Unit 4, Activity 3 | Final Reflections

When I entered into the MALAT program, I hoped that it would help me transition from a career in social services to education. I wanted to become an instructor, so I was happy to get an opportunity to collaborate with other instructors and learn from them. What I learned over the year is that the academic environment and its structure are not the right fit for me. This course and the final project were the last nails in the coffin of my idea to become an instructor. While writing this project plan I kept asking myself why is it such a struggle for me? Sure, English is not my first language, so that is one obvious obstacle, but not the biggest one. Even when I speak Ukrainian I tend to use an informal lexicon and shy away from academic/formal language. When I speak English, the need to use a formal/academic language slows down my brain to an unacceptable degree. I also do not think like instructors do(this has become apparent after doing numerous team assignments and talking to other students in a MALAT discord chat). Some people say that academic writing is just like any skill that you can master over time, but writing assignments like the final one we just did, reminds me of how the formal/academic language is sucking the life out of my soul. It is the reason why I am never happy with the final result. I perceive it as just hideous because there is no life in it. It’s dead but forced to live like Frankenstein.
And yet this realization does not feel like a disaster. I still want to be an educator, but perhaps, my path lies outside of academia or the traditional education system such as school. Someplace that is less structured and less cultured. Somewhere where I can speak simply to people who appreciate simple language and don’t mind me swearing once in a while. I might have to stay in community services because I feel like my flaws are often seen as gifts here.
At the same time, I really appreciate all the concepts I learned in this course and this program. Even though I do not see myself as an active agent of change or a leader, I want to be useful to leaders as an educator or an expert, so learning about different leadership styles and project management was great. I feel like now I can offer a critical eye if I am asked. This course has once again confirmed my suspicions that the quality of anything I produce is directly related to how passionate I am about it. Looks like writing plans, proposal and policies does not consume my soul. There must be another way to support change. And hopefully, there is always a place for a passive supporter of change within an organization.

Unit 3, activity 2

     The Youth Transitioning program is dedicated to helping at-risk youth successfully transition to adulthood. Success is defined as the presence of positive outcomes such as independence, having a social network, life skills and goals, and the absence of negative outcomes such as homelessness, addiction, self-destructive behaviours and criminal activity. These outcomes are tracked through online reporting, which is a part of a database of past and current clients. Before, the daily reporting was not goal-based. It was calendar-based. “On December 14 at 5 pm, I met with J.W. and did this, talked about that”. Every 3 months a paper report of goal progress had to be completed, scanned and uploaded into the system. It was problematic for anyone outside of the program to assess its effectiveness. Imagine having to read hundreds, if not thousands of these individual or quarterly reports in any given year. This issue was supposed to be solved by a modification to the online database which would allow submitting goal-based reports. For example, you could create a goal “Get a driver’s license” or “Graduate from high school” and then either close it once it is completed or mark it as incomplete when the youth turns 19 and leaves the program. You could also generate a report of all complete or incomplete goals for individuals or all youth in the program. Sounds amazing, right? It was announced in advance and it took a while before it was done by a 3rd party software development company. The management clearly communicated the goal to make this change and help everyone adapt to it. I loved it and switched to it immediately following a training session. It was beneficial not just to our management and the government agency overseeing our non-profit company, but also to us, employees because it was a more efficient way to track progress. And yet many of my colleagues who were too used to the old system struggled with this change. More training sessions were offered. The management was patient and supportive. I think the planning and implementation were going well until it came to managing stakeholders. Which dragged on for months until three distinct groups appeared: those who completely switched to the new system, those who continued to use the old system and those who created their own mix of the two. I was just hired to work for another program within the same company, which has a different manager and it was revealed during the interview that they also use the same database, but no one switched to a new system. What were the barriers? I am not familiar with the new program yet, but I agree with Watt that “key stakeholders can make or break the success of a project. Even if all the deliverables are met and the objectives are satisfied, if your key stakeholders aren’t happy, nobody’s happy.” (2014, p. 42). It seems that not enough key stakeholders supported the change and those who supported it, did not push for it hard enough. In the end, it seemed that everyone in the Youth Transitioning program (me included) was happy with the outcome. Is this not a win-win solution? Although, I can imagine that the initiator of this change, someone either higher up or outside of the organization, would not classify it as a success. What would it take for the project to be fully implemented? Perhaps, it required several autocratic leaders (p.114) at various levels. It’s not the leadership style I prefer and I actively avoid working where it is employed, but if the change is required to be adopted and it is arguably a positive change, then perhaps the people within the organization should not be given a choice to ignore it. 

References

Watt, A. (2014). Project managementhttps://opentextbc.ca/projectmanagement/

Managing Change for Learning in Digital Environments

      In March 2020 a Youth Services department, where I worked at the time, switched to working from home. 90% of my job had nothing to do with education, I was a Youth Counsellor. I was also helping run a Life Skills program as a facilitator for a group of teenagers. Its purpose was to educate youth that was struggling with transitioning to adulthood. We were covering a variety of topics, from mental health and job search to budgeting and filing taxes. All of the educational materials existed on paper only. One week we were meeting in person, then the next week we started meeting through Zoom. Nothing else has changed. In June I left the company. Last week, I received a call from my former manager who asked me if I am interested in helping to create an online curriculum for a Life Skills program. She remembered that I was studying instructional design and thought we might be useful to each other. I am not sure what lessons I can take away about introducing rapid change. All I have is questions, such as why now? What, using the term from Lewin’s model of change, led to this unfreeze? Was there a reassessment of “whether the organization has the human, financial, material, and informational resources necessary to implement the change well?”(Weiner, 2009, p. 4) Regardless of which change management method is being used by the leadership, it is clearly on step 1 at the moment. 
As I have never been an agent of change in a digital learning environment, I don’t have my own approach yet. Although while reading about the various model of changes, I noticed that some of them, such as the ERA (evaluation, re-evaluation, and action) method, are customer-oriented and others, such as Lean Thinking, are more organization-oriented. It seems to be an important distinction because in non-profit organizations changes are rarely driven by customers. It might just be my cynical view based on experience but non-profits have no incentive to adapt to customers’ needs when customers don’t pay for services. Changes are usually attached to new funding and either come from newly introduced government policies or from newly written grant proposals that aim to capitalize on a fresh approach to an old problem.
Most change methods seem to require a leadership role to execute them. Since it is unlikely that I will be given any authority, I wonder how useful it is to develop my own approach before I learn about how limited the resources are, what the timeline of this project is, how much influence will I have and so on.
      What role does leadership play in managing change?
While Antwi & Kale suggest that “there are clear limitations to managerial action in making change”(2014, p. 8), they do play a role of a “Change Implementer” as defined by Kanter’s “Big Three” Model of Organizational Change (2003).
Biech (2007) provides a great list of responsibilities for the leader

Develops the vision
Provides input to the business case (probably irrelevant in non-profit )
Establishes a sense of urgency (good for the organization, not always good for the team)
Shows credible and unwavering commitment
Displays endorsement in actions and words
Responds to emerging issues
Directs the change implementation team
Communicates the vision constantly
Supports actions addressing reactions
Approves metrics
Holds others accountable to attain metrics
Delivers implementation plan
Holds others accountable to implement
Supports practices to institutionalize change
Implements rewards and consequences 
(if i assume an unpaid role, what consequences can i suffer?)
Stays the course
Removes barriers in the system (i love this one the most)

References

Antwi, M., & Kale, M. (2014). Change management in healthcare: Literature reviewhttps://smith.queensu.ca/centres/monieson/knowledge_articles/files/Change%20Management%20in%20Healthcare%20-%20Lit%20Review%20-%20AP%20FINAL.pdf

Biech, E. (2007). Thriving through change: A leader’s practical guide to change mastery. American Society for Training and Development. https://royalroads.skillport.com/skillportfe/assetSummaryPage.action?assetid=RW$1544:_ss_book:22651

Kanter, R. M. (2003). Challenge of organizational change: How companies experience it and leaders guide it. Simon & Schuster.

Weiner, B. J. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science4(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-4-67



What are the most important attributes of a leader?

It depends on who is answering. Team activity 2 has shown that every follower has their own perspective and what’s interesting is that the leaders of our hypothetical leader could have a completely opposite perspective. While reading about different leadership styles, I found an article in which Mishra et al. claims that “though micromanagement leadership style is considered as a negative way of handling people and has earned a bad reputation, it can yield better positive outcomes if it is exhibited in a right manner in right time”(2019, p. 2950). Of course, this claim is not that shocking once you consider the title of the article “Micromanagement: An Employers’ Perspective”.
Looking back on my teenage years and most of my 20’s, I have defined a great leader by what they don’t do, rather than what they do. This is likely due to me not having a clearly defined value system yet and working at the bottom of a social hierarchy, where leadership skills are practically non-existent.  If I had to answer this question back then, I would have said my top 3 are:

  • does not yell and swear at me
  • does not micromanage
  • does not threaten to fire me

After I graduated from university and entered the field of social work I noticed that transactional leadership was the norm for most entry-level positions. I was content with “the exchange of rewards contingent on performance”(Khan, 2017, p. 179) because it felt like an upgrade.

In the last 5 years, I had several managers within the same organization, whose style I would describe as a mixture of adaptive and distributed leadership. They were flexible and delegated most of the decision-making, which I loved from day one.  My rankings in activity 2 is a reflection of that experience. Even though I had to compromise somewhat to come to a consensus within our team, our rankings still reflect my experience for the most part. I truly thought it does not get better than that.

Until I read about Value-Based Leadership, which lacks a precise definition but according to O’Toole “a true values-based leader is always to act on the behalf of one’s followers”(2008, p. 7).  Now, this is the approach of a leader I would admire, but how realistic is it? Can leaders like this even exist? The needs of employees rarely align 100% with the needs of an organization, which begs the question – how long will a leader, who always acts on the behalf of followers, last in an organization if he constantly goes against its needs?

References

Khan, N. (2017). Adaptive or transactional leadership in current higher education: A brief comparison. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning18(3). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i3.3294

Mishra, N., Rajkumar, M., & Mishra, R. (2019). Micromanagement: An Employers’ Perspective. International Journal of Scientific & Technology8(10), 2949-2952. http://www.ijstr.org/final-print/oct2019/Micromanagement-An-Employers-Perspective.pdf

O’Toole, J. (2008). Notes Toward a Definition of Values-Based Leadership. The Journal of Value-Based Leadership1(1), 1-10. https://scholar.valpo.edu/jvbl/vol1/iss1/10/