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Define Your Results – Guide Your Culture

In this article, I continue my application of the work of Connors and Smith to schools. Essentially, they say that without clearly stating the results that you want to achieve, doing anything to change your culture is pointless. The previous article can be found here.

There is a distinct difference between goals and results, and this needs clarifying before we continue. Goals are directional, aspirational and are often not absolute. Results are things that you will achieve or have achieved.

The language used for goals and results is very different – Goals are outcomes that you would like to achieve, results are outcomes that you will achieve. It doesn’t matter how you state your goals, you are often doomed to failure because the language is a little wishy-washy and ambiguous, you are not convinced that you will achieve it or it doesn’t matter if you don’t.

Too often, people say, “I want to achieve this, but I would be happy with this, while this is my stretch goals.” – Which is it? Which do you communicate with your staff? Which will you actually achieve? When stating results, always state the exact outcome that is desired.

Without clarity of what you want to achieve you won’t know whether your current culture will deliver those results. Your culture and results need to be in alignment if your culture is going to deliver the results you want.

You may or may not need to change your culture – if you don’t, then don’t waste the time and energy. If you do, then make sure that you spend that time and energy wisely.

The ideas that Connors and Smith discuss at length with some good examples translate well to schools, they are, after all, results-driven organisations. But schools also diverge slightly from what Connors and Smith are concerned with. Businesses and industries, where profits are king, usually quantify results as increases in production, efficiencies or profits. Schools are geared towards different outcomes, measuring the results that you want can be difficult, which makes stating them clearly even more essential.

The changing business environment ranges from pressures on their price to globalisation, from rapid technological change to a more mobile workforce. But this doesn’t mean that the same principles don’t apply to education.

Schools also face a changing environment, whether it is changing government legislation, pressure on academic results or workplace issues and employee expectations. As a leader, you get to define what your desired results are and what your focus will be.

Start by writing down the top three results that you need to achieve as an organisation. These should be the three results that you will be held accountable to achieve, so make sure you discuss them with the people that hold you accountable.

Evaluate each desired result according to each of the following criteria, scoring it out of 10, where 1 is no change and 10 is a large change from the current status quo.

Difficulty: Will it take more effort to achieve than previous results? Are the objectives tougher than before? Is the environment in which you are operating tougher than before?

Direction: Do the desired results indicate a significant change in direction? Are you implementing new strategies? Are you applying new technology? Are you reacting to changes in legislation?

Deployment: Are you redeploying people? Are you employing more staff? Are your moving resources from one area to another? All of these often require a shift in the way people think about how things get done.

Development: Are you developing a new capability or core competency? Is there a change in infrastructure or organisation of systems?

Connors and Smith suggest that a score of 4 – 15 indicates that no major cultural change is needed, although there may be a tactical shift required for a few people. 16 – 27 indicates that a serious cultural change is likely to be required and that a score of 28 -40 represents a dramatic culture shift to achieve the results that you have defined.

Don’t do the calculations in isolation, you need everyone to be aligned in their thoughts understanding and actions, and as stated in the previous post you want to your staff to buy-in to the changes needed – to see them – to own them – to solve them – to take the actions needed.

If you have calculated that a cultural change is needed to achieve the results that you desire you need to make sure that you have carefully defined the result for everyone to understand. People will do what you ask them to do. If they feel that it is outside their sphere accountability then results may not be what you expect them to be.

I am going to add a caveat here regarding accountability. Working in schools that use data-based targets for staff is never enjoyable. There is a myriad of reasons why they have no place in schools, one of the biggest of these is that it absolves you as the leader of responsibility. This is a dangerous thing to do as it sets up your culture as a “Us” v “Them” battleground.

If you set a target that is based on a certain percentage of a certain group of children will achieve a certain level of performance, this should not be copied into an individual teacher’s performance management target. It isn’t developmental and it doesn’t help teachers get the children to achieve. I have also seen it create a culture of distrust in schools.

When teachers are put under pressure to achieve certain grades or else miss their performance targets, grade inflation can result, which has a knock-on effect on the next teacher, who is expected to maintain or even accelerate the results. In schools where the culture is based on this type of target teacher’s at the end of the Key Stage are often very frustrated by the grade inflation that has occurred year on year.

True accountability is ownership of the results, if you are going to define a new set of results then you must own the current set of results. Honestly review what you have or have not done to achieve them, without this honest ownership you won’t affect the changes that you want to introduce. Be responsible for where you are, so you can be responsible for where you want to go. You want to lay the foundations for your culture change.

The aim of the exercise is to chart the route from your current results to the new results. It helps everyone understand the nature of the changes that are necessary. If you as a leader take accountability for the current results, it creates a powerful experience for all involved, where your staff will want to be aboard. Do not apportion blame.

The biggest takeaway for me from this section of the work of Connors and Smith is the role of leadership in making sure that all staff realise that there is no difference between doing the job and achieving the results.

Doing the job IS achieving the results.

Reaching this point is not easy, it requires dialogue, engagement, debate and leadership. Once you know the desired result – don’t focus on the numbers. Instead, focus on the actions required to achieve those results. Move away from any individual and whole school data-based targets, instead identify the actions that you need to stop taking, those that you need to start taking and those that you need to continue taking.

Good leaders optimise cultures, they recognise that they need to manage the culture before it manages them. More on this in the next post.

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