In twenty-five years of consulting I see one major difference between average and high performing organizations. Average organizations focus on employee management. This is a nice way of saying controlled. High performing organizations focus on employee development. They see their employees as a resource with unimaginable capacities for creativity, problem solving, and innovation.
Turning Around a Failing Public School
Erin is the principal of an elementary school. In the 7 years she was the principal, it went from failing to closing the achievement gap. This is a massive turnaround. When I asked about her approach to leadership, she said: Leadership? I don’t know anything about leadership. She then went on to detail an eloquent system of leadership that is simple, scalable, measurable, and replicable.
Every system of leadership has three key resources. These resources turn raw materials into products and services:
2) Money; and
Of these resources, the most important are people. So when Erin began to describe to me her approach to developing her staff, I was “all ears.” During our conversation, it was clear she wanted to see her people develop and grow both personally and professionally. While she want her faculty to become better teachers, counselors, and administrators, she also wanted them to become better human being. When I asked her about this, her response was classic. “Of course, why would I want half a teaching walking in my door?”
The Result of Employee Development vs Employee Management
Too often, we believe the juice behind large scale corporate turnarounds is mythic leadership. Sometimes this is true. Yet too often, performance reverts as soon as the CEO leaves. It is unfortunately that our infatuation with the mythical leader blinds us to smaller organizational turnarounds, that are no less critical.
In my own opinion, seeing a local elementary school with 450 students go from failing to closing the achievement gap is a massive turnaround. This school has become a place of high academic achievement for students of challenging ethnic and economic families. It has also become a place where teachers contribute their best, innovate, and pursue their mission of educating the next generation.
In every organization, I have researched that has seen the reward of a significant turnaround in performance, I have seen this primary difference. Their approach to their employees has always been development vs. management. By the way, all the research says that millennials are not interested in management (control), but they are wild about development.