Permeate and Transcend

Often, when we are deep in the thinking and doing of making change, we focus on embedding the change in a defined area or process, or with a specific group. Usually, the hope* is that it will then percolate into other areas and processes over time. Sometimes though, we aim higher – to have the change move beyond these isolated silos and become the underlying mindset of the whole system.

What if our goal was both?

Supporting a change that will deeply permeate departments, procedures, policies, and roles yet at the same time transcend those silos is difficult but necessary for spread, scale, and sustainability.

Permeate and Transcend

Sustainable change happens at every point of learning – at the student desk, in the staff room, and in the boardroom. In short, everywhere. 

What are the characteristics of a change that allow it to take hold in classrooms while being genuinely valued and supported from the boardroom? – agency, commitment, trust, empowerment, capacity, and others. There are many factors, but I believe one often overlooked factor is shared metrics. Few things are more destructive to sustaining meaningful change and cultivating a culture of innovation than having staff focus on improving one thing while supervisors and the public are measuring another. A key dilemma which exacerbates this factor is the gap between what we say we value and what we actually measure and celebrate. The further you get from the student desk, the easier it is to forget what’s important to kids and parents. Joel Westheimer once said, “Since we can’t measure what we care about, we start caring about what we can measure.” To a large extent, that is still true, and to make matters worse, we get that measure in the form of a number and numbers have their own shortcomings. In the forward to Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-DavidowitzStephen Pinker suggests that we have lots of ways to measure impact and human behaviour but often “we’ve pureed the complex texture of cognition into a single number.”

While history may be full of explorers and innovators who measured one thing for the money and another thing for the truth, having co-created and co-committed metrics is a key driver to support people in moving in the same direction with a common purpose. This co-responsibility also builds trust. It is one thing to publicly encourage exploration and innovation but the first time it doesn’t work out (and sometimes it won’t), staff are not just watching what the risk taker does, but more importantly, what the supervisor does to support them.

Look for opportunities to co-create monitoring strategies and build commitment to, and co-responsibility for the metrics used to measure impact before you ask people to put themselves on the line and step into the unknown.


* hope is not a strategy but we do it anyway.


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