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Can Education Learn from Business when it comes to Innovation & Change?

October 11, 2012

In the October edition of Harvard Business Review, Keeley Wilson and Yves Doz write about the 10 Rules for Managing Global Innovation.  Here are their 10 rules:

  1. Start Small
  2. Provide a Stable Organizational Context
  3. Assign Oversight and Support Responsibility to a Senior Manager
  4. Use Rigorous Project Management and Seasoned Project Leaders
  5. Appoint a Lead Site
  6. Invest Time in Defining the Innovation
  7. Allocate Resources on the Basis of Capability, not Availability
  8. Build enough Knowledge Overlap for Collaboration
  9. Limit the Number of Subcontractors and Partners
  10. Don’t rely Solely on Technology

They believe these 10 rules serve as the foundation upon which global innovation is built.  They make the case that all 10 have to be enacted as a coherent set of principles or else efforts to innovative and or undergo transformative change within an organization are not likely to occur.

Connecting their model to Michael Fullan’s work on supporting organizational change as outlined in his recent article, Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform, builds a strong case that change and innovation happen when certain principles are in place.  I draw the comparison between Fullan’s whole system reform and Wilson and Doz’s global innovation models as a way to connect Fullan’s work in education to Wilson and Doz’s work in business.  There appears to be a strong connection as I see it.

In Fullan’s seminar paper, he argues that there are “right” and “wrong” drivers for change or innovation within organizations.  Here are the four right and wrong drivers:

Wrong drivers

  • Accountability
  • Focusing on the success of the individual
  • Focusing on technological solutions
  • Focusing on fragmented strategies within a systems

Right drivers

  • Capacity building
  • Focus on the team
  • Focus on instructional strategies (education)
  • Focus on the integration of strategies within the system

The wrong drivers are not necessarily “bad,” but if they are the lead drivers the organization will struggle implementing transformative change.  On the other hand, when the lead drivers are the right drivers organizational change has a much greater chance.  The important point Fullan makes is that the lead drivers in the organization (education) have to be capacity building, collaboration, a focus on pedagogy, and integration of strategies that are part of the change process.

Wilson and Doz’s principles seem to align well with Fullan’s right drivers.  First, capacity build within your organization by providing context for change, clearly defining the change you seek, allocating resources for change based on capability, and developing seasoned leaders that know how to manage and support change.  Second, focus on the team by supporting the development of knowledge centers that rely on collaboration.  Third, don’t expect technology to address all the challenges you face along the path towards change.  Fourth, don’t get too distracted by investing in too many partners.  Fragmentation can be the enemy of change.

Since all of my work is with educational organizations, some of whom immerse themselves in a strategic planning process that is usually designed to transform some aspect of the school community, it seems to me that schools should pay attention to the research that Fullan, Willson, and Doz provide in their research with organizations.

Finally, in their article in Harvard Business Review, Cultural Change That Sticks, Katzenbach, Steffen, and Kronley present a model with five principles that they find operate within organizations successfully implementing transformative change.  The graphic below illustrates their five principles.

As the authors point out in their article, many organizations ignore cultural change as part of some transformative strategic change.  However, they argue that cultural change must proceed an organization’s desire to transform its practice.  It should be a early priority in the change process.  We have to move from blaming organizational culture, in schools it is usually the faculty culture, as the reason transformative change fails and focus more on how to shift the culture to embrace the strategic changes being sought.  The authors write, “culture trumps strategy every time.”

So in schools seeking to implement strategic plans, assess the readiness of your culture to embrace the change you seek.  Focus on Kaatzenbach, Steffen, and Kronley’s five principles to prepare your school community for a new direction.  Finally, prepare your leadership team to implement the models or strategies outlined by Fullan, Wilson and Doz.  Schools and businesses can learn from each other how to support innovation and change within their organizations.

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