Transformation requires risk

Photo by Loic Leray on Unsplash

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Peter Drucker

The quote above from Peter Drucker reveals why it is that we see so little evidence of transformation in our education system – even in a time of crisis!

The COVID pandemic threw back the curtain on a great deal of what needs to be improved or addressed in our current system, including a high degree of inequity across all areas. The responses we saw promised some transformative action and outcomes – until, slowly, we’ve seen a ‘return to normal’ mindset take over, and the ‘big ideas’ that were evident in those early responses fading into obscurity as the old patterns of thinking and acting take over.

A transformation involves a dramatic change in form or appearance. It is not simply about improving something, it involves an extreme, radical change. So if we learned from the experience of lockdown that a transformation in our system is needed – why is it so hard to achieve?

Transformation is challenging for three distinct reasons. First, the future state is unknown when you begin which makes it impossible to “manage” transformation with any sort of pre-determined, time-bound and linear project plans. 

Second, the future state is so radically different than the current state that the people and culture must change to implement it successfully.

Third, transformation involves risk, and as a system, we are incredibly risk averse. Risk is defined as a ‘situation that involves exposure to danger. Just what that danger is can vary according to context. During COVID the risk was clearly the potential spread of this deadly virus. As we’ve settled back into familiar patterns the risk is that we ‘upset the status quo’ and so achieving anything like a transformation becomes almost impossible.

If we’re serious about addressing the significant challenges that were revealed during lockdown, and achieve the transformation we saw as desirable we must focus on four critical areas:

  1. Firstly, we must focus on transforming the mindset and belief systems of the education workforce, particularly the leaders. Nothing will be achieved if we fail to do this. Introducing some new system or process will be doomed to fail if we haven’t first convinced those who will be affected that it is a desirable outcome.
  2. Second, we must set about developing the capabilities of those in the workforce so that they are adequately prepared to work in these new ways and new environments. Believing it is important is one thing, but having the knowledge, skills and disposition to follow through is another.
  3. Thirdly, we must set about establishing a new culture in our workplaces and across the sector. This should be characterised by the values we believe underpin the transformed state – openness, transparency, participation, empowerment, trust etc. This may take quite some doing as many of the characteristics of the existing culture may first need to be de-consructed and set aside.
  4. Finally, once the first three things are achieved, we can set about transforming the way things are done – introducing new structures, systems and processes. Utilising new technologies, and implementing different approaches to strategy etc.

All of these things involve risk, because the involve setting aside the things of the past and embracing new ways of working. This is the genius of the leadership that will help us achieve the new paradigm, the transformed paradigm, that became evidently necessary during COVID. Is that the sort of leader you can commit to being?

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