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Winning Strategy

By Learning Forward
April 2012
Vol. 33 No. 2
Change is a highly personal experience. Everyone participating in the effort has different reactions to change, different concerns, and different motivations for being involved. The results of change are long-term, but the change process is incremental and continuous. It is a series of destinations that lead to further destinations. The smart change leader sets benchmarks along the way so there are guideposts and pause points instead of an endless change process. “Early wins” — a term used to describe successes demonstrating concretely that achieving the change goals is feasible and will result in benefits for those involved — help accomplish this. To bring people along, the leadership team needs to give those involved evidence at each stage that the change will succeed and that is

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Authors

Jody Spiro

Jody Spiro (jodspi@juno.com) is the author of Leading Change Step-by-Step: Tactics, Tools, and Tales (Jossey-Bass, 2011). She is also director of education leadership at The Wallace Foundation and adjunct professor of public administration at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.

Early Win Wonder Tool

Overall change strategy: __________

Early win action under consideration: ______________

Does the proposed action  meet all essential characteristics of an effective early win?Evidence (how?)
Importance: Accomplishing this will meet the common understanding of what constitutes success.
Importance: It is not merely nice to do, but necessary to move the work forward; the action is considered an urgent priority by most.
Tangible and observable: There is a transparent, observable outcome, either a specific work product or improvement measured by data.
Achievable: You are certain the change can be accomplished within the stated time frame.
Perceived as having more benefits than costs to most people: Individuals who will be implementing the action perceive benefits to achieving this early win — even if those benefits are not those that the leader articulates.
Helps those affected deal with loss: The action creates a positive substitute for what people perceive might be lost through the change strategy.
Nonthreatening to opposing groups: Groups that oppose the change would perceive benefits if this objective were accomplished.
An area of relatively less interest: The change is in an area that excites relatively fewer passions by important stakeholder groups.
Symbolic of shared values: The program is an important symbol in the culture.
Plans to publicize: There are mechanisms to communicate the win broadly at the beginning and again at the deadline.

Example of a Completed Early Win Wonder Tool

Overall change strategy: Develop a professional learning community to improve mathematics instruction.

Early win action under consideration: Perform the values clarification exercise at the next faculty conference.

Does the proposed action  meet all essential characteristics of an effective early win?Evidence (how?)
Importance: Accomplishing this will meet the common understanding of what constitutes success.We would consider it a success to get to know each other better. It would also be a plus to have an experience where we could learn more about ourselves.
Importance: It is not merely nice to do, but necessary to move the work forward; the action is considered an urgent priority by most.We need to “walk the talk” about being a learning organization; that starts with knowing what we really value.
Tangible and observable: There is a transparent, observable outcome, either a specific work product or improvement measured by data.There will be a spreadsheet of data with the frequency with which each value was cited as important by our school.
Achievable: You are certain the change can be accomplished within the stated time frame.This is a proven exercise that can be done in an hour. Results can be tabulated and distributed within a day.
Perceived as having more benefits than costs to most people: Individuals who will be implementing the action perceive benefits to achieving this early win — even if those benefits are not those that the leader articulates.There is something of value here for everyone since they will be reflecting on their own values.
Helps those affected deal with loss: The action creates a positive substitute for what people perceive might be lost through the change strategy.Doing this exercise demonstrates to everyone that whatever comes next will not upset the most important values.
Nonthreatening to opposing groups: Groups that oppose the change would perceive benefits if this objective were accomplished.Everyone appreciates being asked about his or her values and having his or her voice be heard.
An area of relatively less interest: The change is in an area that excites relatively fewer passions by important stakeholder groups.No group objects to finding out more about the values of its members. This information is useful to all as a basis for planning further steps.
Symbolic of shared values: The program is an important symbol in the culture.We are finding out about our shared values, and doing this exercise shows how important it is to further those in our school.
Plans to publicize: There are mechanisms to communicate the win broadly at the beginning and again at the deadline.We will publicize the compiled results the next day to the school community and plan our next actions for professional learning on the basis of furthering our shared values.

Leader’s Self-Reflection Questions for the Early Win Wonder Tool

  • Am I willing to put my credibility on the line to guarantee the success of this action?
  • Am I willing to postpone implementing the large action I really want to take until after the small, early win is successful?
  • Will I be able to implement an early win that is important to those affected, but seems relatively unimportant to me? Am I aware of what people perceive they are losing and building that into the proposed small, early win?
  • Am I 100% certain this small, early win can be accomplished in the timeframe?
  • Am I prepared with a plan to build on the momentum of the early success? Am I clear where we go from here and what action comes next?

References

Louis, K.S., Leithwood, K., Wahlstrom, K., & Anderson, S. (2010). Investigating the links to improved student learning. New York: The Wallace Foundation.

Knapp, M., Copeland, M., Honig, M., Plecki, M., & Portin, B. (2010, August.) Learning-focused leadership and leadership support: Meaning and practice in urban systems. New York: The Wallace Foundation.

Spiro, J. (2011). Leading change step-by-step: Tactics, tools, and tales. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Learning Forward is the only professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development. We help our members plan, implement, and measure high-quality professional learning so they can achieve success with their systems, schools, and students.


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