Post-Doc Blogpost: Reciprocal Recognition – Permitting Evaluation to Evoke Advocacy

I had the recent privilege of attending a presentation by Dr. Raymond Cheng, who spoke of the topic of degree equivalency across the world. This presentation covered such qualifiers as degree programs either being quick, cheap, or recognized, yet not any combination of more than two of these. The purpose of this emphasis is for learners and potential graduates to conduct an informed review of how equivalency is regarded when particularly looking at a given degree and its sister recognitions in other parts of the world. Where this becomes meaningful for program evaluation, is when we look beyond the confines of either the evaluation of process outcomes or program outcomes, and look at the issue of how program evaluation is designed to either prevent, or permit, evaluator as advocate for the learners served by these programs.

To describe our ultimate intent Dane (2011) remarks, “Evaluation involves the use of behavioral research methods to assess the conceptualization, design, implementation, and utility of intervention programs. In order to be effectively evaluated, a program should have specific procedures and goals, although formative evaluation can be used to develop them. Summative evaluations deal with program outcomes” (p. 314). At this level Dane permits our understanding that while many interests can converge upon a program’s process and programmatic outcomes, it will be its goals which drive what of the program is evaluated, and to what end. Do we wish to evaluate whether equivalency is a primary goal of a given degree program? Are we instead concerned with the political factors affecting the equivalency evaluation process? These and other considerations are seen as potential intervening variables amid the process of evaluating a program’s efficacy. Yet it may just be that student advocacy is the goal, not an outgrowth of the goal. We return to Dane (2011) to summarize, “Because the researcher is probably the most fully informed about the results, the researcher may be called upon to make policy recommendations. Personal interests may lead a researcher to adopt an advocate role. Although policy recommendations and advocacy are not unethical themselves, care must be taken to separate them from the results” (p. 314).

Evaluations should employ technically adequate designs and analyses that are appropriate for the evaluation purposes (Yarbrough et al., 2011, p. 201). While many of us understand this point anecdotally, combining this concept with advocacy allows us to then understand that it may not be simply a program’s learning outcomes which are the greatest goal. What of the international student who wishes to complete an MBA in the US, have that degree recognized as an MBA in Hong Kong, such that he/she may make a global impact as either consultant or scholar? If the extant evaluation process does not take this goal into account, mere learning outcomes centered on financial analysis, strategic planning, or marketing management as an MBA program would include could potentially be for not when considering the long-term prospects of this student in specific. We, then, as program evaluation personnel are given a critical task when in the design phase, as well as the formative evaluation phase, determining whether the stated goals of a program are in alignment with the goals of those who stand to benefit from that program.

Several factors can influence the role of an evaluator, including the purpose of the evaluation, stakeholders’ information needs, the evaluator’s epistemological preferences, and the evaluation approach used (Fleischer & Christie, 2009, p. 160). This conclusion in mind we see the inherent design equation is only complicated by the involvement of the evaluator him/herself. How this person regards the creation of new knowledge is among the considerations given among the inherent design process. Yet where concepts such as reciprocal recognition, evaluator epistemology, negotiated purposes, and defensible evaluation design converge, is upon the goals established not just by the program’s administrators alone, but the stated goals inclusive of those established by those who stand to benefit most from a program’s existence. Thank you for this reminder, and apt coverage of this topic Dr. Cheng.

Dane, F. C. (2011). Evaluating research: Methodology for people who need to read research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Fleischer, D. N., & Christie, C. A. (2009). Evaluation use: Results from a survey of U.S. American Evaluation Association members. American Journal of Evaluation, 30(2), 158–175.

Yarbrough, D. B., Shulha, L. M., Hopson, R. K., & Caruthers, F. A. (2011). The program evaluation standards (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

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Post-Doc Blogpost: Issue Polarization & Evaluator Credibility

On the topic of ideology and polarization Contandriopoulos & Brousselle (2012) note, “Converging theoretical and empirical data on knowledge use suggest that, when a user’s understanding of the implications of a given piece of information runs contrary to his or her opinions or preferences, this information will be ignored, contradicted, or, at the very least, subjected to strong skepticism and low use” (p. 63). Program evaluation, as with any other form of research and analysis, must be evaluated in context.  Yet context is not simply defined as the setting of the evaluation, nor the intent of the evaluation alone.  Instead, context must also include consideration for the evaluation’s design, and the very credibility of the evaluator him/herself as well. Evaluations should be conducted by qualified people who establish and maintain credibility in the evaluation context (Yarbrough et al., 2011, p. 15). This points to the need to not only ensure an audience capable of reception of the ideas/findings brought forth by the evaluation, yet to the equally necessary inclusion of evaluator’s capability of preserving the credibility of the study by purporting their own professional credibility as well.

An example of this in action was at a program evaluation session as part of the Orange County Alliance for Community Health Research last year.  This event, presented at UC Irvine, included a three hour presentation on program evaluation delivered by Michelle Berelowitz, MSW (UC Irvine, 2012). MS Berelowitz spoke at length on the broader purpose of program evaluation, the process for designing and conducting program evaluation, and the potential applications of program evaluation. This event was attended by a multitude of program directors, and other leaders of health and human services agencies in proximity to the university, intending to both learn of this process and to network with other agencies as well. Where polarization was introduced, and therefore the first instance of calling evaluator credibility into question, was during the introduction of MS Berelowitz’ presentation.  She, in very plain language, asked the audience who among them was motivated when it came time to perform evaluations of their programs each year.  This question was posed, to which none replied as being motivated, and a general consensus of disregard for the annualized process instead loomed. This calls the evaluator’s credibility into question, as the process itself is only as valuable as it is perceived by its audience, and program evaluation is only meaningful, when it can impact decisions and affect change.

If, during a presentation intended to inform others of the very merits of this program evaluation process the evaluator’s credibility is called into question, strategies must be enacted to counteract this stifling critique and inattention to the process’ value. To briefly return to the value in identifying and addressing polarization among stakeholders Contandriopoulos & Brousselle (2012) remark, “as the level of consensus among participants drops, polarization increases and the potential for resolving differences through rational arguments diminishes as debates tend toward a political form wherein the goal is not so much to convince the other as to impose one’s opinion” (p. 63).  Thus, in a room where a presentation on the merits of program evaluation is to be received with tepid acceptance, the evaluator holds the responsibility to convey the process in a way which fosters consensus, and restores credibility to the process.

One means of establishing greater evaluator credibility is by ensuring inclusion. This remains of no surprise as much of the literature regarding program evaluation centers upon a focus on stakeholder inclusion.  Yet to specifically address how this relates to evaluator credibility Yarbrough et al. (2011) write, “Build good working relationships, and listen, observe, and clarify. Making better communication a priority during stakeholder interactions can reduce anxiety and make the evaluation processes and activities more cooperative” (p. 18).  This was masterfully exercised by MS Berelowitz, as throughout the presentation she was found to be engaging, she drew insights from multiple attendees of the presentation, she worked to incorporate many of the attendees own issues into the presentation’s material, and she was thoughtfully respondent to attendee questions and further paradigm inquiry.

Another of the methods by which evaluator credibility can be restored, is in ensuring the design of the research is one where the audience can be receptive of the work performed. On this topic Creswell (2009) writes, “In planning a research project, researchers need to identify whether they will employ a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods design. This design is based on bringing together a worldview or assumptions about research, the specific strategies of inquiry, and research methods” (p. 20). Yet these conclusions impact not only the design of the research itself – and by extension design of program evaluation – yet are considerations which impact an evaluator’s ability to design meaningful research which conveys information according to long established assumptions about research. In this instance, MS Berelowitz conveyed a presentation on program evaluation which was deeply supported by the extant literature, was a presentation which purported her worldview and assumptions on research and thus program evaluation quite clearly, and was delivered in such a way that attendees were permitted to witness both the technical and practical merits of navigating the program evaluation process in the way presented. In both ensuring the inclusion of stakeholders, and ensuring worldview, inherent assumptions, and defensible design, the presentation was ultimately a success, and one where attendees left conveying motivation of the program evaluation process ahead.

Contandriopoulos, D., & Brousselle, A. (2012). Evaluation models and evaluation use. Evaluation, 18(1), 61–77.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

UC Irvine. (2012). Program evaluation. Retrieved October 22, 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD-FVzeQ6NM.

Yarbrough, D. B., Shulha, L. M., Hopson, R. K., & Caruthers, F. A. (2011). The program evaluation standards (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Post-Doc Blogpost: On Explicit Evaluation Reasoning

Evaluation reasoning leading from information and analyses to findings, interpretations, conclusions, and judgments should be clearly and completely documented (Yarbrough et al., 2011, p. 209). This standard arises not solely for the purpose of ensuring one’s conclusions are logical, rather this standard additionally emerges to function as both a final filter and an ultimate synthesizer of the results of all other accuracy standards. A7 – Explicit Evaluation Reasoning as per The Program Evaluation Standards serves to make known the efficacy of the process by which conclusions are reached. Said of this standard Yarbrough et al. (2011) continue, “If the descriptions of the program from our stakeholders are adequately representative and truthful, and if we have collected adequate descriptions from all important subgroups (have sufficient scope), then we can conclude that our documentation is (more) likely to portray the program accurately” (p. 209).  This level of holism leaves us with a critical imperative, to serve the program we are evaluating well, and to serve the negotiated purposes of the evaluation to their utmost.

Said of the need to ensure clarity, logic, and transparency of one’s process Booth, Colomb, & Williams (2008) elucidate, “[Research] is a profoundly social activity that connects you both to those who will use your research and to those who might benefit – or suffer – from that use” (p. 273). We then have a responsibility as evaluators and as researchers, to conduct ourselves and to document our process explicitly.  Doing so preserves such attributes tantamount to quality research as reproducibility, generalizability, and transferability. Yet there are also more specific considerations at-play. On the topic of this standard’s importance to current/future professional practice, we use the example of an extant job posting for a Program Evaluator with the State of Connecticut Department of Education. The description for this position includes the following, “A program evaluation, measurement, and assessment expert is sought to work with a team of professionals developing accountability measures for educator preparation program approval. Key responsibilities will include the development of quantitative and qualitative outcome measures, including performance-based assessments and feedback surveys, and the establishment and management of key databases for annual reporting purposes” (AEA Career, n.d., para. 2). This position covers a wide range of AEA responsibilities, and makes clear from only the second paragraph the sheer scope of responsibility under this position.  And while the required qualifications include mention of expertise in program evaluation, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, as well as research methods, it more importantly concludes with mention of the need to ‘develop and maintain cooperative working relationships’ and demonstrate skill in working ‘collaboratively and cooperatively with internal colleagues and external stakeholders’. What is required, then, is not solely a researcher with broad technical expertise, nor simply a methodologist with program evaluation background, but instead a member of the research community who can deliver on the palpable need to produce defensible conclusions from explicit reasoning in a way which connects with a broad audience of users and stakeholders.

Explicit reasoning, expressed in a way digestible by readers, defensible to colleagues, and actionable by program participants, requires the researcher be comfortable with where he/she is positioned in relation to the research itself when communicating both process and results.  This is also known among as the literature as positionality. Andres (2012) speaks of this in saying, “This positionality usually involves identifying your many selves that are relevant to the research on dimensions such as gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, education attainment, occupation, parental status, and work and life experience” (p. 18). And yet why so many admissions solely for the purpose locating one’s self among the research? Because positionality has as much to do with the researcher, as it does the researcher’s position and its impact on program evaluation outcomes. An example of this need for clarity comes to us from critical action research.  Kemmis & McTaggart (2005) describe, “Critical action research is strongly represented in the literatures of educational action research, and there it emerges from dissatisfaction with classroom action research that typically does not take a broad view of the role of the relationship between education and social change… It has a strong commitment to participation as well as to the social analyses in the critical social science tradition that reveal the disempowerment and injustice created in industrialized societies” (p. 561). This in mind, it stands to reason that one can only be successful in such a position, if the researcher him/herself is made clear, his/her position to the research is clear, his/her stance on justice as only one example is considered, the process by which the research is conducted is clear, and how this person in relation to this research then renders subsequent judgment on data collected.  For this Program Evaluator role, just as many others like it, must be permitted to serve as both researcher and advocate, exercising objective candor throughout.

American Evaluation Association. (n.d.). Career. Retrieved October 9, 2013 from http://www.eval.org/p/cm/ld/fid=113.

Andres, L. (2012). Designing & doing survey research. London, England: Sage Publications Ltd

Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (2008). The craft of research (3rd Ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Kemmis, S. & McTaggart, R. (2005). Participatory action research. In Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y.S., The sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd Ed.), (559-604). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Yarbrough, D. B., Shulha, L. M., Hopson, R. K., & Caruthers, F. A. (2011). The program evaluation standards (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

The Juxtaposition of Social/Ethical Responsibility across Disciplines

As I approach full speed in the post-doctoral program, I equally approach my first opportunity to share publicly insights derived from this study of assessment, evaluation, and accountability. The American Evaluation Association (AEA) identifies its established social and ethical responsibilities of evaluators.  In juxtaposition, the social and ethical responsibilities of institutional research as an education-based area of interest, are expressed by the Association for Institutional Research (AIR).  Yet first, a personal introduction as requested by this assignment.  I have chosen institutional research as my professional education-based area of interest, as research and analysis have been at the heart of much of what I’ve done for the past decade or more.

Spanning a period easily covering ten years, I have straddled industry and academe for the purpose of not only remaining a lifelong learner but continuing to leverage what I take from each course and apply it as readily as possible to my working world in industry and in the classroom to the benefit of my employers and my students.  As mentioned elsewhere in my ‘about’ page, my work includes a multitude of projects focused on distilling a clear view of institutional effectiveness and program performance. Roles have included senior outcomes analyst, management analyst, operations analyst, assessor, and faculty member for organizations in industries ranging from higher education to hardware manufacturing and business intelligence.  With each position a new opportunity to assimilate new methods for assessing data.  With each new industry a new opportunity to learn a new language, adhere to new practices, and synthesize the combined/protracted experience that is the sum of their parts.  Yet in each instance I do not feel as though I remain with a steadfast understanding that I’ve learned more and therefore have less left to learn.  In each instance I instead feel as though I know and have experienced even less of what the world has to offer.  Focusing this indefinite thirst to speak to assessment and evaluation specifically, the task becomes pursuing ever-greater growth, and ever-greater success across a wide range of applications, industries, and instances, while equally remaining true to guiding principles which serve those who benefit from any lesson I learn or analysis I perform.

The Program Evaluation Standards intimate standards statements regarding propriety which include responsive and inclusive orientation, formal agreements, human rights and respect, clarity and fairness, transparency and disclosure, conflicts of interest, and fiscal responsibility.  At the heart of these Yarbrough, Shulha, Hopson, & Caruthers (2011) remark, “Ethics encompasses concerns about the rights, responsibilities, and behaviors of evaluators and evaluation stakeholders… All people have innate rights that should be respected and recognized” (p. 106).  This is then compared with a like-minded statement from the AEA directly in stating, “Evaluators have the responsibility to understand and respect differences among participants, such as differences in their culture, religion, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation and ethnicity, and to account for potential implications of these differences when planning, conducting, analyzing, and reporting evaluations” (Guiding Principles for Evaluators, n.d., para. 40).  Finally, in juxtaposition we have Howard, McLaughlin, & Knight with The Handbook of Institutional Research (2012) who write, “All employees should be treated fairly, the institutional research office and its function should be regularly evaluated, and all information and reports should be secure, accurate, and properly reported… The craft of institutional research should be upheld by a responsibility to the integrity of the profession” (p. 42). Thus, in the end, while this work had intended to explore a juxtaposition, the chosen word implies some paradoxical behavior at least to a slight degree, in actuality shows none of the sort.  Rather, we find congruence, and we find agreement.

It is important to uphold standards for the ethical behavior of evaluators, as the very profession is one steeped in a hard focus on data, and the answers data provide.  We as human beings, however, tend to this profession while flawed. We make mistakes, we miscalculate, we deviate from design, and we inadvertently insert bias into our findings.  None of this may be done on purpose, and certainly not all transgressions are present in every study.  The implication is there, though, that we can make mistakes and are indeed fallible.  At the same time we are of a profession which is tasked with identifying what is data and what is noise, what programs work and which curriculum does not, which survey shows desired outcomes and which employees are underperforming.  These are questions which beget our best efforts, our most scientific of endeavors, and our resolute of trajectories to identify only truths however scarce, amid the many opportunities to be tempted toward manufacturing alternate – albeit perhaps more beneficial – realities for we as evaluators and our stakeholders. All participants have rights, all evaluators have rights, and all sponsors have rights.  It is our task to serve in the best collective interest, using the best methods available to ensure a properly informed future.

American Evaluation Association. (n.d.). Guiding principles for evaluators. Retrieved September 11, 2013 from http://www.eval.org/p/cm/ld/fid=51

Howard, R.D., McLaughlin, G.W., & Knight, W.E. (2012). The handbook of institutional research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Yarbrough, D. B., Shulha, L. M., Hopson, R. K., & Caruthers, F. A. (2011). The program evaluation standards (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

How Management Styles are Changing

The organization defined is a goal-directed, boundary-maintaining, and socially constructed system of human activity (Aldrich & Ruef, 1979).  In its essence, the construct of management is also met with a clear definition including the activities of planning, organizing, leading, and controlling.  When considering these concepts in juxtaposition, the foundations of management do not waver, and the activities associated at a conceptual level remain the same.  What has changed, however, is how each of these activities is carried out, for the sake of the sustainability of each goal-directed, boundary-maintaining system of activity.  How the activities of management are performed is a question of style, and style has indeed evolved.  This evolution in style – and the proliferation of additional, nuanced styles – is a result of a combination of advances in technology, organizational form, as well as shifts in the prevailing workforce demographic of each organization.

To say that technology has changed what management is would be giving credit where it is not due. Technology has instead changed the way management is performed, while its functions remain stable.  The prevailing literature, both academic and practitioner, now discuss advances in technology as shepherds of a global, diverse, tightly linked, and transparent collection of organizations, which are home to managers who use every affiliation necessary to further the progress of one’s guiding objectives.  Those objectives are no longer driven by a desire to simply control aggregated activity, as was the focus both during and immediately following the industrial revolution.  Objectives, and the style of today’s manager, are driven by purpose.  This has given way to such works as Hamel’s The Future of Management, Benko & Anderson’s The Corporate Lattice, Hallowell’s Shine, as well as Pascale, Sternin, & Sternin’s The Power of Positive Deviance to name a few.  While these texts describe very different facets of organizational life, they share the common thread of managers doing everything they can to identify what is working in an organization, how best practice can be both identified and spread throughout the organization, and place the focus on the potential of a workforce, rather than upon controlling its activities.  Management style has thus changed from choosing between varying levels of commanding/controlling resources, to instead choosing between varying levels of interaction with the value chain of an organization and the resources associated with that value chain.  In its essence, management style is now most impacted by considerations for epistasis, where the critical question is how the manager will choose to leverage his/her unique talents to influence the organization’s ecosystem.  Rather than ask simply what part of an organization he/she is responsible for, the manager now instead seeks knowledge of influence networks, as both organizational knowledge and responsibility are interspersed.

– Justin

Amid the Tumult, the Purposive Manager

Management as a practice can be seen as a combination of art, craft, and science, which take place on an information plane, a people plane, and an action plane (Mintzberg, 2009). A good manager, then, is someone who moves beyond the traditional confines of seeing one’s function as planning/organizing/leading/controlling each in isolation at a specific point in time, and instead sees managing as using all aspects of one’s intuition, training, and talents at once and in perpetuity.

Where managers are now described in the literature as operating in an environment wherein interruptions can be encountered up to every 48 seconds of the day, and the manager’s attention is thus piecemeal and scattered across multiple tasks as well as decisions in a single hour, it remains important that a “good manager” use this as a strength not as what defines their work. Rather than using the bustle of today’s business environment as an excuse for surface-level consideration of every decision encountered, it is instead an opportunity to convey consistency in message and purpose with every new decision. A day can be filled with hundreds of isolated decisions made at-a-glance, or they can all be made while guided by a single thread of focused purpose and attention to the direction he/she wishes to push their ecosystem within the manager’s given sphere of influence. If the manager wishes to develop a team guided by thoughtful analysis, each decision made can be an interruption prior to returning to this task, or it can be a way to substantiate this wish by emphasizing thoughtful analysis in each decision. A good manager thus uses technical skills to facilitate the professional and technical aspects of daily work, while also using those same technical skills to describe how best to support and influence the technical aspects of others’ work as well. Soft skills are equally important to ensure not only that influence is purported, yet the purpose and direction as the manger sees fitting is communicated within his/her network in a way which delivers a lasting impression.

An Operations Manager uses his technical knowledge of the business to drive operations, while also using this technical knowledge to guide others’ work within the scope of process variation, selection, and retention. His soft skills are important as the potential global, and very likely diverse workforce with which he works must be influenced and led, not directed and controlled alone. The Finance Manager must use her technical skills to drive the fiduciary sustainability of an organization and her team, but must also use her technical skills to seek an efficacious value chain to sustain the organization’s competitive advantage. Her soft skills thus are what provide the conduit for this process, and technical skills the information necessary for her network to later develop the tacit knowledge necessary for this to occur. A “good manager”, then, is aware of the organization’s ecosystem, his/her influence on this ecosystem, and will put to use all intuition, training, and talents present, to help others see how an organization’s value chain drives its purpose.

– Justin

Is the Model of the ‘Working Manager’ Truly Working?

Upon examination of the current worldview employed by the managers of today’s organizations, the term ‘working manager’ immediately comes to mind. We live in a complicated time where globalization is a given, knowledge networks are the foundation for action, and companies are only as successful as their most succinctly defined system of proprietary activity. This is met with economic times which have left many out of work, those who remain to perform the work of multiple, many to be overqualified for the positions they serve, and organizations forced to perpetuate only those aspects of their organization which can clearly add to the value proposition that is their economic engine.

Every organization needs performance in three major areas, including the building and reaffirmation of values, the building and developing of its people, and direct results (Drucker & Maciariello, 2006). What today’s manager is being held most accountable for, I believe based primarily upon the economic and competitive environment we are living in, are the direct results of their teams. This is countervailing to what is necessary for a perpetual organization, however, as this only focuses the manger’s time and attention on one aspect of three when looking to get things done through others. This does not take into account the necessary activities for developing people, and this does not take into account the necessary activities for building and reaffirming an organization’s values.

Taking concepts such as cognitive dissonance into account, this leads the manager to believe that if results are what receive emphasis from senior leadership, then results must be what emphasis receives their time and attention as well. Managers who are not expected to focus on development do not develop people, or perpetuate their organizations values. Instead, these managers rewrite the organizations values to emphasize action and results, just as senior leadership has done for them. The working manager therefore prevails as if results are to be center-stage, the manger will take on just as much of the technical and activity-based responsibilities of the team as any specialist under his/her charge. This will not lead to sustainability, however, only immediate outcomes. Technology, advancing organizational forms, and the diversity of our interconnected global workforce should serve as a primer for developmental action, not something to return to ‘once the work is finished’.

– Justin

Drucker, P. F. & Maciariello, J. A. (2006). The effective executive in action. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

On Perpetual Organizational Progress

Emergence as a recognized entity secures a tentative place for an organization in a population, but its persistence depends upon the continual replication of its routines and competencies (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006, p. 94).  We think of where we work as somewhere fixed; an institution in its truest sense, a building with cubicles, desks with computers, and employees with bosses.  Yet what the research has shown is this is only the case because we collectively make it so each day, and the day we cease to do so is the day our organization equally ceases to persist.  From this outlook, though, comes an equally ambitious upside… we then have a choice on the organizational routines and competencies we elect to replicate and utilize.  Said differently, we can begin to rethink, regroup, redirect, and retool at any time as the organization is not in a fixed state.  So what’s stopping us?  Transformational change involves a radical shift from one state of being to another, which is an extremely painful process… proactive transformation requires an awareness of the consequences the “new” context will have on the existing culture, behaviors, and mindset, if it is to be engaged in willingly (Biscaccianti, Esposito, & Williams, 2011, p. 30).

We as individual members of an organization function as both user and supporter of the organization continually and paradoxically.  We are project managers, financial analysts, account executives, and customer service representatives.  We are defined by our role, by our processes, by the systems we use, the skills we have, and the declarative & procedural knowledge we employ.  We do not change because we choose not to change, and we choose not to change because we took far too long learning and working and struggling to get where we are with what we know.  Is this an accurate look on reality, though?  To seek perpetual organizational progress is to seek a framework and mindset of near-daily renewal of our routines and competencies for the sake of our company’s progress, not for change’s sake alone, nor at the expense of individual accomplishment.  The organization at its essence is an aggregation of human effort, not of best practices, industry standards, and heralded products and services.  Put another way, individuals can be wildly successful and equally accomplished, while the organizations they work for is under a constant state of flux and renewal.  One can use and support an organization differently each day, while being regarded the expert of his/her craft.  Thus, in order to pursue perpetual organizational progress, a new lens with which to view change is necessary.

The essence of the problem-finding and problem-solving approach revolves around the identification of problem characteristics and the extent to which they entail corresponding impediments to the activities of problem finding, framing, and formulating; problem solving; and solution implementation…  methodologically, this approach responds to design science’s call to comparatively evaluate alternative governing mechanisms that mitigate impediments, leading to more comprehensive problem formulations, more efficient searching for and creating of valuable solutions, and more successful implementation of solutions (2012, p. 58).  This approach to organizational design allows us to ask far broader questions of management, and of every member’s contribution to ongoing organizational success.  Success herein and thus far has not been defined, and this definition remains absent as the definition must instead remain iterative.  We should not seek success in traditional terms as traditional terms warrant traditional practices, and those practices warrant the knowledge we already have and the processes we already use.  Perpetual progress then means a perpetual identification of new problems, new obstacles, new impediments, new solutions, and a new definition of success with each march forward.

Is there a magic recipe all companies should follow for identifying the problems we must then address in perpetuity?  With persistence as the goal the answer then remains, not likely.  What can be done, however, is we can instead codify the process for identifying problems at the individual organizational level, as those same routines and competencies which brought us to today can then serve as filters for identifying further opportunities for progress.  Cognitive heuristics – problem-solving techniques that reduce complex situations to simpler judgmental operations – can become specific to an organizational form, or even an individual organization (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006, p. 120).  The very fabric which defines how our organizations are successful now then becomes not what we choose to change, yet instead what we use to evaluate what else should change.  Success today sets not tomorrow’s bar, it identifies today’s neighboring problem.  All else may change to exist on-par with that new success.

Today’s performance management systems seek to evaluate how well individual members are faring at performing pre-determined routines.  Individual performance measurement is accepted as a retrospective task seeking convergent methods of routine persistence and level of competence.  We set new goals, yet of the same routines.  We establish new targets, yet of only marginally enlarged job descriptions.  Skeptical?  Ask yourself when you were last given a revised job description based on what you’ve learned during your year(s) of service and growth.  Better still, ask yourself when you directly contributed toward the authorship of such a document.  Rational system theorists stress goal specificity and formalization, natural system theorists generally acknowledge the existence of these attributes but argue that other characteristics – characteristics shared with all social groups – are of greater significance, and open systems are [instead] capable of self-maintenance on the basis of throughput of resources from the environment, [and] this throughput is essential to the system’s viability (Scott, 2003).  Social systems warranting the identification of work performed indeed, and based on the resources provided by the surrounding environment.  This then obviates the idea that performance management should be based on a fixed target, much as organizational progress is only perpetual when fixed routines and competencies have been abandoned.

To seek resolution, then, of the competing challenges between management’s historical predisposition toward a rational system, and its desire to emulate open systems thinking, we seek not a replacement for today’s routines or tomorrow’s stretch goals.  We seek instead, an entirely different unit of analysis, and object of our futurist affection.  What we should be promoting instead of leadership alone are communities of actors who get on with things naturally, leadership together with management being an intrinsic part of that (Mintzberg, 2009, p. 9).  We seek the ability to fluidly move between the routines which bring us present success, the pursuit of impediments to success elsewhere, and the ability to base our progress on an iterative view of success itself and our progress toward it, thereby managing performance on numerous planes simultaneously.  Those planes then include perhaps a normative look at performance via the evaluations we all know and review periodically, the plane of success impediments identified, the working definition of success holistically, and the actions/strategies necessary to balance them all.  And is there a process for identifying these actions/strategies?  Indeed there is.  Positive deviance (PD) is founded on the premise that at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problem that confounds others… from the PD perspective, individual difference is regarded as a community resource… community engagement is essential to discovering noteworthy variants in their midst and adapting their practices and strategies (Pascale, Sternin, & Sternin, 2010, p. 3).  We can embrace the bestseller lists without reservation and engage in either frequency imitation, trait imitation, outcome imitation, or a combination of the three.  Conversely, we can seek these deviants, and not for their solutions, but for their methodology at removing impediment in the name of a new successful day, every day.

– Justin

My Philosophy of Teaching

A Call to Action

Exercising the courage to become more purpose-centered, other-focused, internally directed, and externally open results in increased hope and unleashes a variety of other positive emotions (Quinn, 2004). I as a teacher am not so solely because of anything tangible. Nor am I a teacher solely for those inspired moments in each student’s day. Rather, I feel that teaching is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a privilege as I do have the opportunity to touch lives, bring new hope to possibly otherwise under-informed futures, and hopefully and occasionally inspire someone to be great. Yet, I additionally feel teaching is a responsibility each generation has to its successors. As society can be regarded as a construct of social networks, a collection of living systems, and its role to be that of sustainability long-term; teachers hold the responsibility of ushering in an informed era for those that follow such that they have the opportunity to continue the successes of the past and create their own in the process.

Learning as SKILLS

Self-Knowledge Inventory of Lifelong Learning Strategies (SKILLS) is based upon five aspects of learning which are essential to the learning process, these are the constructs of metacognition, metamotivation, memory, resource management, and critical thinking (Conti & Fellenz, 1991). Taking this construct as developed by the Center for Adult Learning Research at Montana State University into account, it creates a paradigm with which to gauge not only the structure and success of a given lesson plan, yet the success of each student in terms of their own personal level of learning as well. As metacognition regards the ability of the learner to reflect upon what has been learned and work to make their own learning process more efficient over time, it is my responsibility to ensure each learner has the tools to do so. As metamotivation regards the learner’s control over their own motivational strategies, it is both my responsibility and privilege to ensure those options exist while in a learning environment. As both memory and resource management are stand-alone concepts, I operate with an obligation to ensure the methodologies I employ allow for greater capture and memory usage while allowing for greater resource utilization and management as well. Finally, as critical thinking is a concept not uncommon in the academic environment, I will put defining this term to the side and instead comment that critical thinking is what I feel the majority of my teaching strategy is reliant upon. As critical thinking is what I feel separates the successful from those otherwise not experiencing similar success, I feel critical thinking and success are mutually beneficial and directly correlated. Yet, to ensure the greatest level of critical thinking in those I guide, I return to Quinn’s words regarding being purpose-centered, externally focused, and use these emphases to ensure each learner operates at their highest critical thinking potential.

Sculpting Futures

The workplace, the professions, the leaders and foot soldiers of civic society must all do their part – and that obligation cannot be spurned or postponed or fobbed off on institutions that are incapable of picking up the responsibility (Gardner, 2006). Institutions of higher learning have existed far before any referenced work concerning concepts such as adult learning strategies. Yet, very little separates the adult from the adult learner and again from those instructing such as myself. As that responsibility exists to ensure the sustainable future of our society, I feel taking an analytical approach to learning as with the SKILLS construct, aids in ensuring both that privilege and responsibility are well served. Finally, as a litmus test for whether I have succeeded as a teacher, I look to Wind & Crook’s definition of advancement. Science sometimes advances not through evolutionary progress in a given framework but through sudden leaps to a new model for viewing the world (Wind & Crook, 2005).

– Justin

Conti, G.J. & Fellenz, R.A. (1991). Assessing adult learning strategies. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University.

Gardner, H. (2006). Five minds for the future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Quinn, R.E. (2004). Building the bridge as you walk on it: A guide for leading change. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Wind, Y.J. & Crook, C. (2005). The power of impossible thinking: Transform the business of your life and the life of your business. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.