Monday, July 13, 2009

The Six Secrets of Change

A new book by Michael Fullan (1) looks at how leaders help organizations go through change. The six processes he described address what he refers to as large-scale reform, wherein the goal is to change whole systems or organizations. He notes that these six “secrets” are synergistic, feeding upon one another, and that they are heavily nuanced. By this he means that they require thought and consideration before being used. He suggests a need for motivational embedding, in order to motivate people to invest time and energy to get results. Finally, he notes the presence of tension, wherein a good leader will keep all of these six secrets in balance.

His secrets, in short are:

- Love your employees. An institution or organization should invest as much energy toward its employees as it does its customers. Translated to an educational setting, this would mean as much energy toward the faculty and staff as it does toward its students. And he places great importance on continual learning, so that people also continue to find meaning in their work and to their relation to their company or institution.

- Connect peers with purpose. Fullan discusses what he calls the “too tight – too loose” dilemma. This is the attempt to find balance between how much you delegate power during times of change; people may feel constrained if you tighten requirements too much, but if you let power devolve too far you may get uneven results. He suggests that it is necessary for leaders to build strategies that encourage what he calls purposeful peer interaction. People enjoy working with their peers and this can foster learning that leads to results.

- Capacity building prevails. This is where leaders invest in developing individuals and group efforts to enhance the efficacy of the group as a whole. People learn new skills and competencies and as a result undergo new motivation. Doing so requires a leader to avoid intimidation and negative judgment, but also to rely on peers to help drive the process.

- Learning is work. He feels that there is too little learning going on in formal training courses that institutions offer, and not enough that occurs while actually doing the work. He feels that good institutions link working and learning very effectively.

- Transparency rules. It is necessary for institutions to have clear and regular discussions of results, and continual access to practice. He states that continuous improvement is not possible without good data, which is part of being transparent. Finally, he suggests that transparency creates positive pressure to do better.

- Systems learn. He feels that systems can learn, and that using these processes you will increase both knowledge and commitment. But to do so, people need to have their motivation constantly stimulated so that it is deepened.

His text goes on to expand upon each of these ideas, and I found it a fascinating read that suggests new approaches we can all use in addressing change.

NOTE: I will be off campus next week so the next post will occur the week after. RAGBRAI beckons.

1. Fullan M. The six secrets of change. San Francisco, CA; Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2008

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