Don’t Just Model The Way…Provide a Model

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Organizing, understanding, and actually engaging with information is enhanced through the use of models.  Abstract ideas, thoughts, and concepts come together as when learning is whole, which enhances our ability to understand something.  In fact, content areas, such as math and science explicitly call for the use of models.

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This is simply because the human brain benefits from models. Complex subjects like math and science rely on models to help students interact and engage with the material to further their understanding. Adults are really no different and benefit from models similarly to how students benefit.

At TheSchoolHouse302, we’ve been focused on developing leaders and one focus is on the value and importance of feedback, both formal and informal, as the key to creating a cycle of continuous improvement. Of course, feedback is nourished in a culture where everyone has a growth mindset, as Allen Sylvester, veteran teacher reveals to TheSchoolHouse302 in a recent interview. Listen here. The feedback should also be grounded in your organization’s goals and vision, which should be visually represented in a model.  The model simply organizes the key elements that guide your work—core values, vision and mission, strategic plan, goals, department initiative, and so on.  As a result, all constructive feedback, whether praise or recommendations, should be aligned with something that is already clear in terms of your collective intentions. In fact, we argue that you should really never give individual feedback that isn’t aligned with something that the whole company already knows and understands.

Consider these steps:

Step 1: Establish a Model—Does your company, department, organization, school (or wherever you lead) have clearly defined models that can be referenced?

This can be a set of organizational core values or a set of guide posts that the organization lives by. We just heard from a board that set their core values as Give, Get, Go. In other words, the expectation for each member is to give to the organization, get others involved, and go to as many events as possible. In this way, any board member can hold others accountable by referring back to the previously established core values as the model for what’s expected.

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Step 2: Align the Feedback to the Model—When you give feedback as a leader, can you refer back to a backbone and structure to clarify the purpose of your direction?

Too often a company’s core values hang on the walls but are not woven into the system of feedback.  Referring back to a model within the feedback structure allows the organization to actually live by the core values. We still suggest having the visual in every possible location, so that it is properly displayed and prominent, but that’s not enough. All feedback and communication regarding the people we manage should lead back to the values, goals, or principles that the organization has deemed as the focus. So, instead of saying “great job,” refer back the model, be specific and say:

“Customer service and satisfaction are our primary focuses this quarter and I noticed in your survey data that you have a high degree of satisfaction so far this week on your 1-minute surveys that we administer. Thank you for staying true to the company’s core values by implementing the survey with all of your customers and for getting great results. Our focus is on increasing the percentage of our customer base who complete the survey and increasing our satisfaction on the survey to measure our level of service. You’re doing both and reaching our company goals. Great job.”

Step 3: Don’t deviate—Does your organization change the script so that the purpose is unclear or do you keep the focus in the forefront of your feedback?

Once the goals are set and can be used as the model, don’t deviate to the next shiny new thing that presents itself. If the model is strong enough, everything can be held up by it. Your organization can have several models but nothing new should present itself in employee feedback that isn’t based on the models that are currently established. We’re not saying that organizations shouldn’t change, whereby models would change, but we are saying that you shouldn’t give feedback that isn’t based on a previously established set of core principles that everyone knows.

Who Knows It?

By the way, if your employees can’t recite the model—again, these can be represented as core values, a set of principles, goals, initiatives, a vision statement, etc—then they don’t exist. Just because you know them and they’re on the wall doesn’t mean that it is a part of the fabric of the organization.  Live and breath them on a daily basis and reinforce them every opportune time. The only way to make that a reality is to infuse your feedback, formal and informal, with what you hold as important and communicate to stakeholders regularly. It is one thing to personally model excellence as the leader but it’s another thing to provide a model of excellence to back it up.

Keep it simple: establish the model, align your feedback to it, and don’t deviate.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple and maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Let us know what you think.

Joe & T.J.

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