The November 2 post at this blog features Dr. Khalid Mumin, Superintendent of the Reading School District in Pennsylvania, as a prime example of a new-style K-12 chief executive: the Transformational Change Leader. The post describes 5 key attributes of superintendents who succeed at leading transformative change, including being “laser-focused” on very concrete change initiatives that are the polar opposite of the “Christmas list” of goals found in traditional long-range strategic planning tomes.
My new book Building a High-Impact Board-Superintendent Partnership (https://rowman.com/Action/Search/_/doug%20eadie ) describes a very powerful change-focused planning logic and methodology that have been developed and successfully tested in all sectors – for-profit, public and nonprofit – in recent years: the Change Investment Portfolio Process. In a nutshell, the Portfolio Process, which is run parallel to, and separate from, your district’s business-as-usual operational planning/budget development process, produces out-of-the-box change in the form of concrete projects that we can call “change initiatives.” These change initiatives are housed in what you might call your district’s “Change Investment Portfolio,” where they are pilot-tested and eventually mainstreamed into the annual budget and ongoing operations – or occasionally abandoned if they’ve proved unworkable.
The change initiatives housed in your district’s Change Investment Portfolio are intended to address a small number of issues – think of them as “change challenges” – that your district is facing, in the form of opportunities to meet evolving educational needs in your district and challenges and threats to your district’s future stability and growth. By far the most challenging aspect of the Portfolio Process is to select the “right” issues to address: the ones that are so high-stakes and so complex that you could not reasonably expect them to be handled effectively through the parallel, business-as-usual operational planning/budget development process. Never forget that your annual operational planning/budget development process is a very effective vehicle for dealing with the great majority of issues your district is facing at any particular time, but there will always be issues you wouldn’t want to trust to mainstream planning.
Each of the change initiatives being managed in your district’s Change Portfolio at any particular time will have its own time frame, which is why arbitrary cycles such as three or five years make no sense. For example, let’s say that your district is handling three change initiatives in its Portfolio right now: ((1) developing and pilot testing a new partnership with the local community college (18 months); (2) designing and implementing a new property tax levy campaign to fund capital improvements (24 months); and (3) developing and pilot testing a curriculum integrating distance learning and traditional classroom learning in one of the district’s middle schools, drawing on the recent Covid-19 experience.
The Portfolio Process is by design highly selective for the simple reason that your district’s resources – in staff time, money, and technical capability – are limited. The Portfolio Process is at the opposite pole from “supermarket planning” lists of ten, fifteen, or more goals. In my years of involvement in the change business, I’ve never seen a district effectively manage more than three to five major change initiatives concurrently at any given time. Of course, as change initiatives are implemented, they drop out of the Portfolio and are integrated into your district’s operating plan and budget, and new change initiatives are regularly added to your Portfolio.
Keep in mind that what we’re talking about couldn’t be more different from the old-time notion of a “strategic” umbrella (consisting of five-year goals and strategies), within which your district would presumably develop its annual operating plan and budget, which in theory is tied back to the goals and strategies that your umbrella encompasses. So far as I can tell, these ties have always been more theoretical and aesthetic than practical. Instead, think of parallel processes that proceed concurrently. During every fiscal year your district prepares next year’s annual operating plan and budget (your “in-the-box” planning), while concurrently – but through a separate and parallel process – your district manages change initiatives in your Change Portfolio and adds new change initiatives to the Portfolio to address new issues that your district’s board and executive team have identified.