The concept of an organization that institutes a marquee business plan, guided by a mission that is distilled into goals, targets, and ultimately specific scopes of work, is not new. Successful schools and companies have mastered this concept, and many are seeing impressive results because of the initial planning and preparation that goes into the published plan. There is, however, an additional element of ongoing performance reviews woven into every great plan that might not be visible to an outsider’s eye. A disciplined approach to continual planning and preparation refines action, ensures optimal performance, and promotes real progress. We call for a process called R.E.P.S. to provide a model to monitor the fitness of any organization as they plan and prepare for future success.
So the question is simple: How fit is your organization?
To ensure overall fitness and performance, you must get in your R.E.P.S. In the world of fitness, according to livestrong.com, “reps” refers to the the number of repetitions, or times, you perform a particular exercise within a “set.” Sets refer to the number of times you repeat your reps. These reps are critical to achieving results, and strength is often determined by the number of reps you can do in a set using a given weight or even how much weight one can lift during each rep. As in fitness, organizations need to perform R.E.P.S. so that each area of focus is constantly reviewed for improved performance and so that progress is being made toward the goals.
We use R.E.P.S. as a simple model for reviewing progress to sustain success in ways that some organizations fail to do once some progress is made.
- Reflect on the work being done to determine successes and failures
- Evaluate why the program or initiative is or is not successful
- Plan to make the necessary adjustments
- Solidify the plan by taking specific actions
Too often, both successful and unsuccessful organizations move forward, doing the work, without getting in the necessary R.E.P.S. This is a costly mistake made by many leaders who make the deadly assumption that hard work and busyness will equate to improved performance and progress.
Leadership Assumption: Hard work and busyness will equate to improved performance and progress.
As Collins (2009) puts it, in his How the Mighty Fall, there are a variety of reasons why successful companies fall, but one of the early warning signs is when the what replaces the why and success is confused with activity and not insight. Keeping R.E.P.S. at the forefront prioritizes a constant review of the work and ensures that the why is always front-and-center.
So what does using R.E.P.S. look like in practice? Let’s meet Adam Lee.
This past school year Dr. Lee’s school district saw impressive gains district wide. Are they where they think they should be? No, but they are making progress through improved performance. Dr. Lee attributes some of their early success to a constant and incessant review of previously identified targets to ensure that they are on track. Dr. Lee’s district, a medium-sized urban district where he is the principal of the only high school, implemented a new literacy initiative that his district put into place in his school to improve student performance on pre-determined literacy assessments. The district knows that literacy is linked to college and career readiness. Everything that the district and school does comes back to vision, mission, core values, and the enumerated buckets where they put all of their attention for school improvement:
- Classroom Instruction
- Student Performance
- School Climate
The district knows that principals have a direct impact on these three areas, and they entrust Dr. Lee with the curriculum and resources provided to him to oversee success in these buckets. Dr. Lee employs the basic strategy of R.E.P.S. to each of the these three areas to monitor the school’s overall fitness. For example, in the bucket for student performance, you’ll find the literacy assessments where the district would like to see stronger gains, hence their new programming. The goal is to improve student performance on district common assessments and on the state’s assessment. By utilizing R.E.P.S., Dr. Lee, along with his team, reviews the success of the program throughout the year. Knowing the variety of factors involved in determining the success of a literacy program, R.E.P.S. ensures a thorough and ongoing analysis of what was working, what was not, and why. Dr. Lee knows that it’s far more than just prior planning that goes into real preparation and sustainability of programs like the one the district initiated.
This past year, each marking period, the team reflected on how well the program was being implemented as well as how well the program was being received by those involved. The data gleaned from the program was evaluated and discussed. If necessary, adjustments were made to the original plan and the scope of work. And, the changes were solidified with specific actions. This means that they did four sets using R.E.P.S. as their model for each. The results were simple: Dr. Lee knew throughout the year if the literacy program was making a difference and the impact it was having on his students and staff. They reflected, evaluated, planned, and solidified. They knew from the onset that planning and preparing is not enough if it’s only done prior to initiating something new and not as an ongoing aspect of sustaining the initiative.
Planning and preparing is not a one-time deal. Rather, it’s an ongoing discipline to ensure that improved performance and progress toward goals are being made. R.E.P.S. provides organizations with a simple model and strategy so that key targets are being measured and met. That’s how great organizations stay fit.
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Check out our latest #readthisseries for great books to add to your library on the topic of using data to drive performance in your organization. You don’t want to miss this review of some of the most important books on learning to use data and how to think differently about the data you currently use in your organization. If you haven’t done so already, listen to our interview with Dr. Farley-Ripple and read our blog post about the four daggers of data decision-making. Let us know what you think with comments, follows, likes, and re-Tweets.
This month has been all about data at TheSchoolHouse302.com. We posted 3 ideas for ensuring that data is actionable in your organization, and we focused on unconventional data sources, using data to tell a story, and taking steps to ensure that data means strategic action.
We welcomed Dr. Liz Farley-Ripple, Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware, to our #onethingseries. If you haven’t heard the podcast, listen here. In less than 10 minutes, you’ll get awesome and practical recommendations for using data.
At TheSchoolHouse302, we are always “getting to simple” so leaders can grow and learn. Leadership is about taking action to make improvements to our environments, and using data is one tool that all great leaders use to improve their organization. As great leaders develop, though, they often grow accustom to making quick decisions based on intuition. Malcolm Gladwell calls this “the power of thinking without thinking.” In his book Blink, he describes a reality where some people can make quick decisions in complex scenarios where others simply can’t. But Victoria Bernhardt tells readers that quick decision-making is not the best route, especially in schools where we should be working to “replace hunches and hypotheses with facts concerning what changes are needed.” After all, using data to inform decisions is really a strategy about determining what actions to take to influence change. Here are the four most important strategies to consider when using data to make a change in your organization. We call them “data daggers” because they’re meant to pierce a target and penetrate your organization to produce just the right results for positive change to occur.
The Four Daggers for Data Decision-making
Dagger #1: Think big and take a data inventory. There are far more data sources than we often acknowledge. Dr. Farley-Ripple talks about an inventory exercise that you can do with your team where you might start with 5 or 6 typical data sources and then expand to up to 150 data points. Although that’s too many to use, the inventory helps us to recognize that we can get “stuck” in our paradigm and we have access to more data and information than we realize. Once you go big, you can scale back to the most important metrics, hopefully new sources that use data as a flashlight rather than a hammer. This takes us right to our next dagger.
Consideration: Switch the target from a narrow view of typical data sources to a broader scope of available data.
Dagger #2: Use the right data in the first place. With a proper data inventory, we can identify new and often unconventional data sources. As Dr. Farley-Ripple pointed out, most data fall into four categories: process data, performance data, demographic data, and perception data. Schools are great at using performance data and even demographic data, but these commonplace sources can only drive change so far. Let’s ask different questions about outcomes to reach new heights. Instead of asking how students are performing on assessments, we might ask how they feel about their experiences with a certain subject. This switches instrumentation from a test to a survey and should prompt new and important conversations about the story that data can tell us if we listen to the right sources of information.
Consideration: Switch the target from performance and demographic data to process and perception data.
Dagger #3: Don’t just use one source of data. Situations are complex but they don’t have to be complicated. Let data tell a story over time rather than looking at one source of data after the story has been told. This means that data collection has to be a process rather than a product. When we look at data, we should see trends and themes and not just singular points. When your team presents a number to represent one point in time, challenge any assumption you might make with that cross-sectional reference by using more of a longitudinal approach. Singular sources of data can lead to quick and false conclusions. Prevent your team from using single sources of data after the fact and look for trends at checkpoints along the way.
Consideration: Switch the target from singular outcome data points to trend and thematic analyses.
Dagger #4: Leadership matters. Turn data into action with leadership. As leaders, we have to model data usage using the first three daggers as our guide. We can’t expect others to think big, think differently, or uncover a trend if we don’t explicitly and consistently demonstrate that as the leader. Leadership also means handing over the data daggers to one or more of the team members who might be best suited for hitting the target. Let members of the team present their data stories using new data sources rather than doing all the data digging yourself. At the heart of great data conversations is a team of people working together to drive change. The leader can’t stand alone, drowning in all of the names and numbers.
Consideration: Switch the target from an individual approach to a teamwork approach by modeling the way.
We hope you find value in using these four data daggers for decision-making in your school or organization. Using data might be complex but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple and maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.
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Bernhardt, V. (2004). Data analysis for continuous school improvement. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink. New York: Little Brown and Company
Susan’s team was finally right. As Jim Collins would say, the right people were in the right seats on the bus. They had all the elements of effective teamwork, including a deep level of trust for one another. However, the team recognized that they were having issues building and sustaining their momentum. They found themselves wrestling with the same issues and problems, even after they believed that they made progress. The problem wasn’t the people, it was actually hidden, more discrete, in terms of the decisions they needed to make–the problem was data…
In most organizations, the practitioners with boots-on-the-ground can tell you that the data being used to measure success is, in fact, the wrong data altogether. Tim Ferriss is famous for his anecdotes about using the wrong measurements of success that can actually disincentivize the right results. He tells his personal story to his listeners about his high school counselor dissuading him from his lofty college choices so that the counselor’s acceptance numbers remained high. Many organizations do the same, such as, incentivizing shorter customer service call times to maximize resources, which doesn’t help with customer service in the first place.
When organizations use the wrong data for decisions, the results can be disastrous. According to IBM, poor data costs the US 3.1 trillion dollars annually (IBM). In fact, in the case of the wrong data at our fingertips, we might as well not use data at all. Malcolm Gladwell tells us that if you have enough experience, you can actually make accurate decisions in an instant. That’s better than using bad, wrong, or late-to-the-game data sources.
We suggest three ideas about data that go a long way in changing your mind about which data sets to use for decision making.
3 Powerful Ideas for Using Data:
Use unconventional data sources. Many businesses use quantitative metrics, schools use student outcome reports, and every new online tool or software package provides analytics of some sort. You can’t post a YouTube video and then ignore the strong reporting features. But these data sources are conventional and provide only a surface level overview, mostly descriptive statistics. Businesses have to think Moneyball style if they want to have an edge on the competition.
Key Question: Do you fall into the trap of common metrics? Or do you look for sources of data that may provide powerful information?
Let data tell a story. Too often we describe our data usage strategy as data-drive decision-making versus a data-informed approach to decision making. These are very different tactics for using information. The former is about looking at numbers to determine action while the latter is about triangulating and generating as much information as possible before moving in any new direction.
Key Question: Do you let the data guide you and tell its story, allowing the action plan to unfold? Or do you take each data point on face value?
Turn data into a strategy. Most of the time data is an output. It’s considered long after all of the action has taken place and it tells us about the past. It comes at the end of a quarter or after a big deal is done. But data should be an input. Something that we review to be able to take action.
Key Question: Does data inform your decision making through leading indicators for the future? Or are you wrapped up in a lagging data reports, informing you of what was already done?
This month we want to help you make data into a verb so that you can lead your team to better outcomes in a faster way. Stay tuned for our #onethingseries.
We value your comments, likes, and follows.
The Four V’s of Big Data. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2017, from http://www.ibmbigdatahub.com/infographic/four-vs-big-data