Get Stuff Done

GSD wheel from Radical Candor by Kim Scott

In all my leadership roles, I have had to lead some sort of change. Whether it is improving the results of a department, changing the culture within a school, or implementing a new school improvement process, I have always leaned heavily on a process to “Get Stuff Done” (GSD).

I first came across Radical Candor in 2017 and realised that it put into words many of my thoughts about leading a team to deliver results. Drive Results Collaboratively is my favourite chapter within the book, and I believe it has many implications for leaders of teams.

Reflecting on a decade of being in leadership roles, the GSD wheel has played its part in many of the initiatives I have either lead or been part of. At its core, the process, and the steps within each part, seem like a checklist. The truth is far from this; it should be treated as guidance, a discussion of what it means to lead effective teams and how to ensure that focus is maintained to deliver results.

We’ve all been in meetings where a problem is raised, and team members are offering solutions. Where the teams I have worked in have been most effective, they listened to each other, allowing everyone to have a voice. Early in my senior leadership career I was often confused about why more senior staff I worked with would throw forward an obviously wrong, controversial opinion; my gut reaction was it was a way to put their voice into the room and get a reaction out of individuals (which I now realise is a very cynical point of view!). I quickly learnt that by offering a potentially controversial opinions, all leaders could listen to the room to gauge the mood in terms of opposing thoughts.

I have found the idea of clarifying very useful when line managing other leaders. By having input into their ideas, I gain a better understanding of them. Over the years I have also developed ways, including using examples and nonexamples, of improving the clarity of the ideas I have.

Debates over solutions are often seen as awkward; what I have learnt here is that if the aim of the debate is clear, and the time for debate and decision making are separated, the process become a lot more productive. A head I have worked with often took up the position of a “dissenter” in a debate; while initially I thought he was being difficult on purpose, I soon realised he was testing the strength and resolve of the solution, to ensure the correct path forward had been selected.

When I was NQT (all those years ago!), across the school we were designing new schemes of work. I had suggested the science schemes of work built in more opportunities for formative assessment to take place in a variety of ways.  I remember talking to my head of department about it, who said he would take it forward to a middle leaders meeting. The next day, the head of history met me outside my lab and discussed the fine details of how these formative assessment tasks could be included in many more subjects. Going into this level of fine details would only aid her decision-making process.

One of the biggest tasks I have had to complete in my leadership career was convincing stakeholders to adopt a unified approach to reporting. As part of this process I had to persuade them why the new system I was suggesting was better than the one that was already in place. What I didn’t realise I was doing while I was selling this idea, was putting myself in the shoes of the stakeholder to show how I understood their thoughts and feelings, and explained step by step why I had decided on the direction of travel.

Whenever I implement a new initiative at a school, I always try and do a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like). Part of the reason for this is for me to better understand the process and ensure I get to highlight all the issues that teams my have when completing it. This also makes sure I lead with the mantra “don’t give others tasks that you wouldn’t give yourself”. Early in my senior leadership career, when implementing ideas, if I spotted that the idea wasn’t fully solving the problem, or the problem had changed, I was reluctant to change the direction of a project. As I have become more experienced, I have realised that all this did was waste the time of my team!

All of the above, and more, is discussed in Radical Candor by Kim Scott, a read I recommend.

One of my favourite chapters, Drive Results Collaboratively is summarised in the table below.

ListenEveryone is heard and gets to contribute; “Give the quiet ones a voice”.

Create a culture where everyone listens to each other. Stop the meeting and go round the table if needed.

Quiet listening (allowing long silences to give people room to talk) can be beneficial as people tell you what they really think rather than awaiting confirmation from a reaction. However, this can lead to people trying to guess what you think and therefore waste time.

Loud listening (saying things to get a reaction out of people) is a quick way of finding opposing points of view or flaws in reasoning. This only works where a culture of challenge is embedded.

Find the way that feels the most natural to you.
ClarifyBe clear in your own mind. Don’t squash other people ideas, help them, and yourself clarify them by offering suggestions and edits. This should make the idea really clear to yourself.

Be clear to others. Make ideas easier for others to comprehend by listening to others and understanding them.
DebateBe clear about the purpose of debate, and provide a positive space for it to occur.

The rock tumbler. Turn on the process of debate and keep it going for as long as it needs to go on for. When a team debates, ideas and people come out more “beautiful”.

Focus conversations on ideas not egos; avoid conversations revolving around “my idea vs your idea” by encouraging the team to focus on facts.

The goal is to get to the best answer as a team.

Obligation to dissent. If everyone around the table agrees, this is a red flag. To test the robustness of an idea, someone needs to be the dissenting voice.

Pause the debate for emotion if people become frustrated or exhaustion if they become tired.

Define end points by separating debate meetings and decision meetings.

Decide at the right time, do not just grab for a decision because the debate is becoming painful.
DecideDo not always be the decider as the boss, instead create a clear decision-making process that empowers the people within the team with the most facts to make most decisions.

Get facts not recommendations by avoiding asking questions such as “what do you think we should do?”, instead asking what we know about situations.

Go spelunking to the source of crucial facts, examining the fine details, rather than having information filtered through a hierarchy.
PersuadeFocus on the listeners, connecting with their emotions and thoughts in order to earn their trust.

Be credible by focusing on your expertise and past accomplishments.  Show humility and focus on invoking the “we”.

Demonstrate logic by showing how you got to the point that you are at now.
ExecuteDon’t waste your teams’ time by having them complete unnecessary tasks; do this by clearing the decks for them.

Keep the “dirt under your fingernails” to ensure to stay close enough to your team to help them work through the obstacles they approach while also continuing to clarify their thinking.

Block time to execute plans, not just collaborate on tasks.
LearnIf the facts change, and you change your mind, clearly communicate how you have got to where you are and call out the change in direction explicitly.

Burnout can be prevented by building in time to do thing that keep you centred e.g. build in thinking time into your day.

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