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How Do You Uncover

Organizational Dysfunction?

BY KIMBERLY MORITZ

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by members of the 2013 cohort of the New York State Superintendent Development Program conducted by the State University of New York at Oswego. Seven aspiring superintendents asked some great questions, and I ended the interview wondering about the diversity of answers the superintendent candidates would elicit from my colleagues.

I also left thinking about the young administrators entering the superintendency and what a wonderful opportunity this was to influence their thinking. It’s not that I believe I’m so great or have all the answers, but more so because I’m not sure we mentor our young colleagues well enough. A superintendent is the leader in the organization most required to at least appear to be on top of every issue that arises. That leaves young administrators reluctant to ask questions.

A Trusted Presence
Among the first questions the participants asked me were these: “What strategies have you used to uncover dysfunctions in an organization? What actions have you taken to address the issue and move the district forward, gaining the critical mass needed to make a change happen?”

I responded that the strategies and actions we take to build relationships with our colleagues and employees are the same strategies that will uncover dysfunction in an organization. The only way we can learn what’s really happening within our schools is by building trust with each individual we encounter. We have to be accessible and willing to take the time to listen, and then remember there are two sides to every story.

Once our school community knows it can count on us and trust our word, there isn’t much digging that will be needed. Uncovering dysfunction is really about being leaders employees can count on to always do the right thing, including follow through. Doing the right thing includes having high expectations for oneself and for everyone else in the organization.

Dysfunction isn’t hard to spot. One word of caution is to enter an organization carefully and with great patience. Those who seek you out immediately may not be the key players within the organization. Earlier in my career, I was in a position in which two teachers stopped to see me regularly over my first two weeks. They had a close relationship with my predecessor.

Those two teachers both ended up leaving the organization during my time as a leader there. One embezzled money from the extracurricular activities accounts, and the other had multiple performance issues over which we had several serious conversations. The point is not that you need to be suspicious of those who reach out to you upon arrival but that you should be somewhat guarded until you have the time to get to know all of your employees. Had I allowed myself to appear aligned with those two teachers, I would have lost the respect of the many good employees whom I later got to know well.

I always think of what Janeil Rey, a professor at SUNY Fredonia, said during my educational administration program: “You’ve got to decide who you want to be angry with you, the good teachers or the bad teachers. If you’re not doing anything about the bad teachers, the good teachers will be angry.”

I’ve lived by those words for the 13 years I’ve been a school administrator. I guarantee those who are in the organization know what the dysfunctions are, and they are waiting and watching to see if you’re finally the leader who will recognize the truth and do something about it.

Positive Change
As far as gaining the critical mass to make change happen, my experience has proven that there are far more dedicated, well-meaning, quiet and outstanding employees in any school than there are bad performers. It’s just that the difficult employees are usually the loudest, most confrontational — or charismatic, as in the case of the teacher skilled at gaining trust that led to embezzlement.

Good employees often just want to keep their heads down, do their work, and stay away from those they know are doing wrong or disrupting the organization. It’s our job as the leaders to do the right thing, the often difficult and courageous thing, and speak up to make a difference.

“Not on my watch” is a good motto to live by as a leader working to make a significant difference. Positive change only happens in healthy organizations in which the leaders maintain high expectations and prove that everyone is being held to the same high standards.

Kimberly Moritz is the superintendent in Randolph, N.Y. E-mail: kmoritz@rand.wnyric.org. She blogs at www.ghsprincipal.edublogs.org.

 

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