“That was terrible!” – Learn from your challenges for future success

By Noel Treat, SVP, Strategies 360

A little reflection and a little planning can go a long way. The hectic pace of working in public education leaves little time to learn from things that did not go as hoped and plan strategically for the issues coming next. With the school year winding down, summer might offer just enough respite to learn from the year behind and plan for success in the year to come.

The most rewarding parts of my career have been the times I helped leaders form a strategy or evaluate why an issue went awry. In my roles with Seattle Public Schools as Deputy Superintendent and as General Counsel and in my work as a City Manager and Chief of Staff, I was fortunate to help leaders regularly with difficult and interesting challenges.

Take Time to “Audit” Your Year for Lessons Learned. Whether it was a policy issue that drew public outrage, a scandal of any sort, HR problems, or an event that resulted in negative media, financial loss, or litigation; reviewing how you and your team handled it can pay dividends next time around.

A mini “audit” of the issue is a place to start. Some key areas for inquiry include:

Did you decide early on what outcome you wanted and then design a strategy to get there?

  • Without this clarity it can be difficult to act strategically and achieve your goals

Did you have systems and people in place to deal with the issue?

  • You are dependent on the right structures, policies, plans and people to succeed. Review if and where you might be short on any of these fronts.

Was it clear who was in charge of what?

  • Being clear about staff roles and responsibilities is paramount to carrying out an effective strategy for any type of issue. Failing to do this causes confusion and ineffectiveness and leads to balls being dropped

Did you engage all the right stakeholders? And, with the right messages?

  • You usually need supporters, or at least fewer active critics, when issues get rough. Reaching out to the right people with the right information at the right time can be fundamental to your outcome.

Did you timely communicate with your School Board and bring them along?

  • Bringing them in too late (or too early) and/or providing them with incorrect or inappropriate information can cause lasting problems.

Did you have an effective overall communications strategy?

  • Purely reactive communication or a lack of communication can spell trouble. Having a strategy and aligned messaging is key.

What went well?

  • Do not focus only on what did not work. Celebrate the successes and replicate them in the future.

Did you thank your staff?

  • Especially when things do not go well, your team and their future effectiveness are well served by knowing you appreciate their work.

These are just a few of the elements that can go into learning from a hard issue and improving for the next time. Documenting your findings from your lessons learned audit can help ensure you think deeply enough about what happened and provide a resource for later.

Could you benefit from a trusted on-call strategic advisor? Do you ever need help in learning from a difficulty, managing crisis, or planning for the next issue? Strategies 360 is here to assist you with strategy, communications and management support.