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What are we trying to accomplish? Do we know?

Too often organizations–big and small–don’t take the time to get crystal clear on their desired outcomes. They live with vague statements of aspiration and content themselves with carrying out their annual cycle of activities. They may or may not measure outcomes; even if they do, it is often without much reflection, rendering the actual results obtained almost irrelevant. Whether the results are good or bad, systems often are on cruise control and they simply do the very same things again.

Too often organizations–big and small–don’t take the time to get crystal clear on their desired outcomes. They live with vague statements of aspiration and content themselves with carrying out their annual cycle of activities. They may or may not measure outcomes; even if they do, it is often without much reflection, rendering the actual results obtained almost irrelevant. Whether the results are good or bad, systems often are on cruise control and they simply do the very same things again. The march of the annual cycle of work is hard to interrupt because “what has always been done” is a powerful force and it propels organizations and whole systems forward.

This phenomenon is unfortunate when it gets a strong foothold because these same organizations are filled with great leaders and professionals who, if clear on their purpose and if supported and focused on getting to results, can frequently achieve great things in record time.

One of the hallmarks of taking a collective impact approach to a big long-standing social challenge, (as we are trying to do with the Road Map Project), is that it requires a clear, shared common agenda. Clarity of purpose is essential. Those involved must know exactly what they and others are trying to accomplish by day certain and how their efforts will be measured. They must band together and try new things if the old ways are not producing the desired outcomes.

Community allies, education leaders, and their numerous partners need laser-like focus on things like closing the achievement gap, helping all children read well by third grade, and improving the college readiness of high school graduates—not just rhetorical flourishes. Serious work demands real performance targets that are broadly shared throughout organizations by the very people who can make the difference with a child. People at all levels must be empowered to try new tactics if the old are insufficient, and the tactic itself should never become the end goal. Student achievement must always be the bottom line.

Back to clarity of purpose and how it matters in so many things. . .

The state of Washington is about to appeal to the feds for a waiver from NCLB—Amen to that! Now we have to help the state make sure that the great state of Washington gets clear on what its education goals will be—goals that must be taken seriously unlike the ones in NCLB. The goals can finally be our own.

Several school districts have superintendent searches underway. I assume the applicants will want to know very clearly what the district wants to get done for its students. I assume the answer in most districts would not be “more of the same”—or would it?