Succession (Part 3)

Why do 70% of all organizational changes fail?  Some fail due to the implementation strategy, others fail due to employee resistance, and others fail due to the organization itself not needing or ready for the change.  I also think there may be another reason for this high percentage of failure:  leadership succession.

It is my belief, based more on anecdotal evidence rather than actual research, that when there is a  change in leadership the new person will want to make their mark and prove to the organization their value. One way this is accomplished is by `talking trash` about the previous person (In my opinion this is not very effective).  How many times have you heard that the previous coach or teacher did not prepare the students and the current instructor will have to do everything in their power just to get them to the beginning level?  I hear this criticism from grade level to grade level in the elementary and subject specific in the middle / secondary.  In coaching I often hear the team was in such bad shape that it took weeks of teaching (coaching) just the basics to get them to a high level of performance.  Administrators are no different.  I often hear from administrators that the previous person left the school a mess and they were hired to “clean it up”.  This “cleaning” often means that anything the previous person implemented should be thrown out.  In many cases that is what happens whether intended or not.  Out with the old and in with the new.  Could this be why schools are in constant turmoil?

Results from a 2015 survey of international school heads (see link below) finds the average tenure of an international school head to be 3.7 years.  That is not surprising since the initial contract for a school head at an international school is 3 years. Another factor in this turnover with administrators is that international administrators and teachers get into this profession, not only to teach and in my opinion have a career in the most important profession in the world, but to travel and overall do not stay at a school or in one country for long periods of time.

So, what will a head of school need to do to move the school forward?  International boards often change as much as the head of school and usually have different agendas with each change in membership.  One board may think the school has too many teachers while in a year with a couple new members the board may believe the teaching staff needs additional time to plan for instruction.  Below are some examples of how change is made in the business world and the timeline that is followed.

  • 90 Days.When Jeffrey Katzenberg was brought in to turn around Disney’s Animation Studio in the 1980s, he noted, “You’ve got 90 days to change culture before it starts changing you.” While not everything was fixed immediately, the changes implemented in those first months laid the groundwork for the Disney Renaissance of the 90’s.
  • 5 Years.Steve Jobs was reappointed as Apple’s CEO in August 1997, when he quickly cancelled the Newton and announced an Apple-Microsoft deal. The iMac was released in August 1998 and returned the company to profitability for the first time in three years. A second generation of new color models followed in January 1999, and a week after, Apple announced that quarterly earnings had increased 3x over the prior year. That, plus the popularity of the iBook, helped send Apple’s stock price to $99.
  • 2 Years. Domino’s spent two years developing new sandwich products and improving their staple recipes, using consumers and franchisees as test subjects throughout the process. Once they were confident in their new product, they launched the “Pizza Turnaround” campaign, and needed just one quarter to show a 14% increase in sales.
  • 3 Years.In September 2012, Hubert Joly, Best Buy’s current CEO, came to the rescue by creating a framework for managing a successful corporate turnaround. His transformational leadership helped Best Buy return 154% in three years. We explain his rules for leading organizational change in our new post.


In the world of a school change moves much slower.  Often a leader can hear from employees that “we outlasted the last superintendent, we can wait this one out too” when trying to make change.  When I interview for a superintendent position I am usually told by the various committees one of two scenarios.  The first is that the school is going in the right direction and if hired I would need to keep it moving forward or I hear the opposite and how important it will be to change one or more things at the school.  Once hired I usually hear the real story and usually it is a blend of the two scenarios.

For the school employee who has endured Head of School transitions before they also worry about the transition.  They worry that the new person will throw out established processes and procedures for some new way to do their job more “efficiently”.  Some of the current staff will embrace the changes while others will be neutral or worse sabotage the efforts.

All of these scenarios show why being a Head of School can be one of the most difficult jobs to hold.  As always, thanks for reading.


1 Comment

  1. Hello Nomad,
    I enjoyed reading your series of blog posts on change. It can be hard and as a new administrator, I ann learning it can be lonely, like you wrote.
    I look forward to reading more of your thinking. Please keep writing!


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