If social media are overwhelming, consider the following image (click here for source) as a tool for understanding them. Enjoy!
An article in today's Financial Times, "Chief needs to say goodbye to old BlackBerry way," got me thinking about schools, in the face of all the developments we've seen in technology these past four or five years. Not just the developments, but the attitudes of a surprising number of schools who are just "going to wait and see" what becomes of it all.
The decline of the BlackBerry seems a little too akin to the enrollment declines faced by many independent schools. "BlackBerry sales were likely to continue to decline ahead of the launch of its next-generation of smartphones built around a new operating system and new silicon chips [...]" (19).
"That collapse [of share price] underscores senior management and boardroom missteps over the past five years, although arguably the seeds of RIM's decline were sown years ago, and go to the root of its corporate culture and business model."
"RIM [...] had firmly established itself as the premier smartphone maker. [...] But the mobile world was about to change and RIM, like others including Nokia and Motorola, was caught offguard."
"In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone and 18 months later came the first Google Android smartphone. With the online application stores that these companies launched, the new touch-screen based handsets altered the dynamics of the smartphone market."
"RIM's senior management underestimated the impact of the iPhone. 'They [...] dismissed it,' said Ron Adner, professor of strategy at Tuck School of Business and an expert on innovation. Adner believes "that many of RIM's problems stem from this error."
What error is that, again? Dismissal of an idea as a non-winner. As something silly. As something fleeting.
Whether it's online learning or some other idea that's being tried out, it would be dangerous for schools to dismiss these things entirely. Innovation is difficult for schools, as we're not accustomed to it. For so many years, it was easy to "do school" because the formula was known and it was tangible. No longer.
The BlackBerry story rings true, on a number of levels. Can you think of other ways in which it rings true in schools?
For me, the biggest take-away from this article is the following: if an invention proves to be a ubiquitous preference, will schools bury their heads in the sand and ignore it, thinking to themselves that they'll re-ensconce themselves in that which has always worked, and that, somehow, by re-ensconcing themselves, they'll come out ahead?
When there is special work (projects, etc.) to be undertaken in schools, we turn our minds immediately to the question of who ought to sit on the committee charged with that work. Schools are, at their core, human/social enterprises, so it is only natural that we should consider first the "who" when embarking on special work. Or should we?
I propose that, first and foremost, instead of "who" should be involved, we would benefit from considering "how many." In other words, we ought to focus on establishing a constraint of team size, so as to ensure accountability, enable nimble decision-making, and increase the probability of reaching a solution/working model in a shorter period of time. The notion of imposing a constraint is not to tie our hands; rather, as design-thinking methodology underscores, it forces creativity and innovation to emerge. It forces us to make choices that correspond to the constraint, and keeps everyone focused on attaining the desired outcome.
Consider, for example, Amazon.com, where Jeff Bezos restricts team size, not necessarily by a strict number, but by how many people two pizzas will feed. As Andrew Hill writes in today's edition of the Financial Times, "This focus improves accountability and clarity--in a small group, no one can avoid pulling their weight and no one can claim they don't know what the goal is." An additional benefit to the deployment of small teams is that any advance toward the team's goal resonates and ripples positively throughout the team, thereby energizing the team.
Of course, for that to occur, teams must be given great autonomy, so that they feel a sense of ownership of their work. The notion of ownership will make the work more rewarding, and the sense of rewarding work will drive motivation. Voila, a (small) virtuous cycle.
We don't need to assemble such teams for "grands projets" alone; even the more mundane or pedestrian projects would benefit from this structure. In other words, we need not assemble a small team to "change the world," when what we need the most often is a desire to solve a specific problem.
The current issue of Harvard Business Review contains an article by Shvetank Shah, Andrew Horne, and Jaime Capella, entitled, "Good Data Won't Guarantee Good Decisions" (23-25). The authors argue that the era of Big Data is leading to a false sense of confidence in decision-making. "Investments in analytics can be useless, even harmful, unless employees can incorporate that data into complex decision making. Our research offers a succinct warning to managers. At this very moment, there's an odds-on chance that someone in your organization is making a poor decision on the basis of information that was enormously expensive to collect" (23).
So, who is making decisions in a given organization, and what is their ability "to find and analyze relevant information"? The authors evaluted 5,000 employees at 22 global companies and sorted them into three groups:
As they point out, the informed skeptics are the folks that companies (schools??!!) should be cultivating. However, as they discovered in their evaluation, only 38% of employees and 50% of senior managers fall into this group.
Interesting (to me, at any rate) also are the four problems they identify that "prevent organizations from realizing better returns on their investment in Big Data":
The obvious solution, of course, is to develop more informed skeptics. How might one do that, especially in independent schools? First, though, I would ask this: what data are we using? What data ought we to be using? Then we can deal with the question of how to develop informed skeptics. Regardless of the answer(s), though, we can move forward with one certainty: we do need to train our faculties and administrators to increase their data literacy, with school leadership showing the way. That data then needs to be brought into decision making, so that folks can see how data can inform decisions.
We all need to understand the factors and calculations behind the numbers, and we must learn to think critically about their accuracy, sample sizes, biases, and, of course, quality. (Statistics, anyone??) Coaching could play an important role here, as could project-based learning; we say that we want to see our students do these things, but why shouldn't we model it for them?
The more I read his column "On Management" in the Financial Times, the more I appreciate Andrew Hill and his lucid prose. His March 13, 2012 column treats the issue of strategy, and whether its tentative development as a formal discipline within business schools will carry any real gravitas.
The argument is a familiar one. On the one hand, there are groups looking to bring strategy to the level of a stand-alone academic discipline (for example, the Strategic Planning Society). On the other hand, managers continue to rank experience in the field above academic qualifications.
As Hill points out, the greatest benefit to practioners and professionals (degreed professionals, that is) most likely comes from a fruitful intersection of the two:
"Some of reasons underpinning the [...] initiative look good. In the fat years, many companies lost sight of their strategies, or even their business models. They tailored both to short-term goals and used financial and accounting tools to achieve them, becoming obsessed with their relative profitability rather than their long-term cash flow. Failure to think strategically and inability to disentangle strategy from mere 'vision' left many ill-prepared for the inevitable crisis. At the same time, as Gary Hamel [...] pointed out to me, many universities have allowed their own management research to drift off into financial exotica or business esoterica. [...] The new profession could offer clearer guidelines about how to set and measure a successful strategy" (10).
Hill remains doubtful, however, regarding the formation of strategy as a discipline. "One strong objection [is...] that the role of manager, unlike that of a doctor or a lawyer, is general, hard to define and of variable focus--one day analyzing sales, the next straightening out a supply chain, the third plotting acquisitions" (10). His point is that the job is necessarily complex, and that strategy formation and execution ought to be rooted firmly in experience, rather than in a degreed title.
Where do readers see parallel issues in schools? Is it to be found in the argument between "college preparatory" and "life preparatory" as accurate monikers of the school experience, for example? Or is it perhaps found in the debate between the traditional, siloed academic approach to school and project-based learning approach? I would welcome readers' thoughts on this topic.
The skill of anticipating should not go unnoticed in leadership circles. What does the anticipatory leader do? S/he gets folks to look at what's going on right now (i.e. the present) rather than prognosticate. Then, the leader asks a simple question, "Based on what we know right now, relative to what we're doing right now, what are the consequences for us, as an institution?"
It is up to the leader to pose such a question, but, when you think about it, his/her leadership team needs to be a bunch of top-notch "noticers", meaning that they need to be able to read reality with great clarity.
We stress to our students that it's important not to lie, that they should endeavor to tell the truth at all times.
Why, then, do leaders lie? To me, this is a fascinating topic.
The Q2.2102 issue of Briefings on Talent & Leadership tackles this question in a fascinating read, "Why Leaders Lie." I read it on my outbound flight to the 2012 NAIS Annual Conference in Seattle last week, and it has been very much on my mind. "When I get five minutes, I'll write a blog post on it," I kept telling myself. My five minutes are here, it would seem.
Article author David Berreby brings the reader into the world of "little white lies" (and some big ones) by highlighting the Cuban missile crisis; specifically, he underscores the public side of the equation (that the USSR would withdraw its missiles from Cuba) versus the private side (that the USA would remove its missiles from bases in Turkey, on the Soviet border). "The Soviets agreed, and Kennedy, when asked if he'd made the missiles-for-missiles trade, lied and said no" (28). He then adds, "Like other forms of deception, lying is a fact of life" (28).
He provides the old, familiar situation: "When a loved one asks, 'How do I look?', or 'It's a new recipe, do you like it?', frankness won't serve you, or anyone else, very well" (28). He soon comes to his assertion, "Leaders lie because leadership at times requires deception [...]. Part of the art of leadership is knowing when lies have to be told, and being able to distinguish those deceptions--the ones created for unselfish reasons--from the purely self-serving kind" (30).
He underscores the different levels of deception. For example, "telling the truth but creating a false impression" (30). He cites an auction for a telecommunications company, in which the company reported that the bidding process was going very well (31). The truth was that the bidding process was happening, but the actual results were abysmal.
Then, there is the matter of always sticking to message, which may mean that a leader has to ignore questions s/he is asked, while responding with verbiage that you'd prefer to use instead (30).
Here are some questions, related to this issue:
(1) Would you call out a direct report in front of his/her peers? Is that a "best move"?
(2) In negotations, would you give away your reserve price before negotiations actually begin?
(3) With press releases related to downsizing, the usual tactic is to say that the person is pursuing other opportunities. Is that truth-telling?
What's your moral judgment on the following? During World War I, "British leaders told the public they were developing a water-delivery system on wheels for the troops in the trenches. They chose deception in order not to give away their real plans to the enemy. Should they instead have told the truth about the new weapon, thus endangering their own soldiers and their nation's interests?" (30-31).
One of the most useful pearls to take away from Berreby's piece is this: one would surmise that, when one leader talks with another leader, the lies would fly. In fact, the opposite is true. When leaders speak 1:1, the result is an amazing level of truth-telling. That study was done by John J. Mearsheimer at U. Chicago. The other piece of his study, however, is notable: leaders may not lie to other leaders, but to whom do the lie the most often? To their own people; to those who trust them.
Let us not forget Plato's "noble lie," either. "The noble lie emerges from a situation where the truth, while not fatal, would nonetheless lead to worse outcomes than would a well-chosen falsehood" (31). Think of the earlier Kennedy situation.
So, friends, I ask you to comment on this post, as it is intended to bring us all into an uncomfortable zone. What else, in terms of circumstances, etc, provides a more "permissive" approach to spinning some details other than the true ones?
Andrew Hill interviews management thinker Gary Hamel in today's Financial Times. Hamel is a no-nonsense kind of guy, when it comes to talking about organizations, strategy, and general management practices.
"We're not discontented enough with how much organizations really truly suck," Hamel contends. "The whole notion of leadership [is] discredited...We have organizations that demand far too much of the few, and far too little of the many, so we disenfranchise most employees." Hamel proposes that management coaches and [management] educators "haven't been very ambitious in trying to make [organizations] different."
What is quite interesting about Hamel is that he thinks that those tasked with educating others could be doing so much more to move the process along; indeed, to create revolution. He proffers that, in business schools, for example, folks "don't see themselves as inventors; [they] don't have that sense of almost sacred mission" that he sees only rarely, highlighting Stanford University as one such place (its engineers, in particular).
A sacred mission to re-think organizations? Fascinating, at least, to me.
It may surprise readers, given the aforementioned comments, to learn that Hamel is an "in-betweener" (my term). He straddles traditional managment practices and more recent, innovative ones. For example, he acknowledges the strengths of crowd-sourcing, but also its weaknesses. Crowd-sourcing, he says, cannot better handle/solve any issues associated with line production of 29-nanometer chips. Only traditional management is poised to handle such issues. In other words, he can diagnose a situation quite readily.
School leaders have something to admire in Hamel: a pragmatist, yet a visionary who is willing to admit a bias toward action. He has been talking about a revolution in management for some time, and he feels that now is that time. He submits that the next decade will see an overt and intentional evolution of management to...well, something a bit different. Something that is more bottom-up than top-down.
One wonders what school leaders are already doing in our schools, in this same spirit?
While attending an ISACS Head’s Conference in 1988, Rowland McKinley, the retiring twenty-five year Headmaster at the University School in Cleveland, stepped to the podium and proclaimed in a commanding, brusque voice, “I am a dinosaur!” His bigger than life, marine-like appearance with his penetrating eyes staring in my direction stunned me momentarily, reminding me of several school masters I shuttered to remember. I abruptly sat at attention quickly realizing that he spotted our table where four of us youthful and eager HOS were dining together. Rowland’s voice boomed once again, “Yes, you are the ones, the HOS who must carry on and deal with the new, independent school parent. You will not have the luxury that I enjoyed; when I spoke, everyone listened.” Well, I had no clue what Rowland was talking about except we knew we were far from being like this burly, drill sergeant headmaster complete with crew cut. Moments later it occurred to me that it was his very presence and voice that commanded immediate authority, something Rowland later claimed would no longer be a useful headmaster skill.
A month later, I attended a workshop at an NAIS Conference where Rod Snelling, President of Independent School Management (ISM), offered his prediction, “Prepare for the Parents of the 90s.” His thesis was simply this: the children raised by post-1960s parents were offspring during the “Pepsi, ‘Me’ Generation.” In essence, it meant that parents would come to expect HOS to retrofit the school’s mission and educational program to the needs of the parents’ demands.
As part of a new breed of HOS, most of us took heed of Rod’s and Rowland’s predictions, not really knowing what such a parent might look like. A few years later, I knew their predictions had come true when a parent demanded, “I am paying thousands for this education, so I expect you to give me what my child deserves.” For a brief moment, my mind flashed back to Rowland picturing him saying in his day, “Well, m ‘am, your son is getting our very best here, so you can take him or leave him…” Quickly snapping back to reality, I asked, “Can you help me better understand what you mean by ‘what he deserves?’” I did not respond like a dinosaur, but instead, I listened carefully to the parent so that I might adjust to meet the child’s needs.” How right Rowland and Rod were about the new and demanding parents who were by the late ‘90’s defined as “customers,” a far cry from the days when Rowland like dinosaurs roamed the hallowed halls of our independent schools.
Now, I am a Rowland-like dinosaur in comparison to the parent of the 21st century. Today’s parents, although nice enough, have no pangs about saying, "I am here to advocate for my child." Comparably more parents are now used to negotiating with school personnel to get their childrens' needs met, regardless of restraints or extra cost to the school, not to mention stretching the school’s mission to do so. Several years ago, I encountered a situation that told me I was on the onset of becoming a dinosaur. A new parent said she was not reenrolling her kindergarten child for the next year, because she and her husband did feel accepted at the school, although her child, after a bumpy start, was adjusting well with lots of friends. I said, “You mean you would pull your happy child out of school after one year because you are not happy in our school’s community?” It dawned on me that the new parents of the 21st century not only were looking for their children to be accepted, but it mattered to them that they were accepted, too. I remember her saying, “Zack is fine, he loves it here, but this is just not the school for my husband and me.”
As a dinosaur, I have had to come to grips with adjusting to not only the newest iteration of parents as Rowland did but also to certain other trends complicating the present independent school landscape. To Rowland’s credit, he retired at an expected age of the times. But, today’s retirement age is a moving target. Today, HOS are faced with prolonged careers forgoing retirement, which means in some cases adjusting to a newer breed of parent more than once in their careers, in addition to facing other new trends, which I see as the following:
Although the days of the Rowland dinosaur that we still may revere are long gone, I too can now say to the X-Generation HOS, “It is up to you.” You must manage your staffs aggressively by monitoring their achievements rather than hiring good people and just letting them do their jobs well. You must identify strategic thinkers in your community to join your boards rather than filling positions by merely identifying needed expertise only. You must create transparency in all aspects of your organizations to the extent you can by utilizing a multitude of means and forums of communications. Finally, you must play by the dictates of the new social order arising out of the social media and networking by becoming a player and communicating firsthand about the good things going on in your schools.
The benefits of doing business in this way will far outweigh the tried and true old methods of overseeing people left to do their jobs and reacting to whatever comes along. Although our generation of HOS learned long ago that whatever we said was not going to be taken as gospel, we did surround ourselves with people who would do their jobs well and deliver the messages. Now, it is expected that the HOS closely monitor the progress and detailed achievement of the school’s personnel, knowing full well that Facebook and Twitter can be used to communicate these small but important little achievements in a less controlled environment.
Not long ago, I hired an employee who, in spite of a background check, was reported to have harassed someone in a former school. I had no sooner stepped out of my classroom when a reporter and parent were at my doorstep. The speed of light with which social media took up this issue and presented to me only serves to illustrate a HOS leadership in such situations is automatically compromised: no time to get the facts; only the recipient of a community who has already tried and juried all those involved. HOS today know not what is in store for them, but they do know that whatever comes their way, they must adjust with lightning speed to the situations at hand. In doing so, heads will be accorded a certain amount of respect in the school’s community. However, I will say to future heads: it is a decision, but no longer a choice, to be an actor on social media networks.
What more do you think it will take for a HOS today to keep from being a dinosaur in this second decade of the twenty-first century?Charles F. Clark is Head of School at the Nantucket-Lighthouse School (MA).