Category: Effective Goal Setting

A few years back I was training a site based team in using data to develop action plans.

I distributed school performance data for the group to analyze. The group was not used to using data at all and I was hard pressed not to flat out TELL them what the issues the data suggested were.

I waited for what seemed an eternity when finally one of the teachers said, (sic) “I think I can draw one conclusion from what I see. But I am afraid to say it to the group because there are parents here who may misunderstand and miscommunicate what I want to say.”

I waited for what seemed another eternity. Finally a parent said, (sic) “I have a real problem with what you just said. We are all here for the same reason. So we should be comfortable with what we have to say to each other.”

The teacher took a gulp and then said, sic, “I don’t think our Special Education program works very well.”

Now the two preceding eternities felt like nanoseconds. This teacher had actually said something didn’t work. And not only that, he had given his trust to the group by voicing and substantiating his conclusions.

And this time it wasn’t the parents who squirmed. This time it was the administrator – members who clearly did not want the deficits this teacher had pinpointed brought to the forum.

And as they squirmed I had to decide how to lever this opportunity to foster Team Learning and to drive collective trust amongst the group.

And so we worked it. I asked the teacher to point out his reasoning for his conclusions. I watched for defensiveness amongst the administrator stakeholders. At first they were, but the data did not lie and so that led us to truly trying to uncover what the root cause issues that may have been at play behind the data.

From time to time the various stakeholder sub groups would ask questions or offer solutions that needed clarification and understanding and over the course of the next few sessions the group got beyond the he said – she said points of view to understand their collective tasks which were to synthesize each other’s energies to create effective solutions and plans for the students whom they served.

As Lencioni rightfully avers, nothing can happen in group unless they trust each other.


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1. How will you know if the Yankees met their strategic goal?

Answer: They won the World Series.

2. How will you know if you lost weight?

Answer: You lost weight.

3. How will you know if your organization’s systems are working?

Answer: Everything seemed to work.

Answer to number one: Yes, they must win the World Series. Anything less is an organizational failure.

Answer to number two: Technically yes, i.e. if you lose weight. But HOW much weight? One pound? Two? One hundred?

Answer to number three: How DO you know if your organization’s systems are working?

– if no one complains?

– if you have a profit?

– if your students are achieving?

Before we answer number three let’s piggyback off the first two questions: We all know that any athletic or competitive team (not only the Yankees), “measures” itself by whether or by how much they have  won their respective championship. It’s an absolute, either you have won the championship or you have not, sort of like if you’re pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t.

If my goal is “lose weight” it might be fine to lose a pound or two. But I’d also offer that a dieter measures her “success” by more weight loss than one pound.

If we consider organizations, especially schools as systems – as organizations those first two throw – in questions offer some guidelines, although not nearly enough to truly assess the extent to which the school-as-system-as-0rganization  (SASAO) has met its goals.

For one thing, there is no World Series by which it can measure itself for school systems. For sure we “create” artificial World Series types targets. 100 per cent diploma rates, everyone meeting standards, are two examples. But they are more nearly akin to leaves on a tree than they the stoutness of that same tree’s trunk.

For another thing, and maybe more preferably,  if a school-as-systems-as-organizations measures itself incrementally it can keep track of a promising or not so promising trend. Oh sure there is that AYP, Annual Yearly Progress.  This type goal basically says “Well you haven’t met the ULTIMATE goal but you are showing progress toward that goal. Let’s be satisfied with that for now. So let’s look at that. I’d proffer that that sort of measurement COULD be more effective than “winning the World Series” if the yardstick measured a continuum toward a meaningful goal in the first place.

I’d argue that the mental models offered and practiced in just about any schoolhouse have surface level merit but in their collective aggregate  miss the mark because the goals that steer them are faulty to begin with.

Because the “vision”, the shared vision, is not enunciated, or if vocalized from time to time, is not truly the beat by which the school-as- systems-as organization marches. Visions and so-called missions like these are  the  kind you find posted somewhere in the school entrance and in the masthead of the school newsletter, or even on its website if it has one.  But the so-called vision has little or no collective conscious in the day to day energies of the stakeholders.

More than that if the purpose of American schooling is to prepare citizens of the 21st century with economic, critical thinking, creative, and technological literacies and capacities, we will need to create CRITERIA BY WHICH WE ASSESS goals as offered in this very sentence that will give us true input as to whether we are in fact doing this or something far less effective and far less worthy.

So when we craft that plan to meet that vision, let’s wag the school-as-systems-as organization’s tail effectively by knowing how we will know before we construct what we think we want.