Saturday, February 28, 2009

Organizational Diagnosis

The organization I have chosen to investigate consists of a faith-based, private school, early learning environment.  This preschool (referred to as ABC), has been in existence for 19 years and offers classes for children 3 years to 5 years of age.  The preschool has approx. 75 students enrolled at this time and has a waiting list of approx. 20 students.  The preschool has had up to 125 students enrolled in previous years.  

The ABC preschool is a more academic-focused environment with 5 formal Pre-Kindergarten classes where Kindergarten readiness is a high priority.  ABC preschool does strive to include in the environment, a balanced "diet" for preschoolers which includes developmentally appropriate activities and a flexible schedule to meet student needs.  In addition to the formal structure, ABC preschool has concentrated its' effort in developing staff to create a "family-like" atmosphere where children have a secure, loving, caring environment.

The preschool has enjoyed longevity of staff members.  Of the 10 staff members working in the preschool, the average length of employment is 12.5 years.  The preschool staff educational qualifications range from 24 units in ECE to a Masters degree (two have B.A. degrees).  Professional development and training have not only come from continued education, but also various workshops, conferences, and small learning communities of ECE professionals.

For this investigation, I have given a questionnaire to all staff and parents.  The purpose of these questions is to uncover conflicts (inconsistencies) within the organization in order to diagnose a problem area and offer recommended solutions.  

Here are the questions I asked the preschool parents.  I made an effort to be brief and to the point as to increase the response rate!  Deadline for responses is this Tuesday.

1. Which areas at ABC need the most improvement? (ie. facilities, teacher issues, academic expectations, etc.)

2.  Are there any inconsistencies you have observed at ABC preschool? (ie. inconsistencies between "who we say we are" and "who we really are")

3.  How would you describe ABC preschool to a friend?

The questions I asked the preschool staff include:

1.  In your opinion, what are the values of ABC preschool?
2.  In your opinion, how do parents view ABC preschool?
3.  In your opinion, how do we, as a staff, communicate the values of ABC preschool to the parents?  To the community?
4.  In your opinion, WHY do we do what we do here at ABC preschool?
5.  In what areas do you feel we are lacking as an ECE environment?
6.  Are there any inconsistencies between "who we say we are" and "what we REALLY are?"
7.  How would new staff member learn the "culture" of ABC preschool?

In gathering all these responses, it is my hope to get a picture of what inconsistencies exist and possibly how leadership plays a role in those inconsistencies.


Monday, February 9, 2009


I found this section of reading very interesting and challenging.  I am reminded of the communication chapter in Peterson's book, where he challenges administrative training programs' lack of training in communication.  I think that conflict resolution is in the same category.  We, as administrators, have very little (if at all) formal training in how to effectively deal with and manage conflicts.  Yet, conflict is a very big part of our job.  It comes from all sides - from within the school, from the community, from the school board, from the parents, from the federal & state government, and even from the students!

I think that part of the problem in the lack of preparation, is that "conflict resolution" strategies have typically been identified as a "touchy-feely" approach to "business" and, bottom line "business" needs to be cut and dry to show profits and succeed.  I'm not sure why educational leadership training programs haven't valued the psychosocial disciplines and theories that help explain human behavior.  After all, aren't we in the "business" of people (ie. students)?  I think Petersen said it best when he described the common assumption that we (administrators) would just pick it up as we go along (learn by doing???). Obviously, this doesn't just happen.

In summarizing these readings on conflict, many key words have stuck in my mind:
*Seek to understand
*Concentrate on needs
*Be honest
*Be a reflective listener
*Encourage open dialogue
*Recognize and Respect: ideas, opinions, suggestions

Understanding that we are "emotional beings in a social setting" requires us to be student's of human behavior.  It requires us to look through the lens of emotional/social development and make necessary changes and adjustments to our attitude, beliefs and behavior.  

I feel that taking on a leadership role requires humility, respect for individuals, and a whole lot of courage!  It is usually "me" that does the most changing and that doesn't always feel that great.  But, the benefits of a relational, team-oriented work environment can be a wonderful pay off.  Working with people takes work.  The work must begin with me.  I cannot afford to be stuck in my ways or closed off to new ideas.  I cannot maintain the "status quo."  I must be a front runner for effective changes and pass the ball to my teammates along the way (N & T metaphor with Rugby) as we progress toward the goal of our organization.  

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Organization Interventions

In Learning Organization Interventions and Orientations, I was particularly struck by the "Organizational Ideology" section.  The idea is that the core ideology of an organization (with "maintaining multiplicity of identities and views") will provide stability and learning while working toward the goals of the organization.  The article goes on to say that strong coupling between leaders and all members of the organization creates a greater sharing of information and understanding which can greatly support double-loop learning.  This also results in a more flexible and quicker response from the organization.

I see this as participative leadership or shared-leadership.  I believe that validating the individual identities of each member of the organization, while being explicit on what the "core" identity is in the organization, can result in a united workforce that works together to resolve conflict and keeps the organizational "core" in high esteem

Another aspect of interventions that help enable organizations to manage the exploration/exploitation tension is to create a superordinate organizational identity.  This section was especially intriguing to me as "organizational identity is described as the collective perceptions and beliefs on individuals regarding what are central, distinct, and enduring attributes of the organization."  I feel that our school has defined our central, enduring attributes and the candidates that are interviewed have the opportunity to know those attributes before accepting a position.  I would define these attributes as relational, communicative, concerned with the "whole" child, emphasis on character, spiritual formation, and family relationships.  I also feel that many of the teachers at our school exemplify these same attributes in their personal lives.  "If the individual perceives the attributes of the organization to be similar to the attributes that define themselves (i.e., their self-identity), then their self esteem is tied to the organizational identity."

I have never thought of our school in this way before.  But, I do believe that we enjoy a great deal of cohesion and harmony because the values, beliefs and core attributes are closely aligned.  I know that a faith-based education should include these kinds of attributes and I am thankful that I work in such a school that strives to create this kind of partnership between teachers, parents, students and the community.

In Bill Abernathy's powerpoint, he points out the differences between a bureaucratic organization and an open-network organization.  I like the open-network systems' results in terms of being more durable and more responsive to customers and external changes.  It seems that a sense of "teamwork" can help focus members on what they are there to do (serve customers) as opposed to being caught up in bureaucratic conflict and strife.  I'm sure that open networks have their share of problems, but it seems that conflict needs to be resolved quickly and efficiently if the organization is going to move on toward the goal.  It cannot spend time spinning its' wheels on chaos.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Last Monday's class was very insightful and meaningful to me.  I was able to put the "Organizational Diagnosis," "Traditional Approach," ad "Appreciative Inquiry" in perspective and think through how each of these "tools" can be used in organizational learning and change.

I also feel strongly that a leader cannot lead any organization unless there is a relationship established.  This relationship cannot be assumed by virtue of titles or positions.  This relationship must be nurtured and built over time.  I also feel that a key part of this relationship (between leader and organization members) must be the act of LISTENING.  A leader must give up (or suspend) his/her agenda until they can truly get a valid sense of the organizational culture and its individual members.  This takes time and listening to what everyone in the organization has to say (verbally and non-verbally).  Trust is built by consistent behavior over time and when a new leader first comes to an organization, there must be a priority placed on genuine listening.

Once a leader understands what/who they are dealing with, they will be able to make a wiser choice as to which "tools" would be best for organizational change and leading the organization toward success. The tools could include a mix of traditional approaches and more current "touchy-feely" approaches.  Balancing plan, process and people is a very difficult road to negotiate for a leader.  But, if a leader takes the time to listen, and validate the feelings and ideas of the organizational members, he/she will most likely have a much smoother road ahead. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Investigation

I am in the process of gathering some data to find out what inconsistencies exist in the organization I am studying.  I will call this organization ABC Early Learning Center.  I have handed out a survey with questions about values, culture, and work structure.  I will get these back this week and begin to look for problems to address in my OD plan.

I am using Weisbord's Organizational Diagnosis workbook to guide my outline.  According to Weisbord, organizations have a "transformation process" which includes the interaction of six areas:  1)purpose, 2)structure, 3)rewards, 4)helpful mechanisms, 5)relationships, 6)leadership. These six areas make up the culture of the organization which interact with the outside environment with its' demands and constraints it places on the organization.

The feedback loop is:  Inputs from outside environment impact the transformational process, which in turn results in Outputs.  The Outputs then inform the new Inputs which impact the transformational process and loop continues.

Some guiding questions to understand the "transformational process:"
1.  What "business" are we in?
2.  How do we divide up the work in this organization?
3.  Are there incentives for doing the work that needs to be done to accomplish our goals?
4.  Do we have adequate coordinating technologies?
5.  How do the people in the organization manage conflict among the technologies?
6.  Is there leadership within the organization that keeps the "transformational process" in balance?  
7.  How does that leader accomplish this?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Defining Culture

"Culture is comprised of the assumptions, values, norms, and tangible signs (artifacts) of organization members and their behavior"  (

Some believe that culture is the personality of the organization which can be felt as well as seen.  As I read through Marvin Ross Weisbord's, Organizational Diagnosis, I found that the six areas of inquiry helped me organize my thoughts as I develop my OD plan.

My first step is to collect some data on our PURPOSE ("What business are we in?").  At a first glance, this seems easy enough to answer, but after reading through the description, I realize that I must gather some data first to see if there are gaps between "what is" and "what ought to be."  I am going to start by asking a series of questions about our culture (assumptions, values, norms and tangible signs) to see if I can gain some insight into how these answers might/might not confirm our purpose.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Where am I?

"How do you know WHERE to go, unless you know where you ARE?" 

I may be fusing both Organization classes together here, but this idea struck me as the heart of organizational change.  I realize that organizations are built on beliefs, values and goals and that those key elements need to be communicated and sustained in order for the organization to survive, evolve, and fulfill its' purpose. The part that keeps circling back for me is the role of the effective leader. 

It seems to me that, in order for the organization to succeed, it is essential that: 1) the leader knows him/her self very well, 2) he/she understands the beliefs/values/goals of the individuals of the organization, 3) he/she can evaluate the current state of the organization in light of the above, and 4) the leader can then communicate (verbally & non-verbally) the direction the organization must follow in order to fulfill it's mission.  What an intimidating role for anyone!

I can see how a leader must function in communicating explicit and tacit knowledge as well as have the ability to LISTEN for both within the organization.  A leader must balance process and people.  We have a saying in our school:  "People over policy."  This saying helps remind everyone who works at our school that we must think "outside the box" (policy) many times in order to hear what our students/parents (customers) really need from us.  Policies are followed and there needs to be fairness and consistency within those policies.  We are fortunate to be in a smaller school community (175 families) in which parents have enrolled their students in our programs because of similar values/beliefs/goals AND staff have been hired largely based on those common values/beliefs/goals.  

It will be interesting to dig deeper into those ideals as I write an OD plan, try to diagnose and put into action the changes that are needed!