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Strategic Planning vs Strategic Organization

Keep it SimpleEducation leadership is an unusually complex responsibility that requires intelligence, wisdom, and hard work. Perhaps what our schools need most isn't another strategic plan, but rather a strategic organization where unity and trust prevail. 

“One of the biggest accelerators to change is simplicity.”
--Dr. Henry Cloud

Great joy comes from simplicity, which requires overcoming our natural bias for making things way more complicated than they need to be. 

When we simplify, we can focus on the essence of leadership and of life because we have the time and space to pay attention--to ourselves, to our people, to our higher purpose. Simplicity is a powerful leadership imperative—not a fluffy convenience, but a key contributor to mission success and economic viability.

An effective way to simplify school leadership is to focus on the three domains of discipline that produce a progressively and sustainably stronger organization:

1. Leadership Capacity 

2. Organizational Health

3. Continuous Improvement

Leadership Capacity recognizes that the key ingredient to growing a school is our people: It’s the Living Curriculum that makes the mission authentic and real. That requires a consciousness, a curiosity, and a commitment to strategic human resources--which is a significant progression beyond the requirements of HR compliance. 

Organizationally healthy schools consistently outperform their competitors because they have simplified their design, structure, and expectations.

Enrollment growth isn't necessarily indicative of a healthy school, and can actually cover up some deeper issues that need to be addressed. Faculty and families want a consistently high-quality organization that has eliminated the silos, poor communication habits, and dysfunctional behaviors that typically prevail. 

They expect schools to be complicated. They're used to the rapid pace of school life, with limited time for peaceful human interaction and a relentless commitment to staying busy. The resulting tensions are just par for the course when interacting with educators. 

But there is a better way. 

Continuous Improvement is only possible when we have the right people in the right positions, the expectations are clear, authority is properly delegated, and data is accurately and widely shared.

When a school truly reaches the level of a learning organization, a growth mindset becomes culturally ingrained. The disciplines here demand overtly sharing information, deconstructing knowledge siloes within departments or divisions, and maintaining a commitment to no secrets and no surprises.

Giving all employees access to information allows them to fully understand the bigger challenges and goals, ensuring that everyone understands and values their role in learning and making critical improvements. 

"Working together always works. It always works.
Everybody has to be on the team. They have to be
interdependent with one another."
--Alan Mulally

Strategic planning is hopeless when there is no trust--a deep trust that enables transparently and frankly examining the information available and prioritizing resources. 

Strategic planning without a strategic organization is akin to the foolishness of building a house on sand rather than rock. When the pressures and tensions of school life rise, the focus and energy needed to execute the plan by committed people dissolve because the underlying foundation is fragile and can't support it. 

Systemic understanding and strong cross-divisional relationships are the most productive strategic imperatives.

Did a school strategic plan created in 2019 consider the impact of a global pandemic and the ensuing disruptions? Unlikely. And the dynamic nature of education leadership today will continue for years to come.

Rather than being documented from a series of creative planning meetings, the most effective strategic plans will simply emerge from a cohesive team that is mission-driven, culturally aligned, and executes with discipline. 

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