One of the biggest challenges strategy and operations leaders face is balancing short-term execution with long-term strategy. Without taking a step back to understand the impact of a certain objective on the organization, it can be easy to ignore any underlying root issues influencing the initiatives themselves. If things are working today, then that’s how it should be. If they’re not… Well, that is where blame is cast and the lack of focus causes goals to be missed.
And in most cases, it’s not the fault of any individual. Operations leaders, typically rewarded for getting things done, find themselves in response mode, fighting the fires of today. Strategy leaders, often not rewarded for their long-term thinking, have their eyes set downfield and try to ensure that today’s efforts align with tomorrow’s goals.
Related reading: 4 Steps to Build and Roll Out Your Strategic Plan
This is why it is mission-critical for Strategy and Operations Leaders to create an environment that not only empowers employees to thrive day-to-day, but also helps them understand the impact their work has on the long-term strategy. And when the organization's vision is helping K-12 students reach their full potential, it couldn’t ring truer.
Dr. Bill Murphy’s path to becoming COO at Indianapolis Public Schools isn’t one you’d typically see within a public school system. But Bill believes that is what’s made the difference.
On this episode of Aspiring Ops, Bill dives into his leadership style and how he has helped create a culture rarely found within public school systems. Just one year in, Bill’s efforts have allowed individual contributors to thrive in their day-to-day roles while also creating a better learning environment for over 30,000 students in Central Indiana.
When Bill stepped into the COO role at IPS in 2022, he knew that in order for the school system to execute on its Strategic Plan he would first need to earn buy-in from his team. One of the ways he accomplished this was by embracing the Lead Learner role.
“Once I got my team to understand that I am very comfortable being a Lead Learner, and that it did not bother me that I was not an expert or lacked expertise in something… it created a really great opportunity and they get really excited (about teaching Bill things they are experts in).”
By embracing the role of Lead Learner, Bill has broken down the walls of implied hierarchical positions within the school system. He has created trust with his team that has aligned them on their vision and values.
“That alignment,” Bill says, “has created new efficiencies and has made things move faster. Not only are they happier in their roles, but they’re excited about where the organization is going.”
Strategy and Ops Leaders also need to create an environment that allows contributors to thrive. Oftentimes, these leaders are also the ones making the decisions with a “doer” mentality. Bill, however, has a different approach.
“... I will never learn as much about HVAC and plumbing and transportation systems as the current Executive Directors,” Bill says. “But what I can do is create an environment that capitalizes on their genius and allows them the best chance of success in their role, while also understanding the impact of their role on schools, which is unusual for a COO in a school system.”
If a leader is confident in what they know and don’t know - and is humble enough to let the true experts within the organization own and execute, it inherently gives them the authority to control the environment they work within.
Related reading: 3 Ways to Improve Execution of Your Strategic Plan
Bill also tries to find opportunities to give people responsibility over decisions in their environment they may care most about. During a middle school cafeteria remodel, he asked Dina, who runs food services, if she would choose the paint color.
“I don’t need to be choosing the paint colors for every cafeteria. I should trust that Dina can pick the paint color and I should empower her to do so. It’s empowering them to do their role… and these efforts have helped get people bought into the long-term vision of IPS.”
At the end of the day, a vision will remain just that without alignment. Creating an environment and culture that allows each contributor to thrive will create buy-in to the overall vision, remove barriers, and help the organization move faster.
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