Those who work in education and those who are leaders in other industries have at least one thing in common. People are our greatest assets. It’s our responsibility to develop students, employees and the future leaders of our workforce. Education systems need strong leaders who know how to navigate change in ways that inspire people and create new opportunities. However, it’s not enough alone to get leadership on board with managing change. Continuous change requires that all employees take ownership to solve problems and feel accountable for the organization’s results.

The rapid pace of change isn’t going to stop. We’ve watched change accelerate over the past two decades. We feel the internal pressures and external demands calling for us to transform the way we do business. Developing leaders and employees to navigate through change isn’t just an option, it’s a must-do. If it’s our mission to provide high-quality, forward-thinking education that prepares students for the future, it’s time for us to change the mindset around change.


A lack of awareness around the organization’s future and the necessity for change can place a wedge between leadership and employees, negatively affecting organizational culture. There is a fine line between too much pressure to change and the right amount of pressure that keeps employees motivated. When there is too much pressure, employees are more likely to disengage. Conversely, the right amount of pressure can excite people and teams.

To be successful in a world of continuous change requires us as leaders to support a positive mindset around change. We do so by communicating:

  • How each persons’ role and contributions make a difference.
  • The strengths and skills individuals on our teams possess.
  • Opportunities for people to be accountable for important outcomes.

Most of our employees are solid and high performers who want to help the organization achieve excellence. Strong leaders recognize that the key is to focus on building an environment that empowers people to own their work and the outcomes.



Examine and diagnose the current environment. What are the brutal facts? Be honest with employees about the current state, even if it presents additional challenges. Strong leaders communicate the current reality with unwavering resolve that we will succeed. Understanding the current reality also requires that we have the right people on our teams in the right roles. Using employee’s strengths to align our work helps us create successful work environments for navigating change.


After assessing the current reality, determine the implications of that reality for the organization. Where will we need to pivot? What will no longer serve our customers well? What will the organization need to prepare to serve customers in the next five years? And what about the five years after that? Leaders with a clear vision set the stage by gaining input from others. After gathering data, create big aims and design the strategic direction and appropriate aligned goals. While communicating with stakeholders, use evidence to present the brutal facts and the strategic plan. Engage teams in continuous dialogue about the vision for the organization’s future.


People want to know how they fit into the goals and strategic direction of the organization. Strong leaders engage employees in conversations to provide direction and feedback on critical priorities. We help people recognize that their work has value and contributes to our success. As leaders we aren’t responsible for motivating people, we are responsible for creating the culture in which they will own their own motivation.


Apply a continuous improvement approach to highlight the bright spots and identify performance gaps that hinder success. The high and solid performing employees can often identify the low performers on our teams. Most are aware of the lowered morale due to low performance and the increased workload placed on them to pick up the slack. High and solid performers grow tired of a workplace that accepts and sometimes even rewards mediocrity. As leaders, we often feel stuck spending too much time trying to get low performers to improve. Strong leaders spend their time with the majority – people who want to help the organization achieve. To build a culture with a mindset that embraces change, we make the difficult decision to remove low performers from the workplace.


“We cannot call ourselves leaders or improvers unless the impact of our leadership builds capacity, removes barriers and improves outcomes for those we serve.”

– Dr. Pat Greco

When people hear the words continuous improvement thoughts often travel straight to tools and processes. Meanwhile, it’s the people themselves who will do the work. The employees are at the core of our continuous improvement efforts. To create excellent organizations, strong leaders acknowledge people are their greatest assets. We want to tap into their potential and invest in the brainpower of employees around problem-solving.

Leaders and managers often spend too much time trying to solve every problem for every person. Instead, we can help people learn to solve their own problems. We can help them become more successful as a team and an organization. A team that can respond quickly to change doesn’t have to wait for permission to solve a problem or make a decision. Individuals are inspired to apply critical thinking skills and ask the right questions to formulate solutions. Strong leaders empower people to uncover barriers and use data to drive conversations and plans.


“Organizations don’t change…people do. Maturing leaders build maturing organizations.”

– Dr. Janet Pilcher

Learning and leadership are continuous journeys. As we think about how to become an excellent team or organization, it can be helpful to visualize the journey. While we consider the Organizational Excellence and Improvement Maturity Model to be a simplification of a complex journey, it does provide a roadmap to support the bigger picture. We can use this model to help our teams and leaders reflect and prioritize our journey together. This visualization is customizable to the organization and enhances the understanding of new employees and leaders.

leading change

Both the model itself and our organizations are continuously evolving. People, leaders and teams change. The maturity model evolves as we gather results and external changes impact our organizations. Therefore, every organization is in every phase. It is a misconception that the model should be viewed easier to harder. The phases are continuous. As we mature our momentum, “the flywheel” begins to spin faster and faster.

We can’t stop change from happening inside or around our organizations. However, we can build organizations with this fact in mind. Strong leaders start by changing the mindset around change.

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