Culture, Core Processes and Organizational Excellence

Type: Article
Topics: District & School Operations, School Administrator Magazine

April 01, 2021

WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS of a leader who prioritizes organizational excellence? How can that excellence be achieved during extraordinary times such as those we face today?

Leading organizational excellence can be likened to fielding a team of players who have chemistry and talent and work as one unit. Leaders who achieve true organizational excellence create among their staff members a clear, consistent commitment to a common purpose. With this commitment comes an empowered culture that develops leaders at every level and withstands the test of time as leaders come and go.

As we navigate through the pandemic, the most fitting adjective to describe the environment is “unstable.” How do you lead effectively in a truly unstable environment?

The way we lead during and after times of crisis provides a window into our ability to create and sustain organizational excellence. By no means is it easy. Achieving excellence in organizational management can be markedly difficult when a district — indeed a society — is experiencing such significant change.

Reflecting on how you lead — whether you have opportunities for improvement, how you treat others and how you go about your daily practice — is a good place to start.

Adjusting to changing conditions outside their comfort zones requires leaders to develop a strong sense of self. Examples of that strength can be found among the countless district leaders who work collaboratively with their teams to meet the ever-changing needs of their staff, students and community during the pandemic while simultaneously focusing on the continuous improvement cycles that are inherent in school districts by choice or by local, state or federal regulation.

Every decision a leader makes during turbulent times may be considered by at least one person to be wrong. A culture in which the leader’s decisions are widely supported, even amidst chaos and polarity, is a culture that reflects the leader’s beliefs and convictions but is supported and nurtured by all the members of the organization. The culture of the organization becomes the linchpin on which everyone can depend. As Gareth Morgan suggests in Images of Organizations, “Organizational harmony relies on human decision making, action and the ability of its leaders in developing shared or common values.”

Excellent organizations continually seek to improve their present situation and chart a path forward. For organization leaders and everyone who works with them, excellence is a way of life, permeating every decision, action and message.

The processes that define excellence are not always easily understood, but with tenacity and commitment, the processes can be positively scrutinized and impeccably managed in daily practice. Once identified, “look-fors” embedded in the culture of an organization can be developed and measured over time to help leaders determine whether the district is on a path toward true organizational excellence.

It all starts with the leader who is comfortable with difficult questions and answers about the culture of improvement. When leaders are attuned to their own blind spots, they are better able to provide guidance to others on overcoming challenges, exposing blind spots, providing opportunities to learn and grow collaboratively and ultimately achieving organizational excellence. Once understood, blind spots are no longer blind spots.

There will always be surprises and challenges to overcome, but with a consistent plan that becomes embedded in its culture, the organization will continue on its journey toward improvement. The ultimate measure of excellence will be reflected in the enduring culture of the organization, even as the leadership departs. As a leader, you will know you have been successful if a culture of excellence, strength and caring remains long after you have moved on to new challenges.