Making Change Stick

How to make change initiatives stick

Making Change Stick:

90% of change initiatives fail … because they rely so heavily on one tool, motivation.  According to Patterson and Grenny, successful initiatives include will and skill, not just motivation.  The difference between a problem and an opportunity is the amount of skill available.  No matter how much you convince me that this is a good idea, I am more likely to resist if I lack the skills needed.


Jim Collins (in my recent AASA interview) says stop the flow of new initiatives.  Find something that: a) you do reasonably well (and keep making it better); b) have passion (ownership) for; and c) will impact student learning.


  • The most important thing…is to pick a good answer and then make it a great over time. It is about scaling and replicating and doing better at what works.
  • Chronic inconsistency is oppressive. If people think this isn’t going to last, they don’t get behind the wheel that you’re trying to build.
  • So stop doing a new initiative every three years. Far better to pick something that’s going to work that’s reasonably good, if imperfect, and then really build it over time.
  • Yes, we each have dozens of goals needed to satisfy all of our different constituencies.  Still great leaders find a way to focus on a very few things that matter.  Jim Collins’ notes … if you have more than three priorities … you have none.

How to turn your goals (change initiatives) into reality and success.

First, give it your best shot.

What are the three things that you could do that will have: a) the biggest impact and b) the most support.  Triangulate what you know from research, staff readiness and Hattie’s effect sizes.  Create a briefing paper making the case for each.  Add pros and cons.

Second, engage your leadership team.

Circulate the briefing paper.  Ask them the three questions:  which will have the biggest impact; which do we have the most passion for; and which can we commit to get better at?  And ask them to mark it all up – add, change, ask questions – even reframe the goals.  Tell them you are open to better goals IF they do the research work and write up.  Keep marking up and revising your briefing paper.

Third, engage your staff.

Share your thinking via the revised briefing paper.  You might even share the initial version and the latest to show how you are listening and learning.  Ask for their input and consider final changes to the briefing paper.  Then ask staff which of the three goals they wish to take on: a) this year; b) next year; c) the following year.  Work with your leadership team to make and share the final decision.

Fourth.  Share the Plan.

Now you have focus on ONE primary goal … and TWO secondary goals with a road map for the future.  Staff can see what the focus is for this year … and what is coming.  And they have the assurance that they will have time and support to get there.  See Cascading Goals Wave Chart Below

  1. 100% Goal

    The 100% Goal is something that EVERYONE Commits to. It is something we can do every day, measure, and keep getting better at.  We’re after Collective Efficacy; showing ourselves (competence and confidence) that we CAN do this.  AND it is something that we are putting resources behind to grow skills and abilities.
    Example below:  100% of teachers implement behavior system with posted expectations.  

  2. 50% Goals, and get ready to implement at 100% in the coming year.

    This is something that we can all try on with fidelity … but something we don’t fully know how to do yet. You want 50% (roughly) engaged so you can learn, work out the bugs.  Example below:  PLC structure is in place but we are still learning to use assessments, modify our teaching and learn from colleagues.  

  3. 20% Goal

    This is a stretch goal … something that you are leaning into. You want a small group – your leadership team maybe – to take this on.  You are signaling future direction. Staff can choose to opt in or not, but they know well in advance what is coming.
    Example below:  Your leadership team is learning how to introduce student discourse into their classroom.  They are exploring how well this will work.

Fifth.  Go all in on your 100% Goal.

Use Grenny’s six areas of influence to develop your Lesson Plan for making the 100% goal a reality. Work with your leadership team on: 

  • Purpose:

    State your goal over and over again … like a teacher’s learning target in classroom.  Make it part of your powerful opening at every meeting.  Talk about the WHY.  Tell stories of impact.  This is the “will” part of Grenny.

  • Instruction:

    Think (and listen) carefully – to what staff need to know and be able to do to make this work.  Create a PD plan.  Provide modeling and classroom demonstrations.  [You seldom get past 50% implementation without modeling and demonstrations.]. Visit team meetings; ask what else they need to be successful.  By addressing staff concerns you demonstrate concern and grow confidence as well as competence.  This is the “skill” and ability part of Grenny.

  • Results:

    Create really simple ways to measure and celebrate progress every few weeks.  What exactly do you want to see in your classroom walkthroughs each and every day?  Collins calls this the 20 mile march.  What will we learn to do so well that we can do it every day (as in walking across America at 20 miles per day).  Celebrate often.  This is the bottom row of Grenny – structures, systems, processes that grow daily habits.

Sixth:  Keep cycling back

again and again … to learn, improve and demonstrate commitment.  As Collins says … we want to get really good in a specific area.  We want to learn, along with our staff that we CAN do this … and here is the evidence.  Duckworth, in her book GRIT, says that students who have two years of coaching (sports, language, job, internship) develop life skills that predict their future success better than grades do!  That’s what we are doing, growing our GRIT, our staff’s GRIT, learning that we CAN do this.  We CAN keep learning and keep getting better.  We need to be the change that we expect to see in our students.

Cascading Goals – Three Wave Plan





































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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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