Strong leaders are highly familiar with data. Data helps us achieve our goals, become better drivers of change, and expands our understanding of processes that need refining.

It is impressive how quickly people—particularly leaders—adapt to change they believe in. Given that, why might leaders resist change? First, they might not understand the why for the change. Second, they could feel there aren’t enough data to back it up.

Progress Monitoring

For example, as change is introduced, say to a school board, it is best when backed up by solid data in order to achieve desired results. Data-driven processes, such as Progress Monitoring, allow leaders to see change over time and help leaders identify areas for improvement.

Racine Unified School District (RUSD), located in Racine, WI, has recently implemented structured Progress Monitoring. In fact, the first progress update to their school board took place March 5th, 2018. Already, they are seeing an impact from monitoring the progress of results that align to the strategic plan.

RUSD Superintendent, Dr. Lolli Haws, and Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Eric Gallien, share with us what Progress Monitoring looks like, while they also provide insight to other leaders who might be in the beginning stages of implementation. In addition, they share the positive impacts felt as a result of the first rollout:

How does Progress Monitoring help the district achieve goals?

Haws: We have always had lots of goals. Each of the chiefs and departments have lots of goals. We make them very ambitious in the fall, and we’re very excited to get them going. However, the year goes on and some of them get done and some don’t—some of them work and some of them don’t. This is our first effort at saying ‘we are going to set goals and then see if we actually meet them or not, empirically.’ And then, we are also going to make that public, report on it, and hold ourselves much more accountable. We are listing our goals in measurable terms and then monitoring using evidence and data to see if we are on track.

What did the beginning stages of Progress Monitoring look like?

Haws: We developed a strategic plan based on a continuous improvement model. That was hard work—lots of thinking and rethinking. What are our goals and how do we measure them? Are they even measureable? Everyone always wants to jump to strategy and not look at what is the measure that five years from now will prove that our Strategic Plan worked. That was the really hard part: figuring out how to get a five-year plan to be something that is measurable with a list of strategies underneath and not just listing all the things we are going to do.

Gallien: For each chief, it was taking those annual goals and deciding which ones we are really focused on right now that we can effectively report out and demonstrate how we are doing. We took the most obvious goals and broke them down into quarterly data.

What were some “Aha Moments” in these beginning stages?

Haws: The “Aha Moment” was that strategies don’t count as goals. We are all so used to thinking of what we are going to do, as opposed to what we’re going to accomplish.

Gallien: We are still in the learning process. As we look at departments and their annual progress, we are still having those conversations about what we need to accomplish, instead of what we are simply going to do.

Any advice for other leaders working to implement Progress Monitoring?

Haws: I was frustrated with how long implementing the process took, but looking back, it does take that long and it should. My advice is to take your time. You’ll probably have to do multiple revisions. It does take a while for everyone to understand what you’re trying to get to, so take your time and pick one thing to measure when starting out. And next year, maybe you can pick three to measure and monitor, and so on. Bury people under data instead of under their work. But also, be sure to make them feel like they are actually getting somewhere, instead of just running around collecting data.

What was the greatest impact of the recent progress report to the board?

Haws: The school board was thrilled! We give them data all the time, but this time was different. We gave them specific things within our annual goal.

Gallien: Their buy-in is helping us to continue to articulate that this is why we are doing what we are doing—because it fits into our five-year plan.

Through progress monitoring, this organization has been able to gain the full support of their board—support built with data that will work to keep the strategic plan alive. Many times, when organizations write a five-year plan, it ends up sitting on the shelf. Progress Monitoring is a living tool that drives change and keeps organizations moving toward their goals to achieve excellence.

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