ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

July 1998


Creating A Workplace Community

Finding Your Way Through Performance Measurement

A Quality Vacation On The Jersey Shore

The Honda Dirtbusters Cleaned Up In Nashville

Consolidation Processes Save Time, Money And Win Awards


As Goes The Follower, So Goes The Leader
by Peter Block

Off -Target Marketing - Can We Talk
by Bill Brewer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Views For A Change

John Runyan answers:

I notice the tone of irritation and impatience in your words. It sounds as if you have spent many years appealing to and expecting educational administrators to adopt the quality standards embodied in the Baldrige criteria. I empathize with your professional frustration and, as a former educator myself, I also empathize with educational leaders who face enormous challenges around their resources and priorities. In the end, I believe that we all share the same goal, the highest possible quality education for our kids.
I believe that there are at least three very human reasons why school leaders have not quickly embraced quality standards and processes that you and I advocate. My reasons come from the vast differences in content, experience and expectations existing between business leaders and their educational counterparts. Only by dealing with these differences directly and compassionately, do I believe that you and I, as professional consultants, can have the influence we want.
First, educational institutions do not see themselves as businesses. Rather, educational leaders often view schools as public stages where dozens of social, political and community-specific realities and agendas are played out. Most businesses have significant control over many of the inputs and variables that go into their enterprises – this is not the case for most educational institutions. Schools and their leaders have to contend with all kinds of systemic factors beyond their control. (The shortcomings of the current national efforts to ensure economic opportunity, alleviate poverty and provide accessible health care for all are examples of some of these factors.) In addition, these leaders live in a public limelight and must respond to political pressures from a myriad of sources.
As a result, they have great difficulty moving quickly and decisively in setting achievable goals, deciding on appropriate criteria for success and assigning meaningful accountabilities. While businesses are measured inevitably by a handful of bottom-line criteria such as market share, customer satisfaction and profitability, schools can’t use any of these in a simple and direct way. Rather they have to craft goals and criteria that factor in everything from the federal guidelines that you mention, to local concerns. Attempts to improve schools that do not take into account this social and political complexity have little chance for success. Therefore, we need to carefully inquire and learn if the specific character and language of such programs as the Baldrige criteria fits the needs of today’s school systems.
Second, leaders of educational institutions are frequently the targets of criticism. Under pressure on multiple fronts, from budgets to book selection, educators rarely get the empathy, respect and trust that could help them cope with the overwhelming number of tasks and problems they face. They are periodically judged by the media and the public as undisciplined spenders of public funds and defenders of hopelessly bureaucratic organizations. Administrators and teachers often have the experience of being under-valued and unappreciated for the quality and quantity of their efforts.
Third, as educators try to cope with limited and often dwindling resources, they frequently encounter a public that thinks “they should get by as we have, to tightening our own belts.” Some parents and many adults without children believe that schools should take care of kids without being seen or heard or costing anywhere near as much as they do. These adults and parents, who act more as spectators, resent the problems of youth restlessness, drugs, and violence that they see emanating from the public schools. They wish that teachers and administrators would simply “do their jobs” and “keep young people in line” on a minimal budget. As a result, educators in many locales work without the consistent attention and tangible support they need.
You ask, what is it going to take for these educational institutions to adopt Baldrige practices or benchmarking? It will take leaders from businesses and the professions, dealing with the realities of this tough human context in proactive, constructive ways.
The crucial first steps are to move beyond any simplistic and stereotypical judgements about students, schools and the leaders that run them. Then we need to join these educators in their efforts. When we choose to work closely with educators, as mutual investors and partners in our schools, we can reasonably expect to influence them about their goals, measurements and processes. Without this commitment we will remain on the outside—irritated, frustrated and ultimately unpersuasive about the standards that matter to us.
Specifically, we can:
1)Approach educators with the intent to learn about their situations, challenges and dilemmas. Inquire and listen first, without jumping to conclusions.
2)Offer personal and professional services in a respectful way, but also acknowledging the competence and professionalism of our educational clients.
3)Demonstrate the quality of our thinking and consulting skills by engaging educators in a give-and-take effort that invites, not commands, their participation in processes that will serve our students.
4)Join with local teachers and administrators, if appropriate, in simplifying and adapting the Baldrige criteria and processes to the specific circumstances and capabilities of local school.
Only by taking these steps in an open, respectful, collaborative mindset do I believe that we can earn the influence and have the impact that we want.

H. James Harrington Responds

July '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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