On Thursday morning we hosted an administrative institute focused on supporting leaders regarding elementary mathematics. This institute, in partnership with Metamorphosis TLC, was built to provide administrators and teacher leaders with an opportunity to consider changes in practice around supporting their educators as they explore math concepts and shifts. With breakout sessions focused on feedback, culture building, and more, it provided a nice chance for leaders in our region to build relationships with Lucy West and the Metamorphosis team and to reflect on their own practice.
One of the quotes shared during Lucy West’s keynote was “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Often attributed to Peter Drucker, this quote is a powerful one, and it made me think about how often we explore new initiatives and/or implement new strategies only to find that we don’t accomplish much.
It isn’t so much that our implementation is faulty, or that the strategy isn’t a good one.
Rather, it is that we haven’t built the culture to make the change. And therefore, our energy is being spent on the wrong process. It is kind of like attempting to use a dollar bill when in a country other than the United States. Often it won’t be accepted, and if it is accepted, you don’t really know what you’re going to get back in return.
This led me to reflect on what I have done that has worked (and not worked) towards building culture before making change. Here are two of each, based on my own humble experiences.
1. Getting to know your people. If we attempt to make change before we understand all the nuances of the relationships that already exist, we’re likely to miss out on key culture characteristics that are important for us to be aware of. Building relationships is a necessity to changing culture, and it is never a “quick fix.”
2. Welcoming mistakes. Change is scary, and it requires flexibility that many of us don’t necessarily have (at all times, anyway). So, to build a culture of change, we have to first build a culture that welcomes mistakes. When we value mistakes, we make it easier for others to make change.
What Doesn’t Work:
1. Pushing change for change’s sake. Cultures tend to showcase a lot of inertia. So, forcing change, particularly without a rationale that hits people in their core, will always be problematic. Not only won’t change be effective, but culture won’t change.
2. Assuming your way is the right way. While we might hope to be “experts”, most of my experience shows that experts don’t exist; there are only those who at a given point know more about something than others. To build culture, we must follow as well as lead.