During a recent drive through my hometown, I noticed that my junior high school (or middle school in today’s vernacular) had been replaced by an entirely new building. I was rather surprised because the old structure was built like a tank. Curious, I asked some of my local friends why the old school was razed. “We needed an elementary school.” “Asbestos.” “Needed a new roof.” “It was old.” “Was time for a better learning environment.” The last one caught me because I’ve heard that issue in many towns in which I lived.
There seems to be a recurring theme that children will learn better when they’re sitting in a contemporary school with all the modern amenities. I’m sure there is some truth to that, but I decided to reflect upon my own education. What stood out? Not the buildings. What stood out were the great teachers. Though I can still somewhat envision my school buildings, I very clearly hear the voices and lessons of many of my teachers.
When communities raze older schools with the aim of improving education, they’re frequently missing the mark. Of course everyone acts surprised when the subsequent standardized test scores don’t go up. (“But we have such a beautiful new campus.”) Communities and school systems should focus on developing excellent teachers if they want to improve learning. That’s the essence of education.
Those of us in business witness similar effects. We do our own razing, which we call “reorganization.” Too often we reorganize with the hope of bringing about transformations in the business. Like the standardized test scores, the business results are often unchanged. And everyone acts surprised. Organizations should focus on developing excellent leaders if they want to improve performance. That’s the essence of business.
For both business and education, it’s about leadership first, jackhammers second.
Photo Credit: Jef Nickerson