Monday, January 6, 2014

Challenging me to be the Change

I have just finished reading the book "Change" by Richard Gerver.  (Richard was a head teacher, who famously transformed a failing school into one with a  successful learning environment.  He had an exceptional ability to motivate staff to reach  their full potential.)

In this post I will be sharing some extracts from his book where my thinking was challenged and where some of my ideas and thoughts were reinforced.  Needless to say that I found this to be an invaluable read. A book that I would highly recommend to you, if you are looking for a new direction in life, like I am. 

I loved that, at the age of thirteen he dared to asked 'WHY' and had the courage to often go against everything his teacher had asked him to write about, because he objected to being told what to think!
While reading this, I wondered (although I know that sometimes we have to get our learners to write on a common topic) if this could be the reason why some of my 5 year old students were able to produce better stories in their writing every time I had given them the chance to write what they would like about. I do hope so!

Interestingly he mentioned that the education system was and still is, primarily concerned with providing to us that we are efficient: learn it, remember it, demonstrate it and he mention that this robotic approach worked for previous generations.

I really liked his thoughts on SMART targets and how they worked for fixed outputs, but limit the potential for transformation of practice

We need to build change into the very fabric of our organizations and cultures.  We must learn to recognize that the ability to change is built on the ability to question, to challenge and to live outside a comfort zone.  

In the workplace, how secure and treasured do many of us feel? 

The ability to change, on all levels, is now as fundamental to our ability to survive and thrive as is our ability to breath.  Think of yourself as a human smartphone - which stale applications should be deleting from your personal mindset and which new attitudes, systems and skills is it time to download?

Education can be dangerous in terms of limiting people's horizons and artificially boosting self-esteem to an unwarranted level.  If everything is too precise and too specific, there is little opportunity for people to work above or outside their remit; to question, challenge or investigate;  to use their powers of curiosity and creativity.  We all have a maverick side and sometimes we must positively encourage rebellion.  Too often targets are set as a measure of expected performance, not as a tool to encourage extraordinary development.

Too many people confuse 'vision' with 'strategy' and as a result we end up with initiative overload. Too much of what we do and endeavour to implement ends up being layered on top of existing systems which leads to work forces feeling under increasing pressure, time-poor and often highly cynical.  

Always challenge your own actions and thinking - ask yourself, 'Am I doing what I am doing because it has integrity?  Have I really explored the possibilities of what I believe in or am I accepting an easier option?'  Don't sell yourself short, but only take a punt when it really matters to you.

Some of the most frustrating and stifling conflicts in organizations occur when the declared ethos is on of innovation and change but the systems of accountability are fixed points of measurable performance.

Western culture too often demands that the workplace needs to be coldly logical and not somewhere where emotion has a place.  This goes against the branding philosophy of modern times: the Holy Grail for a brand strategy is to provoke feelings in people;  you only have to watch an episode of The X Factor to know its success lies in the fact that every episode will try to make you cry, smile, laugh, rant. Tapping into that emotional drive is what will propel other people to change.

The challenge stands that in order to love change, and therefore be able to lead it, we need to feel that we can control it and not be victims of it.

No one set of conditions or parameters defines the criteria for optimal performance.  This can be a real challenge in traditional management systems which assume that all people are motivated by the same things, are stimulated by the same experiences and work best under the same conditions.      Unfortunately our traditional education structures are again responsible for trying to standardize our behaviours and personal responses in the name of efficiency and mass development.
It is essential to treat everybody as an individual and respect their personal motivations and performance indicators.  In short, standardized performance management will always have a limited impact and will constrain rather than maximize potential for growth, development and achievement and as a result, act against the empowerment principle.

As adults we take good behaviour for granted as a trait of maturity and experience, but I cannot be the only person who is sometimes astounded by the attitude of certain 'responsible adults' towards their peers.
 Too often we expect others to respond and behave in ways we would not do ourselves.  We expect people to suspend belief and behave in ways that they can see, through our own behaviour, are simply a construct:  for example those managers who profess that they want to see their people 'seize the initiative' only to micro-manage their every move to ensure that their own backs are covered.

Richard have distilled six principals that he thinks define the key strategies that ensure a healthy and sustainable culture of change:
  1. Lead by example, take risks and demonstrate that it's right to fail.
  2. Encourage the people around you to try new things and take risks.  Provide guidelines with parameters and a means of measuring results.  Stand ready to support them if they need assistance.
  3. Encourage creativity and allow others the freedom to challenge authority and the status quo.
  4. Do not discount new ideas.
  5. Recognize and reward best efforts even if they fail.
  6. Debrief and evaluate results.  Identify things that worked well.  Determine how things could be improved next time.  Identified lessons learned.

Change requires focus and discipline and, most importantly, time.

The wisest among us know that change is - and always has been - unavoidable.

Encouragement:  Never stop exploring, challenging, hypothesizing, experimenting and learning. Remember:  it is those people who are open-ended and curious who love and lead change best.

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A TED talk from Richard on the ultimate citizen of the 21st Century.  My key idea from this: 'Find the Gary in every single one of your students'. 

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