Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Doom Loop, The Flywheel and getting onto The Right Bus

Yesterday at the start of our in-service we were given an overview of where we have come over the past few years and where we are heading.  Our school as it is today - Pre-School to Grade 12 - did not exist 3 years ago - there were separate private schools run on a for-profit basis, some running IB programmes, some not.  As a teacher who had worked in European international schools for 17 years, who had presented at top educational conferences and visited leading international schools around the world while developing the PYP and MYP programmes, I had never even heard of any of these separate schools 3 years ago.  But a lot can happen in 3 years as we were told yesterday: the school developed a shared mission statement for all campuses, came up with a new structure, brought the curriculum together so that there is now a continuum with all 3 IB programmes, changed a lot of the administration, built 2 new campuses, built a new theatre and sports facilities and set up a new IT infrastructure.  The next few years will see the building of new gyms, another new campus, a new Early Childhood centre and a new cafeteria.

Growth has its benefits and its problems.  The school has tried to go for "managed growth", trying to improve the quality of education, not just an increase in student numbers.  The school has a strategic plan to be a world leader in international education, and wants to recruit fantastic teachers and build outstanding facilities to make it happen.

Getting the right people onto the bus and into the right seats on the bus is a concept from Jim Collins' Good to Great.  After this in-service day I went back to Jim's website to read through again some of his pointers in moving forward successfully.  Although generally I agree with most of what Jim says about investing in the right people being more important than the direction the organisation is moving, I know some people feel uncomfortable with that.  When the emphasis is on going out and recruiting new teachers who are seen as more valuable than the ones who are already there, some of the long-timers feel that they are being told they are not valued and should think about getting off the bus.  This is what Jim says about it:

Most people assume that great bus drivers immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they're going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.
In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.
First, if you begin with “who,” you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you'll be in trouble when you get 10 miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed. But if people board the bus principally because of all the other great people on the bus, you’ll be much faster and smarter in responding to changing conditions. Second, if you have the right people on your bus, you don’t need to worry about motivating them. The right people are self-motivated: Nothing beats being part of a team that is expected to produce great results. And third, if you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with mediocre people still produces mediocre results. 
I'm interested in what Jim says about people getting onto the bus because of the other great people on it.  I think it's true.  Certainly I know people who have followed a good leader who has moved to a different school.  On the international circuit there are some schools that seem to exchange staff back and forth fairly regularly - and some schools where many well respected teachers seem to have spent some time during their careers - almost like a rite of passage or a training ground for better things.  There are other schools (and countries too) where a lot of good people seem to be moving - in the past few years, as I wrote on Twitter fairly recently, every man and his dog (or cat) seem to have been moving to Singapore.  Japan is another country that is attracting great educators.  There are some schools that seem to "pull" teachers from other smaller or less well established schools in the same country.  That was certainly true of my last 2 schools with many teachers in other international schools in the city/country applying for jobs there.  And conversely there are schools who lose staff to better local schools - with nobody moving in the opposite direction. 

Would I move to a school because of the people there?  Absolutely!  There are some people I would love to work with, people I would learn so much from, who would motivate me to be the best I could be.  I love to learn and move forward and I need to feel valued.  However I would also be concerned about the direction the bus is moving too.  I've moved from a PC school to a Mac school - I wouldn't want to head back to a PC school again.  I've only ever considered working in schools that did all 3 IB programmes, I wouldn't move to a school that was heading in a different direction.  I want to work in a school where IT is totally integrated into the curriculum, not a school where it is seen as a separate subject.  I want a school that is committed to professional development, I'm not happy when I'm standing still.  I want a school that works to build a solid programme, not one that jumps onto too many bandwagons.  My time is valuable - I don't like wasting it.  I'm happy to spend a lot of time building up a programme, but not to just do a bit of this and a bit of that:  a new spelling programme, a new handwriting programme, a new maths programme, a new stardardised test, a new report card and so on.  Jim Collins refers to this as the Doom Loop (as opposed to the Flywheel where people are concentrating on moving forward in one direction).  This is how he describes the difference:
Companies that fall into the Doom Loop genuinely want to effect change—but they lack the quiet discipline that produces the Flywheel Effect. Instead, they launch change programs with huge fanfare, hoping to “enlist the troops.” They start down one path, only to change direction. After years of lurching back and forth, these companies discover that they’ve failed to build any sustained momentum. Instead of turning the flywheel, they've fallen into a Doom Loop: Disappointing results lead to reaction without understanding, which leads to a new direction—a new leader, a new program—which leads to no momentum, which leads to disappointing results. It’s a steady, downward spiral. Those who have experienced a Doom Loop know how it drains the spirit right out of a company.
In contrast, why does the Flywheel Effect work? Because more than anything else, real people in real companies want to be part of a winning team. They want to contribute to producing real results. They want to feel the excitement and the satisfaction of being part of something that just flat-out works. When people begin to feel the magic of momentum—when they begin to see tangible results and can feel the flywheel start to build speed—that’s when they line up, throw their shoulders to the wheel, and push.
Some years ago I was lucky enough to be working at a school that experienced this magical momentum - where we seemed to be moving the bus at speed down a super-highway - it's an intoxicating feeling.  After that I think I will never again be satisfied to be driving down a winding back road, to be taking many side roads or ending up in a cul-de-sac.  For an organisation, as Jim Collins says, it's important to get the right people onto the bus and into the right seats.  For a teacher I think we have to be careful we are getting onto the right bus (which is hard to do at a job fair when we have very little real knowledge of what it is like to work at a particular school or live in a particular country) - and if we find we are not on the right bus we need to get off quickly and wait for the next one before the bus heads too far in the wrong direction.

Photo Credit:  C2 by Nico Hogg

1 comment:

  1. We're interviewing today, and we did yesterday for leadership posts at our school. I'm going to share your post before we start. Thank you again!