Education leaders want their districts and schools to be high performing. To do that, leaders recognize that they must create Performance Cultures.
But what exactly is does this mean and what do leaders do to create a Performance Culture?
Culture, simply defined, means “the way we do things around here.”
At Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement (GLISI), we define Performance Culture as an organizational culture where a critical mass of stakeholders agrees to and takes responsibility for the identified, targeted results of the organization.
Who wouldn’t want stakeholders to believe passionately in what the district is trying to achieve and to actively engage in helping the district achieve its desired results?
Having key internal and external stakeholders “on board” with improving student learning and organizational effectiveness may seem like a pipe dream. However, GLISI’s eight years of experience working with 168 of Georgia’s 181 school districts, reveals these common elements across districts that have successfully created Performance Cultures:
1. Leadership – Leadership matters.
We know of no cases of districts that have created a strong Performance Culture without strong leadership at the helm. When Boards of Education and superintendents create a shared vision, clearly adhere to their distinct roles and responsibilities, and communicate their commitment to the district strategic direction, the district is well positioned to create and sustain a Performance Culture.
2. Focus – Clarity counts.
Leaders of successful districts create a laser focus on student achievement. In order to achieve this focus, districts communicate their mission, vision and values in powerful and consistent ways across multiple audiences – continually. The district Future Story is clearly communicated so that others can catch the vision from the “as is” state to the “to be” state of improved performance.
3. Alignment – Alignment accelerates.
Random acts of improvement lead to confusion and consternation among well intentioned people who are working as hard as they can at cross purposes. Leaders must illuminate the way. In order to ensure aligned and integrated acts of improvement, leaders of Performance Cultures engage in a comprehensive strategic planning process that engages all stakeholder groups to instill a continuous improvement process. (Many utilize the EBS eBOARD tool and the strategic planning process that the Georgia School Boards Association has worked collaboratively with GLISI and GPEE to put together to assist in developing, executing, monitoring and reporting the plan.) Balanced scorecards, Strategy Maps, Strategic Plans, Program Plans, Project Plans, Improvement Plans and strategic management tools are developed, cascaded and consistently monitored to create organizational alignment, prevent silos, and motivate and achieve desired behaviors and performance. Such processes result in alignment from the Board Room to the Classroom and create the conditions for a vibrant Performance Culture.
4. Balanced Performance Improvement – Balance boosts performance.
While student achievement is the primary focus, effective district leaders know the importance of a systemic approach. Leaders who create Performance Cultures also pay attention to Organizational Effectiveness to make sure that work processes are smooth, efficient and effective. By setting performance measures for organizational effectiveness, leaders focus on fixing problems rather than fixing blame on people. They also set performance measures for Stakeholder Engagement, Team Learning and Growth and other areas of district priority so they take a balanced approach to creating a Performance Culture.
5. Execution – Execution demands disciplined leadership action.
Planning is important, but translating the plan into action delivers results. Disciplined leadership action is required to create the conditions for success, achieve targeted results, and increase the likelihood that plans and initiatives will achieve desired outcomes. Execution is hard work because it involves leading the change – a mental model shift to a Performance Culture.
6. Student and Stakeholder Engagement – Engagement energizes.
People support what they help to create. Our experience suggests that district leaders who invest time and energy in engaging students and other key internal and external stakeholders help these key players know how their involvement contributes significantly to results achieved. By engaging a critical mass of stakeholders, district leaders ensure long term sustainability of the Performance Culture.
7. Talent Management – Having the right people is critical.
Leaders of Performance Cultures take the job of finding, growing and keeping the right people seriously. Often a person’s talent shines when that individual is placed in the right seat on the bus, as Jim Collins would say. Growing talent and tending to the development of people includes setting clear expectations, creating competency models that articulate desired leader behaviors, providing updated job descriptions, giving ongoing performance feedback (the breakfast of champions), affording meaningful development opportunities aligned to the district direction and individual performance needs, and ensuring that people see themselves as part of a team focused on meaningful work are all part of investing in human capital for improved performance.
8. Accountability for Results – Accountability is a value.
In true Performance Cultures, people view accountability as a value. They want to show Return on Investment of time, energy and resources for improved student learning. The key is a focus on continuous improvement. The leader who communicates that the accountability effort is part of a continuous improvement process and not a “gotcha” is more likely to meet with success in creating and sustaining a Performance Culture.
9. Monitoring – Monitoring makes a difference in results.
It is easy to get side-tracked in improvement efforts. People are pulled in a thousand directions. But successful leaders help people keep their eye on the prize. By making improvement plans a living, breathing document with regular check-ins and follow through, leaders make their dreams of creating and sustaining a Performance Culture a reality.
10. Communication – Communication connects the dots.
Relentless communication helps everyone remember and live the mission, vision, values and goals of an organization. Some leaders use the Balanced Scorecard on their website as a communication tool. Others keep stakeholders updated via eBoard. No matter the tool, leaders keep audience and purpose in mind and know that turning data into information and communicating progress and results continually is key to creating and sustaining a Performance Culture.
These elements serve as critical success factors for districts and schools that aspire to create and sustain Performance Cultures. Georgia is on the move because our education leaders recognize the importance of peak performance for their students, staffs and organizations.