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School Innovation Plan: What Is Your Ultimate School Driver?

Posted by Scott Barron on Mar 4, 2014 12:38:11 PM
Scott Barron

How does the school's leadership know what the variety of decisions being made genuinely contribute to achievement of the mission?describe the image

The best answer is found in discovering the ultimate school driver for your program, where you actively and consistently measure the one factor that is most influential in the achievement of your mission.

Strategic planning is tough in this climate of rapid change for schools. Given the variability of the environment, school leaders must recognize how to adjust the planning process to do more than just create a strategic plan that will sit on the shelf until next year. Today you need to create a school innovation plan, where an emerging culture of innovation begins to thrive throughout the campus.

With changes in technology and other forces generating new competition, the school has to adapt faster than the traditional annual school cycle. It's virtually impossible to anticipate all the changes in technology and design that will affect schools in the next five years, so planning specifically for them is ineffective. Instead, why not develop a mindset of innovation that is built into the culture, processes, and habits of your institution?

The 48Hr School Innovation Plan

A couple weeks ago we tackled the challenge of helping a school develop a school innovation plan in 48 hours! We used the approach from Collins’ book, Great by Choice, identifying “bullets” in the form of micro-level innovations and adjustments, then launching a "cannon ball" or a larger scale project after learning the right coordinates. We identified key strategies that will have a high impact on advancing their mission, with the goal of increasing student growth, enrollment and fundraising.

In the economics of school growth, certain influencing factors have a real impact on your ability to improve: e.g., Performance metrics, technology, learning standards, revenue sources, and expanded competition. How can these different variables work to the benefit of your school within its particular market conditions? The School Growth team has developed a distinct expertise in pulling all these pieces together to implement a sustainable innovation plan for growth.

Key Economic Driver

Collins’ book, Good to Great, talks about the concept of a “key economic driver.” He recognizes that for most businesses, money is both an input and an output. A business measures success by their ability to take that money and grow it. For non-profit organizations like most schools, however, money is only an input and not a measure of greatness. In other words, the school’s goal is to advance its mission and grow it to a level of high impact. Be careful, though, about using that as an excuse for not paying attention to the financial opportunities of the school and making responsible decisions accordingly.

How are you funding the vision? Having a vision without provision is like having a crazy dream--it’s going nowhere other than in your imagination. The more concretely you can define your objectives and financial plans, the better you will be at communicating your message and engaging prospective students and donors in the vision of your school.


How will you measure the Return on Investment (ROI) of a strategic opportunity? The huge array of options available today requires a metric for evaluating the potential benefits and risks. You could implement new blended learning technology, add a lacrosse team, and/or build a new building--there are all kinds of things that you could do, but how do you know the investment (in terms of money, time, energy, and opportunity cost) is worth it? In our 48Hr School Innovation Plan session we determine how to evaluate options and choose the opportunities that are most important to the success by clearly identifying the ultimate school driver.

Opportunity AnalysisOpp Analysis

When strategically analyzing an opportunity, consider the complexity of the project as well as the investment, ROI, and tangible/intangible returns. Make sure that you’re not on the left side of the Opportunity Analysis graph where the project return is too low. Be wise by starting with projects of low complexity but high return (the proverbial low hanging fruit) that will allow you to build momentum. Then build up to higher complexity projects that have greater risk but equally high ROI.

The Key Driver

In the School Innovation Plan session we asked, Why? Who? and What? You can read more about that discussion in an earlier blog post, but Talent Quotient (TQ) was identified as the key driver for measuring success at this school. The quality of teachers was the recurring theme that came out of our dialog and debate. The school's leaders decided to implement a goal of having 80% of their faculty rated as top performers, they became fully committed to that goal, and they started building strategies to move towards that level of performance.

How does this apply to you?

As a school leader, you have to determine your key driver. Your school may be more financially oriented and use a metric such as net revenue per teacher, per employee, or per student. Whatever metric you choose, this decision will become extremely motivating because of the high level of focus--when you think of everything from the lens of your driver, it changes how you make decisions. Moving forward, your question will always be how the opportunity up for consideration will affect this driver.

To establish a culture of innovation within your organization, the board and administration must evaluate the tolerance for failure. Innovation implies risk - there are going to be mistakes and misjudgments. If you haven’t built in that ability to take risks into your faculty culture, it’s not going to happen. Your faculty won’t push the envelope to help their students. They will need the encouragement and freedom to take a reasonable amount of risks in order to move opportunities forward. Boards need to think about how they will support this commitment because adjustments to your design are inevitable.

Topics: School Design, School Culture, School Growth

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