Thursday, February 24, 2011

CEDO 565 - Leadership and Planning - Week Three

The theme this week in CEDO 565 is change.  If you think about it, change is happening all the time.  But how do we as individuals and leaders react to change?  The class had a good time viewing and reflecting on the parable 'Who Stole My Cheese?'.  The cheese represents the things that nourish us in life.  The cheese may be a job which provides income or something we want or need to have. One can become complacent and imagine that things will always stay the same, but they never do, but change happens.

How well an organization plans for change depends on its corporate culture.  If a business continually seeks-out new markets and tries new ventures, then it might be successful some of the time.  That's right, some of the time. New opportunities are often hidden inside a maze.  It takes teams, comprised of diverse personalities and life experiences, working together to expand organizational interests. Marketing, Sales, Research and Development working in unison to find rich, new niches.  Businesses that continue to produce the same product, services and solutions will continue to do the same until there is no more customer demand and they find that they are, surprise, out of business.

A few years back I worked for Packaging Corporation of America (PCA).  The new CEO, Monte Hayman,  had just started and reviewed the rather flat sales and asked the executives in a meeting, 'What business are we in?'  Can you imagine the funny looks that were exchanged by the older executives as they pondered this obvious question from the new, and no doubt inexperienced, CEO?  Every single one said, 'We make corrugated cardboard for boxes'.  Monte Hayman stood in front of them and said, 'Wrong!  We are in the Packaging Industry'.  Monte directed the executives to seek-out new opportunities that went beyond manufacture of container board.  Within a year PCA had acquired 12 molded fibre plants (think egg cartons) and several plastic packaging plants.

In just 2 years PCA doubled sales from one to two billion dollars. The 1990's saw clear plastic food packaging become the new normal.  Today, supermarkets sell prepared foods in plastic containers and molded fibre egg cartons constitute half the selection in the Dairy Case.  And how are these items shipped in bulk to stores?  Why they arrive in heavy corrugated cardboard boxes also manufactured by PCA. 

I tell this story because it captures the essence of what this past week has been about in our course:  Leadership and Change.  At PCA the old guard was complacent with flat sales and doing business the way they always had.  The new CEO transformed the corporate culture by helping them see opportunities beyond the doors of their manufacturing plants.  The resources of a sleeping giant awoke and went to work researching and acquiring capital investments that enhanced PCA's market share in the Packaging Industry.  It was an exciting time to work at PCA but not all of the employees were thrilled.  Many were happy with the old ways while others were empowered and eager to tackle new challenges.  When it comes to change some will always resist while others embrace it.  Thanks to good leadership, PCA not only survived---it thrived.

Friday, February 18, 2011

CEDO565 - Leadership and Planning - Week Two

Ready, Fire, Aim. 

It is a historic time in Wisconsin and America as Teachers, Firefighters, AFSCME, other Unions and everyday people of all ages and class descended upon the State Capitol to let their voices be heard.  But what does this have to do with the MEIT Program?  Well, studies this week have the cohorts examining school and school district data for performance analysis.  If school policy and programs are merely symbolic and do not address root cause problems then the leadership is poor. Students and parents, in such a case, deserve better leadership and, as constituents, have a right to protest and demand competent stewardship.

An assigned reading compares the Traditional and Data-Driven Decision Making approaches in schools.  The Traditional Model involved a lot of guess work and symbolic approaches to school improvement.  The Data-Driven Model focuses on specifics and informs decision making. 

Earlier in the MEIT Program we used WINNS to gather data on how well schools were doing in terms of student performance.  Once again we returned to WINSS to evaluate group and sub-groups in the schools and school district.  The available data lets one see how well students are doing within their school, school district, and school districts across the state.  Careful examination of data informs decision making so that planning and resources address specific performance improvement goals.  Rather than blindly lead some symbolic charge or vilify a group, use of data permits school administrators, Teacher Leaders and parents to identify and tackle the real problem areas. 
The Mother is a  Parent Volunteer at her daughter's school

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CEDO565 - Leadership and Planning - Week One

The new course, CEDO565 - Technology Leadership and Planning, got rolling right away as we examine the qualities of good leaders.  A theme from a TED Video we watched is that good leaders are the result of education and their values.   Patrick Awuah from Ghana described how poor leadership characterized by corruption and a sense of entitlement hurt the people and the economy of his country.  Awuah elaborates that leaders are not just found in government but are in the elite class of professionals.

So what makes for 'Good Leadership'?  What are the attributes of good leaders?  In small groups and through individual activities I explored these qualities.  The journey continued as I completed several self-assessments and reflected on my own personal leadership traits and 'virtues'.  I found that I am empathetic, humble and that I am a good 'Life Coach' when it comes to helping others reach their potential.   I am also big on details, possess a strong work ethic and have a creative side.   Keeping that in mind, would all of these traits be a good fit for any and all organizations?

OK, I haven't discussed Leadership Frames so let me clue you in.  To be an agent of change, a good leader should understand the organizational framework. The four frames are:  Political, Symbolic, Structural, and Human Resources.  
  • Political, as the name implies, is one with groups that have opposing or divergent goals. Resources may be scarce and their allocation is contentious.  Conflict is inherent in such a scheme and requires compromise with ongoing jockeying to keep the constituents pulling towards common goals. 
  • Symbolic organizations use rituals and company events to impart vision and inspire individuals and teams to work towards a goal that is not yet quite clear or readily apparent in day-to-day endeavors. 
  • Structural is where roles of individuals and teams are well-defined. The component elements have clear purpose and there is little to no ambiguity in what each entity contributes to the organization as a whole. 
  • Human Resources focuses on empowering the individuals within the organization.  Given the Lean/Agile business models of the 21st Century, companies seek change and innovation by distributing power to teams and team leads. 

In hindsight, I wish that I had known about organizational frames before I graduated from college.  I look back on the companies I have worked for and I see how they directly fit or contain a blend of these frames.   The challenge for myself is to review my leadership traits and virtues from the self-assessments and realize my personal strengths and limitations when working for any organization.  I now have a valuable way to evaluate organizational structures along with my own predilections so that I am more valuable and effective for any employer.