How Do Leaders Communicate Priorities? Attention Is All There Is!
Superintendents often ask how they can promote PLC concepts in their schools. An article from the April 2003 Harvard Business Review entitled "Tipping Point Leadership" by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne offers some great ideas on that topic. The article focused on William Bratton, a guy who is credited with being the more successful chief of police in the U.S. (he cleaned up Boston, then moved to NYC under Rudy Giuliani to transform its crime rates).
Bratton’s primary strategy was to motivate and inform his precinct captains through a semi-weekly strategy review meeting that required mandatory attendance. A selected precinct captain (think principal) would be called before a panel of senior staff (think superintendent and key central office staff) and all his/her colleagues to present data on crime rate performance (think student achievement). The captain was then called upon to interpret the data, clarify his/her strategies for attacking problem areas, and offer recommendations regarding successful practices. The entire group was expected to ask clarifying questions and offer suggestions. By the way, the precinct captain was given only two days notice prior to the presentation to establish the expectation that leaders should have the data at the finger tips and should be able to produce and explain it at a moments notice.
Here is how the authors described the benefit of the practice:
"By making results and responsibilities clear to everyone, the meetings helped to introduce a culture of performance [think, a results orientation]. An incompetent commander could no longer cover up his failings by blaming his results on the shortcomings of neighboring precincts because his neighbors were in the room [think middle school principals blaming elementary principals]. The meetings gave high achievers a chance to be recognized [think celebration] both for making improvements in their own precincts and for helping other commanders. The meetings allowed police leaders to compare notes on their experiences.... The great challenges in applying this kind of motivational device, of course, are ensuring that people feel it is based on fair processes and seeing to it that they can draw lessons from both good and bad results. Doing so increases the organization’s collective strength and everyone’s chances of winning."
One way used to promote this sense of fairness was to focus on both crime rates and improvement in crime rates. The crime rates for Park Avenue were bound to be better than Brooklyn’s, but Brooklyn was in a position to show significant improvements. Conversely, Park Avenues’ rates may be great, but getting worse. Everyone had a chance to be a winner. Every captain was required to have "specific goals that were doable" (think SMART goal) all linked to a very specific purpose -making their precincts safer (think raising student achievement and closing the gap).
Here is another important point from the authors of the study: "Over time, this management style filtered down through the ranks as the precinct captains tried out their own version of the Bratton meeting" (think principals transforming faculty meetings into team-led data analysis and dialogue).
Administrators encourage teachers to make data easily accessible and openly shared among members of a team, and this format would model that openness among administrators. Fullan argues that for PLC concepts to spread across a district, a principal must be almost as concerned about the success of other schools as he/she is about his/her own school. This format could foster that interdependence.
I encourage you to consider adapting something like this to your own settings and would be very interested in hearing your impression of results.