I tried recently to count the number of organisations of which I’ve been part over the years. I attempted to list everything from junior football teams through to my current employers. I began to lose count.
We’re part of many organisations in both our working and personal lives. I began to wonder how many of the organisations to which I’ve belonged would be considered successful. This then led me to consider what I meant by ‘success’…
What follows is a list of five characteristics I believe to be common to every successful organisation.
By ‘successful’ I mean demonstrably achieved what the organisation was set up to do. For a swimming club that’s teaching people to swim, being successful in galas, and training-up lifeguards. For schools it’s not only achieving good value-added but striking an achievable work-life balance for staff and preparing young people for the wider world.
Each of the following is additive: an organisation needs to get the first one sorted before moving onto the next. Skipping straight to 5 is a waste of time if 1-4 aren’t in place!
Every successful organisation needs a story. Often this is the mission statement based on the founders’ wishes. An independent school often has a strong story and a proud history which is often reflected both in the events calendar and positions within the staff and student body. A business that sells a product might have a story on how the company was founded or the ‘lightbulb moment’ – such as the Dyson story that’s printed on the side of all Dyson vacuum cleaner boxes.
The story not only lends the organisation legitimacy, but gives its members a common shared interest and direction in which to point. It sets the parameters, the tone. Sometimes the story is summed up in the organisation’s slogan, such as Google’s ‘Don’t be evil’ and Nike’s ‘Just Do It’.
More than anything, the story tells the world why the organisation exists. And that’s an important thing to communicate, especially in these testing times.
2. Call to action
Every organisation needs a story, a mission, a raison d’être. But it also needs a call to action – a reason why people should care – or, perhaps more importantly, a reason why people should join in.
A church, for example, is unlikely to get new members by providing bland, inoffensive services that allow people to forget the main messages soon afterwards. Public bodies such as the National Health Service need to not only go through the motions to improve the nation’s health but capture the public’s imagination and give them a reason to change their habits.
The call to action is difficult, especially if it requires demonstrable change in lifestyle or belief system. And, of course, the most successful organisations are the ones that maximise (and capitalise) upon these changes.
3. Growth mindsets
It’s fully possible to have a successful organisation without charismatic leaders. But I’ve yet to come across a successful organisation without leaders who have growth mindsets. Carol Dweck’s work has revolutionised not only my approach to education and business, but interactions with my son:
According to Dweck, individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Some believe their success is based on innate ability; these are said to have a “fixed” theory of intelligence. Others, who believe their success is based on hard work and learning, are said to have a “growth” or an “incremental” theory of intelligence… Fixed-mindset individuals dread failure because it is a negative statement on their basic abilities, while growth mindset individuals don’t mind failure as much because they realize their performance can be improved. Dweck argues that the growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life. (Wikipedia)
I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by people with growth mindsets most of the time – at home, at work and online. However, I was recently in a position where I was surrounded by people with fixed mindsets. It was soul-destroying. 🙁
Seek out a growth mindset for yourself and foster it in others for your organisation to be successful and to flourish!
Once the story, call to action and charismatic leader are in place, commitment should be a fairly easy win for an organisation. Give staff a reason to work their socks off and give all they can to the organisation and the organisation will reap dividends.
The example often cited is Google. Having recently been to their London headquarters I saw some of what has been written in action. I saw happy, motivated staff working past 9pm on a weekday night, the legendary free food, micro-kitchens and off-the-wall accessories. I didn’t ‘see’ the 20% time that Google staff are given to work on their own projects, but it’s a well-known fact that many of their most innovative offerings were borne from this.
As a leader, I’d much rather have one person giving 100% than two people giving 50%. Not only because it’s cheaper, but it creates a palpable ‘buzz’ around the place. It energises other people. Create a culture of commitment and people not only thrive but flourish.
You can have the story sorted, a call to action prepared, the leaders with growth mindsets in place, and committed staff, but still fail to have a successful organisation. Why? Friction.
Friction occurs where there are bottlenecks, frustrations and indecisiveness. These almost always are the result of poor workflows. A workflow is merely a way of doing something. I can remember one school at which I work, a high-achieving specialist school. I remember being surprised at the number of flow charts in the staff room, up on the walls in classrooms and reproduced in the staff handbook. At first, this felt quite constraining. “Is this the only way we’re allowed to do things around here?”, I thought.
But then it dawned on me that effective workflows freed up people in that school to be creative, to focus on more important things, such as learning, their life outside school and adding value to the lives of young people. In other words, it allowed staff to achieve the mission of the school and be part of a successful organisation.
Workflows are crucial to the running of any organisation. At our most recent planning meeting, we mapped our current and future workflows. It was an interesting and enlightening experience. I can honestly say we’re becoming more efficient, more aware and, yes, more successful as a result.
The above constitutes my overview of what I believe organisations – both educational and otherwise – need to work on to become successful. I’d be very interested to hear whether you agree. What would you add? What would you remove? What would you change? 🙂
I’ve learned many important things in my life, but 2 broad truisms in particular are pertinent to this post:
The more confident and able a person is in a given area, the more they’re willing to share.
People learn at least as much from the process as they do from the end result.
So what’s the Wizard of Oz got to do with this?
The Wizard tried to look more scary and powerful than he actually was.
Behind the scenes tends to be fairly straightforward, given some pointers.
Working in isolation on something (or to maintain something) big is often unsustainable.
This is why I like to share both my outputs and the thinking behind them – as well as the half-finished, sometimes muddled, resources created along the way!
To that end I’m delighted to introduce http://onthehorizon.pbworks.com, a space I’m trialling on behalf of JISC Advance. You can find some of stuff I’m able to share as part of the mobile and wireless review I’m doing for JISC. 🙂
It is perhaps a statement of the obvious, but worth emphasizing, that the forms or structures of the immediate world we inhabit are overwhelmingly the outcome of human design. They are not inevitable or immutable and are open to examination and discussion. (p.5)
I’m reading John Heskett’s excellent Design: A Very Short Introduction at the moment. As regular readers will know, I’m very interested in infographics and visualizations; with a background in Philosophy and History I’m also interested in design at a more fundamental and basic level.
As with all well-explained and written books, the author ruminates on things that range across various disciplines. From the opening quotation, Heskett continues:
Whether executed well or badly (on whatever basis this is judged,) designs are not determined by technological processes, social structures, or economic systems, or any other objective source. They result from the decisions and choices of human beings. (p.5)
There’s actually some leadership lessons in there, with more throughout the book. For example, Heskett explains how the French initially became renowned for design:
In the early seventeenth century, the French monarchy used privileged status and luxurious facilities to attract the finest craftsmen to Paris in order to establish international dominance in the production and trade of luxury goods. Laws were introduced to promote exports and restrict imports. (p.16, my emphasis)
Heskett later explains how it’s difficult to be innovative and creative in large organizations because of the levels of bureaucracy involved:
Tacit, subjective approaches may be appropriate for small-scale products… In contrast with large-scale products involving complex questions of technology and the organization of interactions on many levels, personal intuition is unlikely to be capable of handling all necessary aspects. In such projects, rational, structured methodologies can ensure the full dimensions of projects are understood as a platform for creative solutions on the level of detailed execution.
Heskett gives the example of the well-known (and expensive) Aeron chair by Herman Miller. This not only involves creative flair, but technical and ergonomic research and synthesis beyond the level of the individual.
I’ve not finished Design: A Very Short Introduction yet, but (as with the others in the series) at £5 it’s an absolute steal. To summarize, the 3 leadership lessons I’ve learned from it already:
Almost everything is the product of deliberate human interaction, thought and planning.
Rewarding and/or legislating for behaviours and outputs you want is a fast track to success.
Bureaucracy is a necessary evil in large organizations – but you can use it to your advantage through agile processes and effective project management.
I’ll post again when I’ve finished if there’s anything else that strikes me. Recommended! 😀
I know I usually post about design and infographics on Saturdays, but this is a time-delimited thing that I need to get people involved with ASAP!
Remember #movemeon, the crowdsourced book with tips for teachers that was such a success last year? Well, there’s a new one for leaders, being headed-up by @tombarrett and @stuartridout. The aim is similar – to create a book that collects wisdom for leaders new to their position.
You can contribute simply by including the hashtag #newleaders in a tweet. They are collated at:
It’s obvious, clichéd, and can be annoying, but as the saying goes ‘smile and the world smiles with you.’ It’s especially important for leaders to be upbeat and positive as they set the tone for the rest of their organization. Like it or not, you get a lot of your cues from your line manager. If they’re apprehensive about the organization’s future, this will transfer itself to you. Likewise, you should think carefully about the body language and words that you use with those whom you lead. 😀
Smiling is powerful. It disarms situations and produces an almost primal reaction in other people. In other words, smiling is infectious. Thos visiting your organization notice this and it makes them happy. They then think good things about your organization and talk in such terms to others. This leads to your organization having a good reputation.
The other powerful thing about smiling a lot is the power that not smiling then gives. The simple act of stopping smiling, even for a minute or two, lends gravitas and import to a situation. This works as well in the classroom as it does in the boardroom.
Finally, others are drawn to those who smile, making it easier to (as Seth Godin would put it) form your ‘tribe’. It’s easier to influence people – rather than instruct people – when they feel positive around you.
So smile! Be known and come across as a happy, (somewhat) carefree person who can be serious when it matters. Much better that than be known as a miserable workaholic whom it’s best to avoid… 🙂
Seth Godin’s book Tribes reads like a coherent narrative version of his blog. It’s organized into nice, easily digestible sections. The whole thing is only 131 pages long. It’s nothing if not concise. I managed to read it comfortably in one session and I’d highly recommend you do the same!
Whilst I was reading it I was lulled into a sense of it seeming a bit obvious. It was only on reflection I realised how Godin’s clever use of storytelling and reinforcement had left me feeling empowered to make a difference in the world.
Here’s a potted version of what I took away from Tribes. I’ve collated more quotations from the book on my wiki. 🙂
1. Anyone can be a leader
If there’s one thing that Godin wants you to take away from Tribes it’s that leadership is a choice and that although it won’t be easy, in the end it’s as difficult as you make it. On the second-to-last page of the book he has this to say:
You can choose to lead, or not. You can choose to have faith, or not. You can choose to contribute to the tribe, or not.
Are there thousands of reasons why you, of all people, aren’t the right one to lead? Why you don’t have the resources or the authority or the genes or the momentum to lead? Probably. So what? You still get to make the choice.
Once you choose to lead, you’ll be under huge pressure to reconsider you choice, to compromise, to dumb it down, or to give it up. Of course you will. That’s the world’s job: to get you to be quiet and follow. The status quo is the status quo for a reason.
But once you choose to lead, you’ll also disover that it’s not so difficult. That the options available to you seem really clear, and that yes, in fact, you can get from here to there.
Godin’s reasoning is that if you’re passionate about an issue or want to change something enough, then gaining credit for that change isn’t important:
If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit.
There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is. (p.115)
Leaders need followers and it’s those followers that Godin calls your ‘Tribe’. There are, apparently (and intuitively, to be honest), only two things that you need to turn a group of people into a tribe (p.21). Those two things?
A shared interest
A way to communicate
In these days of instant digital communications, this should be faster and easier than ever! :-p
2. Hierarchies are about management, not leadership
As a bit of a free thinker, Godin isn’t overly enamoured with structures and hierarchies. In fact, he uses them to explain the difference between managers and leaders:
Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them. You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.
Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it. (p.19)
I took this as meaning that managers work within their job description and expect others to do the same. Leaders, however, see the job description as indicative of a wider truth and ideal.
To demarcate qualities of leadership from those of management (there has to be some elements of management in senior positions, after all) Godin produces a list on p.107 of ‘The Elements of Leadership’. These, handily, all begin with a ‘C’:
Leaders challenge the status quo.
Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture.
Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change.
Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
Leaders connect their followers to one another. (my emphasis)
These are going on my wall. 🙂
3. How to effect change
The biggest enemy to change is a surprising yet, on reflection, obvious one. Stalling change is actually worse than resisting it. After all, if someone refuses to engage with a problem there’s no way you can convince them of the errors of their ways!
The largest enemy of change and leadership isn’t a “no.” It’s a “not yet.” “Not yet” is the safest, easiest way to forestall change. “Not yet” gives the status quo a chance to regroup and put of the inevitable for just a little while longer. Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late. (p.101 – my emphasis)
You could spend your whole time trying to convince others of the validity of, and need for, the change. But talking is sometimes an academic exercise. To quote a famous tagline, Just Do It!
Nobody is going to listen to your idea for change, sagely shake his head, and say, “Sure, go do that.”
No one anoints you as leader.
Change isn’t made by asking permission. Change is made by asking forgiveness, later. (p.60)
Godin says that leaders need to do two things which, to my mind, come under the one umbrella: walk the walk. First of all, leaders need to share ideas that are worth mentioning, that start conversations:
A remarkable product or service is like a purple cow. Brown cows are boring; purple ones are worth mentioning. Those ideas spread; those organization grow. The essence of what’s happening in the market day revolves around making purple cows. (p.38-9)
Second, leaders should stick to their principles by being radically different and selling that radical difference to others:
[G]reat leaders don’t try to please everyone. Great leaders don’t water down their message in order to make the tribe a bit bigger. Instead, they realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful that a larger group ever could be. (p.57)
But how do leaders effect this change in practice? How do you go from being a voice crying out in the wilderness to being the leader of a tribe? Godin tells us to target the curious people. These will do the work for you!
A curious person embraces the tension between his religion and something new, wrestles with it and through it, and then decides whether to embrace the new idea or reject it.
Curious people count. Not because there are a lot of them, but because they’re the ones who talk to people who are in a stupor. They’re the ones who lead the masses in the middle who are stuck. The masses in the middle have brainwashed themselves into thinking it’s safe to do nothing, which the curious can’t abide. (p.54)
Once you’ve gathered together your game-changers, it’s time for you as a leader to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. Godin explains:
A thermostat is far more valuable than a thermometer.
The thermometer reveals that something is broken.
Organizations are filled with human thermometers. They can criticize or point out or just whine.
The thermostat, on the other hand, manages to change the environment in sync with the outside world. Every organization needs at least one thermostat. These are leaders who can create change in response to the outside world, and do it consistently over time. (p.87)
I found Seth Godin’s Tribes to be a great read. It ticked all of the boxes that I’d want from such a book. It’s concise, it’s practical, it’s aspirational, and you finish reading it feeling empowered.
I stumbled across a book recently that I think is going to have a major influence on the rest of my life. The philosophers Schopenhauer and Nietzsche both recommended it highly and it is, in a way, a western equivalent in scope (but not style) to the Analects of Confucius and the Tao Te Ching.
Natural leadership. It is a secret force of superiority not to have to get on by artful trickery but by an inborn power of rule. All submit to it without knowing why, recognizing the secret vigor of natural authority. Such magisterial spirits are kings by merit and lions by innate privilege. By the esteem that they inspire, they hold the hearts and mind of those around them. If their other qualities permit, such people are born to be the prime movers of the state. They perform more by a gesture than others by a long harangue. [my emphasis]
It’s this last sentence that intrigues me. That it can be counter-productive to harangue people with words when you can say much more by action and example. I’ll be bearing that in mind over the coming weeks… 🙂
N.B. Whilst I highly recommend you consider buying the book, the full text is available online here.
A week tomorrow The Northumberland Church of England Academy opens its doors to students for the first time. As you’re probably aware by now, my role there is Director of E-Learning. I want to be in a position within three years whereby I’ve made myself redundant.
I’ve had the same conversation with a number of people. It usually centres around two basic questions:
What will you be doing as Director of E-Learning?
What’s the next step after this position?
The answer to the first should be easy, but it’s not. Whilst I’ve got a job description, things aren’t always as cut-and-dried as they appear on paper – as I’ve found out already! It’s also been written by someone who’s not an expert in the field, and therefore should be seen as a starting point to an evolving role. In the main, however, my priorities remain those I set out in my interview presentation:
Attendance – providing for ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning.
Behaviour – ensuring accurate and up-to-date information flows freely between relevant parties to enable Academy spaces to be conducive to learning.
Communication – allowing for every member of the Academy to be (potentially) accessible both synchronously and asynchronously at any time.
Engagement – making staff aware of the latest and greatest, as well as how older technologies can be fused with new ones in a pedagogically-sound way.
If I do my job properly, I should be akin to a Sherpa, guiding and leading the way for Academy staff and students. Communication is my main priority in the first instance, with Google Apps Education Edition and our Frog Learning Platform being the focus. Once these are being used adequately, the second stage is to promote best practices. In this respect, it’s all about the heuristics – something I’ve blogged about before.
The final stage is to ensure technologies are being used to engage students. You’d think I’d start there, wouldn’t you? But I reckon by getting staff enthusiastic about the tools I’m helping provide, this will rub off on the students and lead to engagement in any case. I’m of the opinion that we’re talking less than 5% of staff who will really need their hands holding. Peer learning and time-saving elements become valuable when you’ve got 400 members of staff to get around…
So in the meeting I’ve got next Wednesday where I’m to outline my vision for E-Learning at the Academy to the Teaching & Learning group, the above is pretty much what I’m going to say. I want to be redundant within three years. I want a culture of experimentation, collaboration and blending to take such hold that they don’t need a ‘Director of E-Learning’ any more. I see the role as being akin to that of the DVD recorder: it was a necessary step between VHS recorders and hard-disk based PVRs (like Sky+) but that’s all. I’d like to see aspects of the Director of E-Learning role to merge with those of the Director of Teaching & Learning and Director of Operations.
We come back, then, to the second question I’ve been asked several times – what will I do after this position? What will happen if I’m successful in making myself redundant? My answer: I don’t know. This position didn’t exist three years ago!
Are you trying to make yourself redundant? How/why? :-p
Owen believes that using the acronym SPIN can help leaders give more constructive feedback:
Insight & interpretation
First of all, make sure the time and place is right. Give negative feedback in private when the person to whom you are giving it is calm. This needs to be as close to the event as possible (‘feedback, like milk, goes off fairly quickly’) but not when they are shouting and screaming!
Be specific about what happened. Using terms such as ‘unprofessional’ is not helpful and can actually be provocative. Talk about what it is in particular that is the problem (e.g. lateness to meetings).
People can argue about objective matters but not about how things make you feel. For example, saying that arriving late for meetings makes you think they don’t consider them to be important cannot be argued against.
Going down the ‘personal impact’ path allows you to talk about the issue without arguing, for example, about the number of minutes late, number of times, etc. Deal with the issue and
Insight & interpretation
Instead of telling people what to do, ask them if the impact that they’ve made (i.e. upsetting you) was the impact they wished to make. Get them to reflect on their actions. They are much more likely to value the solutions they come up with above any solution that you hand them.
Once you’ve been through the above steps, you should now be able to calmly agree ‘next steps’ between you. Focus on the future being positive and constructive. Don’t play the ‘blame game’ and avoid discussing the past at this point.
Owen advises taking time over each step and not rushing through them. Although no-one looks forward to giving negative feedback, I am happier now that I’ve got a constructive way of approaching it!