Friday, December 11, 2015

Good is the enemy of great

How does an organization move from good to great? Is it easier to move an organization from bad to good? I think there is a bigger appetite for change when the organization is considered bad. In a bad organization there are many signs that make improvement easier. When an organization is good there may be resistance to continuous improvement.

I am rereading Good to Great by Jim Collins. Collins analyzed the most successful companies in the world to figure out what caused good companies to become great.  It's a classic leadership book that provides excellent insights on how to move an organization from good to great. Good is the enemy of great. There isn't a lot of incentive to change when we are getting good results. If we are a good school, a good company, a good nonprofit, a good organization, why change?

My single biggest hurdle as a leader is that we are a good at what we already do. We were good long before me. So how do I as a leader move us to the next level? How do I get people to believe in continuous improvement when we are already doing pretty well? I am very interested in the strategies that Collins found in each of the great companies he researched.

All great companies had what Collins calls a Level 5 Leader at the time of the transition from good to great. Level 5 Leaders were not the stereotype CEO with a large ego. They were humble and ambitious at the same time. They were often quiet and reserved. Most of them were hired from within. Collins describes them as more of a plow horse than show horse.

Level 5 Leaders focused on first who, then what. Rather than coming in with their own plan and implementing. The leader in each of these organizations first focused on the people. Collins explains,
"They first got the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figured out where to drive it" (p. 41). 
It may be easier to do this within a business setting as opposed to an educational setting. Nonetheless, I think this is a very important concept.

What does this look like in action? Collins suggests the following:
"When in doubt, don't hire - keep looking" (p. 54). 
"When you know you need to make a people change, act" (p. 56). 
"Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems" (p. 58).
Level 5 Leaders confront the brutal facts in their organization.
"When you turn over rocks and look at all the squiggly things underneath, you can either put the rock down, or you can say, 'My job is to turn over rocks and look at the squiggly things,' even if what you see can scare the heck out of you" - Fred Purdue
It's so easy, and not mention less stressful, to not actively seek out the problems within your organization. Our employees will not go out of their way to share the "squiggly things," we must seek those out for our self.

In any organization it's difficult to not get side tracked and seek out quick fixes. Collins explains that all great organizations have a hedgehog mentality. This means that they have decided where they are going and they prevent any additional initiatives from steering them off course.
"For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea hold no relevance" (p. 91)
We have really tried to hold true to our school goals. Our main mode of school improvement is largely teacher collaboration. If there are proposed initiatives that aren't inline with teacher collaboration then we stay away from them. It is easy to get off target, because many of us want results now. Collins suggests that transitioning from good to great does not occur in one fell swoop.
"There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary break, no miracle moment, Rather, the process resembled relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond" (p. 14)