two ears and one mouth – use them proportionally.’

In advance of meetings, ask people what the objectives of the meeting are and get them to formulate these into questions. It is easy to assume you know what’s going on in any situation, but it’s easy not to go beyond the superficial. Pick up signals from body language and ask questions that probe more deeply.

Don’t exclude minorities

Rider talks of her avoiding the ‘women question’ by just trying to get on with her own career and be as successful as possible. However, it struck her later in her career how little things had changed for the status of minorities at the top organizational levels.

It is difficult to appreciate, Rider says, how minorities feel when you are always part of the majority. Deliberately placing yourself in a minority situation helps you to understand how others may feel. Rider points to research that shows the more diverse an organization is, them more effective it is. Diversity is also important for perceptions of the organization in terms of being representative of communities.

The lack of ‘logic’ in Powerpoint

Rider dislikes Powerpoint as it takes the ‘energy’ out of presentations. People focus on getting the bullet points correct rather than on the overall ‘logic’ of the presentation. Rider herself gets employees to write White Papers that have argument and logic. Powerpoint doesn’t really allow for discussion and the ‘human element’ of going off at tangents.

The importance of trust

Trust is one of the most important things in the business world. Your ego and self-interest needs to be removed from the situation so you can hear where others are coming from. Trust is key to being successful in business world and comes from human beings connecting on personal as well as a professional level.

Matching behaviour to words

Rider tells an interesting story about the chairman of an organization stopping her one day when she was literally running to get to her next meeting. He explained how such behaviour would be interpreted by others and amplified as it went down the organizational hierarchy, eventually being interpreted as ‘panic’.

Rider has a nice phrase, ‘You can’t talk yourself out of what you behave your way in to.‘ Always look like you’re in control.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

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Colin Day on leadership.

Colin Day

Colin Day is Group Chief Financial Officer and Director of Reckitt Benckiser, ‘a global force in household, health and personal care.’ He has worked for a number of organizations, including British Gas (when it was the ‘Gas Corporation’) from which he draws experiences and lessons in leadership.

The following is what I learned from watching his seven videos on the 50 Lessons website:

Most people like being led

Day believes that most people want to be led and that very few want to lead themselves. This is mainly due to the necessity of making tough decisions as a leader.

Love/hate reactions

Leaders need to movtiave staff and inspire them, otherwise organizations can end up with dissatisfied staff. Inspiring a love/hate dichotomy regarding leadership style within an organization is not necessarily a bad thing.

Good leadership comes from confidence

Leaders need to be preapred to make decisions and lead by example. You need to be seen to be technically competent, which can be demonstrated through motivation, enthusiasm and commitment. Allied to this, however, has to be confidence. If staff see that you have their best interests at heart, that you will not let them down and that you will support them, then they will follow your lead.

‘Open door’ policy

It can be quite an intimidating experience to go an see your boss, which is why an open door policy always some fears. Leaders should be available day or night and tell staff that ‘there’s no excuse for not contacting me.’ People need to be put at ease by not treating them as if they’re slaves to you or in any way second-class citizens. Leaders need to be open with people – which is difficult to do consistently and honestly all the time.

Don’t judge books by their covers

It’s easy and part of human nature to rush into perceptions of people or organizations. Forming judgements from other people’s opinions and the media is easy to do. Leaders need to find out for themselves and be open-minded. Find out the facts so you can form an educated opinion. Ask relevant questions when recruiting and allow them to do due dilgence on you. Day provides prospective employees with a list of people whom they can talk to about his leadership style and what to expect if they work under him.

Autocracy is a necessity

Organizations and the people within them have to accept a certain measure of ‘autocratic’ style as it gets results. Consensus management doesn’t work, according to Day: someone needs to ‘call the shots’ as otherwise nothing gets done. The only leadership style that really works is one where you give very clear direction about what you want and then clear messages about how that should be achieved.

According to Day, it’s all about focus. If you say something and stick to it enough you will find people take onboard what you say. As a leader, you need to make sure that everyone shares your focus. Don’t lead initiatives until the last minute – plan well in advance and provide clear direction from the top so that ‘everyone marches to the same tune.’

Detail

Leaders need to know how much detail is required in various situations and how much to demand of their workforce. Analysis and statistics is not important if the bigger picture is being ignored. In Day’s experience, people hide behind detail for confidence purposes, producing endless charts tables to try and make a simple point.

As a leader, demand people focus on the larger issue. Use instinct and experience as much as data. Make documents short and to the point; they should be 4-5 pages long or take 4-5 minutes to present. If a point cannot be made in that amount of space or time then there’s something wrong.

No ‘job for life’

There are no ‘jobs for life’ any more: don’t encourage staff to think in that way. Instead, encourage them to talk about their career options, taking them out of their comfort zone, preparing them to take  risks and look outside of the organization. Career-seekers are more motivated than ‘company’ people. Those who stay in one job for a long time stagnate.

Self-confidence

It’s not enough for leaders to be intellectually brilliant or extremely technically competent. You also have to have the confidence to pull things off even when wrong-footed. Confidence also needs to be built and nurtured in your staff as well. Give them responsibilities to deliver on important projects. They will feel like they are part of the decision-making process even if not making the final decision.

Confidence can only be grown, not ‘taught’. Day talks of a ‘rock of granite’ within people that others can chip away at but will nevertheless remain solid. Look for this ‘rock’ when hiring people.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

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David Brandon on leadership.

david_brandon2

David Brandon is CEO of Domino’s Pizza. He’s one of the contributors to the 50 Lessons website. This website incorporates is a series of 4-minute videos from inspirational leaders of organizations. Brandon was a successful American Football player at college, an experience he looks back to often when thinking about leadership issues.

The following is what I took away from viewing his five videos on the 50 Lessons website:

Treat people the way they want to be treated

Leaders need to be able to adapt the way they deal with people to individual circumstances. The wrong approach is to take the same leadership style and apply it to all your dealings with staff in your organization. Find out the way people want to be treated and treat them that way. Brandon says this is the best piece of advice his father (who himself had no formal leadership experience) gave him early in his career.

Have a plan for ‘sudden change’

From an American football game between the Ten...
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Looking back to his college American Football days, Brandon talks about how his coaches trained the team to recognise sudden change within a game and to respond to it in a positive way. Transferring this to organizations, it’s importance to instill the idea that ‘change is good’ whilst recognizing that many will approach it will trepidation and indeed may resist that change.

Brandon talks about when he was unveiled as CEO of Domino’s Pizza and kept his message simple. He contrasted ‘sitting around talking about the good old days’ with embracing change to make a good organization even better.

Things either get better or they get worse

An unfinished  miniature portrait of Oliver Cr...
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Brandon’s comments on things ‘never staying the same’ reminded me of a saying I had on my wall in my old classroom, attributed to Oliver Cromwell. It read, ‘He who stops being better stops being good.’ It’s a phrase I saw every day and spurred me on.

Brandon believes that when things are going well  for an organization or team – sales are up, the team is winning every game, academic results are getting better every year – then it’s easy to fall into the mindset of ‘just turning up.’ To counter this, he says, coaches when he played American Football drummed into them the belief that ‘things either get better or they get worse, but things never stay the same.’ Fostering this mentality in your organization leads to constant striving towards improvement.

Don’t rely on internal benchmarks

It’s all very well hitting or even surpassing benchmarks and targets set internally within your organization. However, if no attention is paid to others in the field, then you can be left behind. Brandon talks about finding the best in the field and becoming as good or better than them.

With schools, this is less of an issue of competition and more one of keeping up with best practice, I believe. Of course, there’s local competition in terms of persuading parents to send their children to your school, but in the bigger picture it’s about raising standards across the board.

Deal with minor issues quickly

The time to deal with minor issues is as quickly as you can and when things are going well. Restructuring, procedural issues and suchlike are much better done at times of stability rather than when your organization is on ‘the edge of a cliff’. Making changes when things are going well means the organization is more resilient and can be more focused on those changes rather than on the survival of the organization.

Pivotal moments & decision-making

As a leader there will be ‘pivotal moments’ when going one way could lead to great rewards, whereas going the other way could lead to disastrous consequences. It’s the easiest thing in the world to make a decision when you and 100% of the people around you agree on what should be done. The tough decisions come when there is a 50/50 split.

When such a decision has to be made, make it and then act with ‘confidence, passion and a true sense of calm.’ Leaders, after all, must lead. Your actions after the decision has been taken are almost more important than the decision itself as you can energise the workforce into taking action for the organization to succeed. You need to explain your decisions and then stand by them.

PS You can get access to the 50 Lessons website through the National College for School Leadership’s Leadership Library

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