Every now and again, a young idiot runs into our ballroom dancing class, yells a moronic comment and runs out. The other night I belted after him. I chased the boy until he met his friends, whereupon he turned round and began to outline his position.
I could think of no further course of action that wouldn't work to my disadvantage, so I feebly wagged my finger at him and walked off. This story could stand as a metaphor for many things - the invasion of Iraq, for example. It's a position summed up by Elvis Presley when, in the film Paradise, Hawaiian Style, he sang the words, "Don't start what you can't finish."
As a principle for leadership, it works well. Common sense says any initiative must contain at least an indication of where it might lead. Yet how often have we signed up to a new approach to teaching and learning or behaviour management only to find a year later the whole thing limping back to square one?
Here are some thoughts about it from a document I found on sustaining change. The author reminds us that starting an improvement drive is the exciting bit. Top management is heavily involved then. But, he goes on:
"Now comes the excruciating and disciplined work to keep things going.
Delving into the bowels of the organisation and messing with processes, procedures, structure, is very difficult and usually not as glamorous as the initial launch. But that is where sustained improvement lies."
Then he examines "delving into the bowels". First comes accountability. You cannot, he says, maintain improvement unless you've reviewed, and if necessary changed, the structure of who's accountable for what. That means making sure the performance appraisal system is geared to the improvement agenda. Similarly, job descriptions may have to be modified to tie people to the priorities, and any promotions and outside appointments must also reflect the idea of "living the values". Next there's training. It's obvious that improvement carries a professional development imperative. It can't, though, just be a one-off.
"Organisations mistakenly think that kick-off training is all that is necessary," whereas kick-off training simply provides understanding of the initiative and begins the education process. Such training must never stop.
Internal training will have to evolve to include consistent messages about excellence."
Enthusiastic senior managers can seem to withdraw as time goes on. The article appears on a website for managers in the hotel and travel industry but the advice works well for a school. There's no future in introducing a major school improvement plan if you don't tie it to the roots of the organisation - recruitment, performance management, job descriptions, staff training.
If all that happens is an inspirational "launch" filled with good intent, you end up with "nice to do" when what you need is "have to do".
The problem of unsustained improvement lies in the difficulty of senior management in being everywhere at once. And yet, when you think about it, it's that quality of always being there - popping into the appropriate meeting, walking round the corner into the crucial discussion - that's one of the hallmarks of the excellent leader.
"Sustaining A Customer Service Initiative: The Need for Long-Term Commitment" by Dennis Snow. See http:www.4hoteliers.com4hots_fshw.php?mwi=1045 Gerald Haigh is a former head