With the implementation of anything, getting off to a “good start” is essential. While we know it takes time for most implementation efforts to go to scale and become the new routine, having some early success can be a major factor in determining whether you (or your team) stick with the new practice. It’s no different from a new fitness routine. We want to experience some results quickly to determine whether our going to the gym and changing our eating habits is going to lead to our eventual desired result.
In her book Confidence, Rosabeth Moss Kanter identifies the need for people to be successful before they believe they can be successful. While that might sound counterintuitive, she writes that true confidence is more than just a mindset:
Positive expectations by leaders make people want to rise to the occasion, but people need proof that there is some reality to the expectations. Pep talks without convincing content are devoid of credibility. People see right through them. “Irrational exuberance” based on nothing but fantasy and hype don’t last long. That’s why winning – or its close approximation – is often necessary before people believe they can win. (pg. 40)
Winning in our case is more about the eventual acceptance of a new paradigm or routine within our schools or classrooms. The confidence to successfully implement anything is what Kanter calls grounded optimism – optimism that is based in some evidence of success.
Planning for rapid results is most helpful when you’re working with people who are capable of implementing the new idea but not necessarily willing; they are reluctant to make major changes since it is likely that they have had success with the previous paradigm. Planning for rapid results is made easier when it is guided by the following question:
What is the least I can do to bring about the greatest effect?
By focusing on the little things that make a big impact, those reluctant to change will be permitted to make a minimal effort while experiencing a much larger effect on their day-to-day work.
I can recall working in a school a number of years ago that was very purposeful about improving the school climate and the quality of the adult-student relationships (as well as student-student). We had spent an entire professional development day working on our plan. We had developed both short- and long-term goals, however, we knew we wanted to see some immediate changes so we focused on the question of rapid results. As it was a Friday, we asked ourselves, “What can we do on Monday that might have an immediate impact on our school’s culture?”
What we came up with was an agreement that all teachers would be in their classrooms (lights on and doors open) at least 10 minutes before the start of the day to greet students as they arrived (some teachers were already doing this). As well, the school administration would greet students as they entered the school (we were already doing that, but not consistently) and counselors would “check-in” with their “top 10.” Ten minutes…that’s all that was required. The results for our school were dramatic. Within a week we noticed a significant shift in the “tone” of our school.
For those that weren’t sure that we should be devoting that much energy to “school climate”, the rapid results of our efforts convinced them that our efforts were worth it. After all, if big results came from little effort, imagine what big effort would yield.
It is absolutely not rocket science. While rapid results are definitely not enough to sustain a major shift, they do provide a glimpse as to what is possible with any purposeful effort. Sometimes people need proof that the change is going to produce an improved situation, and while some people use the desire for perfect proof as an excuse for inactivity, it is fair that people see how the change might eventually makes things better before they commit themselves.
To paraphrase the Kanter quote above, having some success is often a precursor to the belief that one can be successful.