Execution: the Discipline of Getting Things Done

By Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan


Larry Bossidy, former chairman and CEO of both Honeywell international and Allied Signal, and CEO of General Electric credit, and Ram Charan, advisor to CEO’s and former business school professor have written a book that:

  • skewers the “strategic planning” process when disconnected from the reality of getting things done
  • identifies mechanisms of organizational culture, and
  • gives sharp teeth to the “First Who” principle from Good to Great.

Readers familiar with school systems will recognize many common behaviors of superintendents and boards in the descriptions of the characteristics of companies that do not execute:

“In the past, businesses got away with poor execution by pleading for patience. ‘The business environment is tough right now,’ is one typical excuse; or ‘Our strategy will take time to produce results.’” P.5.

“The main requirement [for execution] is that you as a leader have to be deeply and passionately engaged in your organization and honest about its realities with others and yourself.”  P. 8

“Most companies don’t face reality well.  As we shall see, that’s the basic reason they can’t execute.”  P. 22.

“Leaders in an execution culture design strategies that are more road maps than rigid paths enshrined in fat planning books.  That way they can respond quickly.”

“Only the leader can set the tone of the dialogue in the organization.  Dialouge is the core of the culture and the bbasic unit of work.  How people talk to each other absolutely determines who well the organization will function.”  P. 25.

“Realism is the heart of execution, but many organizations are full of people who are trying to avoid or shade reality.  Why?  It makes life uncomfortable.”  P. 67. 

"When I took over at AlliedSignal, for example I got two different pictures from our people and our customers.  While our people were saying that we are delivering an order-fill rate of 98%, our customers thought we were at 60%.  The irony was, instead of trying to address the customers’ complaints, we seemed to think we had to show them that we were right and they were wrong."  P. 68

Chapter 3

Building Block One:  The Leader’s Seven Essential Behaviors

·        Know your people and your business.

·        Insist on realism.

·        Set clear goals and priorities.

·        Follow through.

·        Reward the doers.

·        Expand people’s capabilities.

·        Know yourself.

Know your people and your business

The authors put a great deal of focus on formal and informal systems to generate and capture information about the competencies and performance of people. “[T]he most important thing leaders do:  selecting and evaluating people.”  And they insist the CEO must be curious, questioning, probing throughout the organization, both to make good decisions and to set a tone and pattern for the organization.

Insist on Realism

This section is knowing the facts about a business:  market share, ROI, costs of customer acquisition, customers intentions, customers’ customers’ intentions, competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and the intentions of their customers, etc., etc., etc.  Although not limited by any means to numeric information, this section does provides another example of the business world’s focus on metrics and a sharp contrast to the numbers-phobic behavior of too many school systems.

Set clear goals and priorities

"Leaders, to execute, must focus on a very few clear priorities that everyone to grasp."

“[L]eaders who execute … speak simply and directly.  They talk plainly and forthrightly about what's on their minds.  They know how to simplify things so that others can understand them, and evaluate them, and act on them, so that what they say becomes common sense.” P.70.

Follow through

Who will do what and when?  How will success be measured, by whom and when?

Answer these questions, and live by the answers, or all else is meaningless.

Reward the doers

“If you want people to use specific results, you reward them accordingly.  This fact seems so obvious that it shouldn't need saying.  Yet many corporations do such a poor job of linking rewards to performance but there is little correlation at all.  They don't distinguish between those who achieve results and those who don't, either in base pay or in bonuses and stock options."  P. 73.

But, note the questions concerning "pay-for-performance" in professional organizations.  I believe this performance reward systems from manufacturing organizations must be evaluated with some care when applied to a professional consulting and sales organization such as a school system.

On the other hand, it is important to set up measurement systems to focus on teacher engagement, the quality of assignments and lessons, student effort levels, persistence, and intrinsic satisfaction, as well as multiple performance measures for students during the year such as district-wide tests.  For one thing, what gets measured gets done.  In addition, comprehensive data flowing through the organization and publicly visible is both the best motivation and structure for performance within the organization, and important to accountability to the public.

It is also important to provide some recognitions and rewards based on the things you value – quality teaching that achieves student engagement and learning – and to make absolutely certain NO recognitions or rewards (e.g., “Teacher of the Year”) are political games or it’s-his-turn kind of things.  If a school has a teacher who is the best every year, then that teacher is “Teacher of the Year” every year.  She may not get more money, but she should get respect.  And to anyone who says teaching cannot be measured that way:  all kinds of difficult-to-measure things get measured every day – Customer satisfaction, the effectiveness of advertising campaigns, the skills of surgeons, the effectiveness of psychiatric treatments – all kinds of things.  It’s not that good teaching and effective, energized schools can’t be measured; the problem is that educators have been so measurement-phobic (and have faced no competitive pressure to overcome it), that they have not developed sufficient high-quality measurement tools and analytical techniques.  Much of this effort is being brought into schools from the outside.  That’s ok; just so it gets done and done right.

Expand people's capabilities through coaching

By coaching, the authors mean one-on-one instruction.  But they also seem to include formal professional development programs in this category.  They suggest that some companies fail to make useful, meaningful decisions about who can participate in such programs based on their perceived ability to benefit from them.  They suggest that real learning takes place in using the tools gained in the classroom as part of small teams focused on company challenges.  Sound familiar?  See this.  Or this.  Or even this.

Know yourself

Organizational leadership requires emotional fortitude, which is made up of four key qualities: authenticity, self-awareness, self-mastery, and humility.  The authors did not provide any basis for their delineation of these areas.  While I believe they are correct in to identify an emotional competence component to leadership, the work in Primal Leadership seems more useful in actually identifying the components and building a development plan.  However, they do come to the same conclusion: learning new emotional behaviors is difficult, but doable, and once done is permanent and can be the basis for continued growth on an almost unlimited basis.

Chapter Four

Building Block Two: Creating the Framework for Cultural Change

"To change a business's culture, you need a set of processes -- social operating mechanisms -- that will change the beliefs and behavior of people in ways that are directly related to bottom-line results."  P.  85.

"You don't need a lot of complex systems or employee surveys to use this framework.  You need to change people's behavior so that they produce results.  First you tell people clearly what results you're looking for.  Then you discuss how to get those results, as a key element of the coaching process.  Then you reward people for producing the results.  If they come up short, you provide additional coaching, withdraw rewards, give them other jobs, or let them go.  When you do these things, you create a culture of getting things done."  P.  86.

I believe the disconnect here between the business world and the world of education is in the total lack of data-based ways of talking about results.  The first idea to come to mind in education is test scores, followed closely by drop-out rates, etc.  But, I suspect, most teachers, principals, and administrators have no idea how to connect their behaviors and the day-to-day operations of their schools to those results.

Further, schools are woefully lacking in key performance indicators about such things as student-engagement, persistence, satisfaction with the work they accomplished (intrinsic reward), and the efficacy of the work assigned at producing valuable skills and knowledge.  Thus, one of the first challenges in changing the culture of schools is to design and implement adequate metrics.

Operationalizing Culture (p.89)

The authors suggest that values rarely need to be changed, but that beliefs must often be changed to influence long-term behavior patterns.  Generally, an organization’s values, such as fundamental principles, integrity, respect, etc., are appropriate.  The authors state that violation of these values, especially by high-level officials, requires a public sanction.  Anything less will be interpreted as a lack of emotional fortitude.

The authors also suggest people change their beliefs only when new evidence shows them persuasively that they are faulty.  However, they go on to use an example drawn from the EDS where top leadership went through a process of identifying “Old EDS Beliefs” and then coming up with a set of “New EDS Beliefs.”  The “New EDS Beliefs” then became an agenda for attitude change.

Although there seems to be some conflict between the statement that change in beliefs requires persuasive evidence and the example from EDS, the lesson is that leadership can identify a set of beliefs that will work better, then consciously reshape their actions to conform with those beliefs and propagate them throughout the organization both explicitly by communication and implicitly by their behaviors.

Linking Rewards to Performance  (p. 92)

“The foundation of changing behavior is linking rewards to performance and making the linkages transparent.  A business’s culture defines what gets appreciated and respected and, ultimately, reported.  It tells the people in the organization what’s valued and recognized, and in the interest of trying to make their own careers more successful, that’s where they will concentrate.  If a company rewards and promotes people for execution, its culture will change.”

The authors are exclusively talking about pay and bonuses as “the rewards.”  For many within the education world, and especially in education associations that negotiate on behalf of teachers, this type of language would raise huge red flags.  The response is always that principals and other administrators cannot be trusted to award such bonuses impartially and appropriately.  Further, many will argue that each teacher does the same work and should therefore receive the same pay.  For several reasons, not necessarily those put forth by the education associations, I tend to agree that the concept of “pay-for-performance” does less to improve education than its proponents hope, and would create many problems, although not always based on the reasons put forth by those in opposition.  Also note that many individuals experienced in the management of professionals caution against the use of such payment plans in professional organizations.  Whether those cautions are appropriate to the education world depends on whether you view management and leadership of the school system as more similar to the management and leadership of a law firm, accounting firm, or consulting company, or more like the management of the manufacturing organization.

However, there are other rewards and recognitions within a school system aside today.  These should all be carefully tied to an accountability structure focused on excellence in execution, as measured by multiple tools for important areas of performance.

The Social Software of Execution (p.96)

Organizational Hardware:

  • Organizational Structure
  • Design of rewards
  • Compensation and sanctions
  • Financial reports and their flow
  • Communication systems
  • Hierarchical distribution of power
    • Assignment of tasks
    • Budget level approvals

Social Software:

  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Norms of behavior
  • Everything else that isn’t hardware

Social Operating Mechanisms

Definition: structures of dialogue that cut across organization lines.  They create new information flows and put people in contact with those that they normally do not share information with.  These are the arenas where the beliefs and behaviors of the social software are practiced consistently and relentlessly, and they spread the leaders' beliefs, behaviors, and mode of dialogue.  Linked with measurement and reward systems, Social Operating Mechanisms create the Social Operating System and make up the organization's culture.

GE's Social Operating System:

Corporate Executive Council: 2 1/2 day quarterly meeting of top 35 leaders to review all aspects of businesses and external environment.  CEO uses to observe how his leaders think and work together, and to coach.

Boca: annual meeting in Boca Raton , Florida , where operating managers meet to plan the coming year's initiatives and re-launch current initiatives.

Session C Meeting: intense eight to 10 hour gathering with CEO and corporate HR head and business leaders and top HR executives of each business unit. This is a review of the unit's talent pool and organizational priorities.  It focuses on whether the organization has the right people in the right jobs to execute its strategies, promotions, rewards, development, and identifying those who cannot handle the job.

S-1 Meetings: annual three-year strategy meetings with each business unit.  Includes corporate initiatives and fit between strategy and people in charge of executing it.

S-2 Meetings: annual review of operations strategies for the coming 12 to 15 months, including resource allocation. 

April surveys of employees for feedback.

October meetings of 150 top corporate officers to review progress of initiatives, get operating plans rolling for the coming year, and participate in executive development courses.

Chapter 5  p. 109

Building Block Three:  People

Larry Bossidy says that when things were going well in a company he headed, he spent 20% of his time on the people processes, when he was re-building, that went up to 30-40%.  During his first three years at Allied Signal, he personally interviewed many of the 300 plus MBA’s hired because they were the source for future leaders.

Why are there mismatches in people and the needs of the organization?

·        Leaders don’t know enough about the people they hire.

·        Leaders pick people they are comfortable with, rather than those with the best skills.

·        Leaders lack courage to discriminate between strong and weak performers and to take necessary actions.

Note that in school systems, these obstacles to a true “focus on folks” are exacerbated by:

·        Widely held belief that socio-economic status and “ability” are primary determinants of student performance.

·        Corollary 1:  Teachers and teaching are not that important.

·        Corollary 2:  There should be no difference in the treatment of teachers based on quality of teaching.

·        Corollary 3:  Principals are free to choose teachers on the basis of how well they will fit in and how easy they will be to manage – no need to struggle with the challenges of high-performance but high-maintenance employees.

·        Corollary 4:  Evaluation and incentive systems can be structured for the comfort of the organization and not its performance, e.g., focusing on whether a teacher keeps her class under control and parents out of the principal’s hair rather than on whether he gets students to work at quality work and engages parents as partners in promoting that effort.

The authors state that any failure to know their people (or for an organization to have systems that support that knowledge), reflects a lack of commitment by leaders.  Seems fair to me.

“To consistently improve the leadership gene pool, every business needs a discipline that is embedded in the people process, with candid dialogues about the matches between people and jobs, and follow through that ensures that people take appropriate actions.”  P. 114

Note what Tennessee ’s lack of effort to uncover the real components of effective teaching at various grades says about belief in the importance of the people process.

Also not that, unless the product of schools has been clearly and correctly defined, there is no way to select do the people process correctly.    For a system that’s truly-held belief is that its product is high test scores, or racially-integrated schools, or well-adjusted children, or admissions into highly-selective colleges, or state championships, or anything besides quality work, the definition people process is going to be out-of-whack.

Another insight into the reasons why school systems have had difficulty focusing on folks may be found in this passage from p. 118:


“This immense personal commitment is time-consuming and fraught with emotional wear and tear in giving feedback, conducting dialogues, and exposing your judgment to others.”

If the components of effective teaching in elementary, middle and high schools have not been identified, then there can be little valid feedback to teachers.  And if principals cannot, therefore, be held responsible for giving such feed back, then the evaluations of those principals, and of everyone above them, must be based on such things as attention to administrative detail, making life easy for central office administrators, etc.

A few more quotes on people:

 "In our experience, there is very little correlation between those who talk a good game and those who get things done come hell or high water.”  p.  119.

 "You can easily spot the doers by observing their working habits.  They are the ones who energize people, are decisive on tough issues, get things done through others, and follow through as second nature." P.120

 Good leaders:

  • Energize people:  Some leaders create energy in their people.  Others drain it.  Day-to-day energy focused on immediate goals.  That’s what gets things done.
  • Are deeply involved in all aspects of their area … curious … tireless … never finish a conversation without summarizing the actions to be taken.
  • Are decisive on tough issues:  “Some leaders simply do not have the emotional fortitude to confront the tough ones.  When they don’t, everybody in the business knows they are wavering, procrastinating, and avoiding reality.”  P.123.  (See Good to Great.)
  • Get things done through others: Workaholics who micromanage can’t cut it in the long run.  Neither can hands-off and big-picture-only folks.
  • Follow-through:  Ensure that people do what they committed to per time-table.  Synchronize through specificity.  When circumstances de-rail the train, move quickly to lay alternative tracks.
  • Never finish a meeting without:
    • What’s to be done
    • By whom
    • When and how
    • With what resources
    • When, how, and with whom to be reviewed.
  • Never launch an initiative without personal commitment to follow through until it is simply part of “how we do things.”

How to Get the Right People in the Right Jobs:

  • Focus on what they did and why (priority setting)
  • Does she naturally focus on the people who were assigned to her and how they contributed to the result?
  • Does her career history, from school on, give evidence or energy, enthusiasm, and a delight in accomplishments?
  • Does she tend to wander into strategy and theory repeatedly?
  • Did he meet commitments in ways that strengthened or weakened the people involved and the organization as a whole?

“Nowhere is candid dialogue more important than in the people process.  If people can't speak forthrightly when evaluating others, then the evaluation is worthless – to the organization, and to the person who needs the feedback.”

Of course, in many states, and particularly in Tennessee , school boards are at a disadvantage because of open meetings law.  Board members in Tennessee are prohibited from having non-public, candid conversations with each other and the superintendent about her performance.  Few folks will argue that the lack of privacy does not hinder this process.  Some states allow for closed meetings for this purpose, but Tennessee does not.  I know the argument that, if you allow any closed meetings, things that ought to be discussed publicly will be discussed privately.  In this area, however, I think the public loses more from the lack of candor than they would from a lack of “sunshine.”

Of course, lack of candor isn’t limited to school systems:  “Most people we see, however, have never received an honest appraisal.”  P. 133  The authors also suggest than managers who have not had sufficient guidance, practice and support don’t have enough confidence in their objective judgments to be critical.

How many teacher evaluations are honest?  How many principals have the skills, experience and confidence to provide honest evaluations?  For that matter, who knows what separates great teachers from average, and average from ineffective?  (Note, I didn’t ask who has an opinion.  Who really knows and can prove it?)  How many teachers are confident in their principal’s ability to accurately assess teacher effectiveness?  How many principals receive an honest evaluation?  How many systems have adequate metrics to allow for an objective evaluation of a principal?  In fact, how many have such metrics for the system as a whole?

Larry Bossidy on his actions at Honeywell: 

“When I go to one of the businesses, I look at the evaluations of all the top leaders there and their direct reports – maybe fifty or seventy-five of them.  I go through all the high-potential people who were previously moved there because of their progress and performance.  I identify those who aren’t performing, and decide what to do about them.  I follow through with a five-or six-page memo to them individually.  Then I go back six months later and review to see that those actions were taken.”

“If that approach cascades down through your organization as it’s supposed to, it will change your workforce.”  P. 136

The authors go on to say that resistance to such candid evaluations will occur until managers begin to see them as ways to help individuals improve, or to move them out.  Then, as they work with a much more effective team, they become committed to the time and effort required by the people process.

Comment from the perspective of a public school system: 

I suspect that most public school folks reading this – superintendents, other administrators, principals, teachers, and union officials – will have two objections at this point, although they might, depending on the circumstances, voice only one, or neither.

First objection:  “The effectiveness of a teacher matters little to a child’s learning compared to the influence of poverty, home-life, parental education, and societal expectations.  So why put this kind of time and effort into hiring and managing teachers?  Just get a certified body in front of the classroom and focus on things that might make that teacher better, like smaller classes,  a different curriculum, newer text books, more training, etc.”

Second objection:  “It doesn’t matter anyway; you can’t fire bad teachers, and you can’t pay the good ones more.”

I am not persuaded by these objections.  As to the first, this view is slowly starting to fade as evidence such as that developed in Tennessee continues to mount that shows just how incredibly important teachers are.  The “highly qualified teachers” component of NCLB is an early and possibly off-target attempt to take this knowledge into the realm of policy. 

Further, the suggestion that ALL teachers could be made better if only (fill in the blank with some curriculum, teaching methodology, training program, classroom design, etc.) were implemented is unsupported by experience.  None of these touted solutions have worked in every case.  Success for All?  No.  Saxon Math?  No.  NCTM standards?  I don’t thinks so.  Small class sizes?  Actually a net loss as the most effective teachers have had the opportunity to help fewer children and more children have been put in the classroom with an inexperienced or unqualified teacher.  These things may or may not help in some situations, depending on the culture of the school, implementation process, “ownership” by teachers, etc.  But they cannot be put in place from above and effect significant, sustained, and continuous across-the-board improvements in student achievement.

Finally, yes, we can do something about highly-ineffective teachers.  But we have to have appropriate metrics and effective leaders and managers as principals.  Principals have to spend the time necessary to carefully and thoughtfully evaluate teachers, then work with the under-performers to develop improvement plans, see that they are followed, and, if results aren’t forthcoming, initiate and follow-through on procedures to get that teacher out of the classroom.  And, systems must supply principals with administrative support and resources to support that process.  That support should include both reducing other demands on principals (attending meetings at the central office, for example) and putting supports in place for the process (training in how to evaluate, mentoring through the process, legal assistance should dismissal proceedings be required, etc.).

Part III:  The Three Core Processes of Execution

Chapter 6

The People Process:  Making the Link with Strategy and Operations

p. 141

Robust people process:

  • Evaluates individuals accurately and in depth
  • Identifies and develops leadership talent
  • Fills the leadership pipeline

The process must focus on the capabilities of individuals for the tasks that will be necessary to execute the strategic plan, not just on how well they are performing in their role today.  An individual who has been outstanding in a role may not be well fitted for the demands on that role as circumstances change.

“Even the best people process doesn’t always get the right people in the right jobs, and it can’t make everybody into a good performer.  Some managers have been promoted beyond their capabilities and need to be put in lesser jobs.  Others just have to be moved out.  The final test of a people process is how well it distinguishes between these two types, and how well leaders handle the painful actions they have to take.”  P. 163-164

Ram Charan:

“Get five people who know the person together in a room.  Get them to open up, to share and argue their observations, and to reach a conclusion.  The diagnosis will come from the convergence of their diverse views.  That’s the core of your robust people process.”  P. 160.


  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Candid dialogue
  • Common approach
  • Common language
  • Frequency

“The right people are in the right jobs when information about individuals is collected constantly and leaders know the people, how they work together, and whether they deliver results – or fail to.”  P. 177

Chapter 7

The Strategy Process:  Making the Link with People and Operations

“The substance of any strategy is summed up by its building blocks:  the half-dozen or fewer key concepts and actions that define it.”

“If the building blocks are clearly defined, the essence of even the most complex strategy can be expressed on one page.”  P. 182.

School systems have frequently tried to adopt business approaches, but with little result.  I remember first hearing the term “SWOT” (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) from a high school principal who had been in a “professional development” session where school leaders had done a SWOT analysis.  But, how can this make sense when there is no competition?  Strategic planning is planning to achieve an advantage over competitors. 

Of course, those who support the charter school/voucher movement believe such organizations, when combined with private schools and home schooling, can create a competitive environment for public schools.  Perhaps, but it will be a long, slow process.  My focus is on how to improve public schools without relying on the chance that such efforts may someday succeed, and that public schools will react to competition in effective rather than ineffective ways.

However, if school personnel correctly identify what business they are in, strategic planning begins to make more sense.  Schools are places where adults sell youngsters on doing hard, sustained work the full benefit of which the youngsters may not appreciate until years later.

In that context, schools are in competition with recreational activities, socializing, and jobs far more than with other schools.  And schools, or even teachers within a school, which set high standards for students are in competition with those who are prepared to tell students they have “achieved” without demanding real work and real learning.  

What are the “building blocks” (key concepts) underlying most school system strategic plans?

  • Training teachers in new pedagogical techniques will increase student achievement.
  • Implementing a particular curriculum will increase student achievement.
  • Hard, externally-developed tests will make teachers teach better and students work harder and learn more (the “standards” movement, as well as state-testing systems and NCLB).
  • Some rearrangement of the time spent in school (block schedules, year-round schedules, later start times for high schools) will increase student achievement.

Go out and look at the strategic plans of most school systems – plenty are available on the web – and I suspect you’ll conclude that most are based on these building blocks.  But, when you ask whether either experience with plans based on these building blocks, or the best thinking of experts in the fields involved and the experience of other industries, suggests that these building blocks are sound, the answer is a resounding NO!  You cannot train folks into new ways of behavior, and certainly not with the type and quality of “professional development” programs used by schools.  No curriculum or pedagogical approach is a sufficient condition for increased student achievement.  Tests don’t teach. And it doesn’t matter how you shuffle school time if you are not fundamentally improving the quality of attention, focus, effort, and communication of teachers and students during the allotted time.

So, what are some building blocks that will support increased student achievement?  Here’s my half-dozen:

  • Change the culture of teaching through teacher-led instructional improvement.
  • Support such teacher leadership with central office expertise and connections to external experts in cognitive science and performance psychology
  • Implement and stick with proven methodologies for identifying, discussing, and developing a strengths-based approach, both for adults in the system and for students.
  • Implement rigorous, proven emotional intelligence assessment and development programs, again for both adults and students
  • Use tests AND OTHER DATA COLLECTION practices (e.g., student and parent surveys) to regularly and consistently collect and publish data on student achievement, student effort, school culture, and other areas, so as to be transparent and accountable.
  • Utilize technology to support the knowledge-base and communications flow necessary for the efforts outlined above.

These building blocks can stand up in to the strains of the real world.  They are “implementable” by school systems with current levels of resources and personnel.  With a superintendent who probes, questions, challenges, and demand frank, honest speech about “touchy” subjects, including people, central office personnel can put together plans for deploying resources based on these building blocks and teachers and principals can work with a structure built on these principles to create fabulous, amazing schools where students will work harder and smarter than they do today, feel better about that effort and their experience in school, and learn way more and way better, both academically and about themselves.


Chapter 8:  How to Conduct A Strategy Review

The Jack Welch approach:  ban the fat books; get everybody thinking and talking about reality.  “The business unit strategy review is the prime Social Operating Mechanism of the strategy process.”  P. 208

Schools and school systems in Tennessee are required to produce “School Improvement Plans.”  Aren’t these the equivalent of business unit strategies?  Couldn’t the production, review, and approval of these plans be turned into the “prime Social Operating Mechanism” of system improvement?  Something along the lines of the school-level presentations to the Board and central office staff in The 90% Reading Goal?

Questions to raise at a strategy review:

·        How well versed is each business unit team about the competition?  (In schools, this would mean the competition for a student’s time, attention, and energy.)

·        How strong is the organizational capability to execute the strategy?

·        Is the plan scattered or sharply focused? Too ambitious?  What priorities to avoid fragmentation of effort.  (In schools, this could go to some coordination between teacher action groups to make their efforts mutually supportive or part of a coherent approach by the school.)

·        Are we choosing the right ideas?

·        Are the linkages with people and operations clear?


Chapter 9 

The Operations Process:  Making the Link with Strategy and People

This chapter involves the detailed action planning that takes the strategy, people, and resources of an organization and mesh them together toward achieving goals.  It discusses how to set “stretch goals” that can energize and cause creative re-thinking, but that are more than just numbers intended to make the top leaders’ commitments.  It looks at contingency planning and quarterly operational reviews to insure that goals are met.  However, it is at this level that the real difference between what has to drive improvement in schools and what drives business becomes clear.

As discussed before, public school systems do not have the same competitive pressures as businesses.  And it is unlikely that they will have such pressures at any point in the next few years.  Further, even if competitive pressure increases, absent major changes in the social operating mechanisms of school systems, the response would most likely be to simply cede market share and accept as “our mission” whatever students were not being covered by the competitors.  And those students would still get “school” done the same way, with little improvement in results from what they experience today.  Sad.

So, what’s the alternative?  First, we have to recognize that while competition is the motivating force for business, commitment is what makes schools move.  Folks don’t choose to become teachers to make the most money their skills and talents would allow, or to become powerful executives or acclaimed political leaders.  Of course, they wouldn’t turn those things down, but that weren’t the key considerations in their career choices.  And no, for those of you who are thinking, “They had no other options,” that’s not true either. The folks who are teaching in our schools today are, for the most part, smart, capable, energetic, and conscientious individuals who could have succeeded in other professions. 

Bottom line, today’s teachers chose teaching because of their commitment.  And it is that commitment, that passion, which must fuel improvement.  It must be nurtured, encouraged, and protected.   And the teachers who have it must be respected participants in the improvement process.

So, in the business world, it may be that money and success, or at least survival, are the rewards of hard, thoughtful, creative work.  In schools, the rewards are psychic, as are the punishments.  When teachers give up on really helping students, when they abandon the dreams they had for making a difference, not only do students and schools lose the best contributions those teachers might have been able to make, but the teachers die a little also. 

So, build a system that is focused around the commitment and engagement of teachers. Structure support and rewards for careful, thoughtful, reflective, collaborative work to improve teaching.  Remember that students have to work, and work hard, to learn and grow, and measure continuously how well schools are getting students to engage in those efforts.  With these two things clearly in focus, a system can put the principles of execution to effective use.