Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Rough draft of a critique of our organization

Our school not only loses students and fails to graduate students at an alarmingly poor rate, but over the past seven years we are accelerating our rate of loss. This place looks nice to the outsider and we enjoy a great reputation.

Two metaphors come to mind:
1. The fairy tale of the emperor strutting about and none of the witnesses are willing to tell the truth. The emperor has no clothes.

2. The white city of the great Chicago World's Fair. Shiny and pretty on the surface, gleaming and unparalleled in its grandeur. But, none of the 200 buildings were built to stand. All temporary, no infrastructure, all plaster, no stone. Within a year, the buildings were gone.

What's the nature of our infrastructure?

Leadership of the school is siloed and characterized by cover up (see Chris Argyris for comprehensive descriptions of the nature of "cover up" in organizations)

Leadership team occasionally but rarely engages collectively on school issues. A typical meeting characterizes the way leadership works on issues. We report out as departments – mostly announcements. Rarely does anyone ask his colleagues for insight, expertise and perspective on a problem he is dealing with. When someone does ask for input it invariably ends with head of school saying, okay that's enough of that. So and so (whichever department raised it) will take care of it (and implies we don't need to know anymore).

Members of leadership team occasionally don't agree with each other. Sometimes a member makes his disagreement known usually in an extremely polite way. However, there are many examples where members hold their tongue for various reasons (and usually express it inappropriately after the meeting to others). Those times included when it appears that someone is settled in his idea and will be resistant to feedback, when communication becomes too difficult because someone else doesn't seem to understand, when the issue seems small enough that it's not worth the trouble to pursue understanding, when someone seems defensive. Often someone wants to raise a question but the speaker doesn't request feedback. Too many times we don't speak frankly and honestly with each other.

We spend most of our time in reactive mode. There's little collective commitment to long term strategic thinking. Folks attention are generally on the latest crisis or commitment and strategy is seen as a luxury, not a priority. “pay now or pay later, meineke”

Strategy is nonexistent

We do not sustain sufficient attention at the leadership level on long term strategy. We allow opportunistic, ad hoc thinking to dominate and distract: one week notice about international visitors, major travel and service project without consultation, slogans and announcements of new initiatives at the beginning of the semester with no follow through...etc.

We execute ill advised short term fixes that are not embedded in any strategic thinking: A staff member running the truth and reconciliation group, flooding the school with too many students, etc.

Agreed upon processes are virtually non-existent

We have no standard processes to depend upon to resolve conflicts, make decisions, solve problems or drive our culture. Community meetings are based on loudest voices. There's no consistent level of responsibility for the quality or execution of meetings. No coherent process for student behavior issues, for disciplining staff, sticking to an initiative,

Whatever processes we do have in place are poorly managed

Different staff from time to time undermine directives and processes: Staff member dropping peer council, instructor not having a writing program, weak oversight on house focus.

Hunches, intuition and gut moves dominate: sending some students home, inconsistent decisions with students.

At the rate we're going we will have a 10% graduation rate over the next 7 years. Falling to less than half of what it was the first 7 years. If our funders were really paying attention to the data and understood expected results in high schools around the country, they would not tolerate the return on investment.

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