The word ‘Disruptive’ has come to signify the kind of transformative change that uproots existing norms of competitiveness and forges a path of its own by rewriting the ‘rule book’ while relegating complacent schools to the annals of history. It’s the kind of trailblazing that is majestic in nature and game-changing in practice. However, schools that are built upon such innovations are also highly susceptible to becoming like the ones they replaced, as accelerated growth and unbridled expansion come into focus, especially, after the ‘aura’ of being a ‘start-up school’ disappears. Consequently, it is imperative that the strategic focus of progressive schools is in congruence with the demands of the Digital Age to remain relevant and competitive while maintaining an effective buffer against disruptive influences/competitors.
There are five strategic imperatives for schools to stay relevant and competitive in the Digital Age, i.e., Humanistic, Functional, Architectural, Business and Technology. It is designed in the form of a self-reflection that creates a framework for an honest self-appraisal of a school’s strengths and weaknesses to further strengthen the positive traits and to enable timely corrective/preventive actions for overcoming any shortcomings. Let’s discuss each of the five strategic imperatives with their constituent elements, below:
The Humanistic aspect focuses on all areas pertaining to the management of human talent that creates a win-win situation for both the employee and the employer during the lifecycle of the employment relationship. It calls for cognizance of the fact that educators’ voices are being increasingly muffled under the euphoria induced by the increasing encroachment of seemingly user-friendly technology in the school, especially, AI-enabled, that is serving as a ‘relationship buffer’ for the senior management, enamoured with an obsessive focus on student performance.
Short-sighted schools often implement talent management practices that are designed for ‘risk accommodation’ against ‘talent flight’ instead of ‘risk mitigation’ that caters to ‘talent engagement’. However, gone are the days when newly qualified educators depended upon the paternalistic instincts of their senior management to provide them with a viable career path. The capable educator of today is more informed, incisively skilled, and comes with a baggage of knowledge that enables leveraged negotiating targeted to achieve maximum gains within a mutually agreed frame of reference.
The Functional aspect focuses on all areas pertaining to the effective integration, harmonisation of activities/initiatives, that are manifested through prudent school structuring. It elevates the notion of nimbleness as a core competitive advantage and points to the significance of being able to pivot congruently with respect to the demands of the Digital Age. This is crucial in terms of safeguarding against disruptive forces. However, care has to be taken in terms of not being lured into excessive experimentation associated with ‘fad-surfing’ or becoming highly vulnerable to the pitfalls of accelerated growth and unbridled expansion.
The Architectural aspect focuses on all areas pertaining to designing, implementing, maintaining, improving, and sustaining the physical work environment that is conducive to the health and wellbeing of the school population. Proactively assuring and ensuring such initiatives is a significant part of the overall equation for school success, especially, in terms of managing stress levels, reducing fatigue factors and inculcating measures for a lively and invigorating workplace. Following questions pertaining to school, the design should be considered for gaining a better understanding of relevant strengths and weaknesses: What are you trying to achieve with school design now, that earlier initiatives could not accomplish?
- How is your school meeting the associated challenges?
- How are ‘teacher and student voices’ being incorporated in the respective context?
- Are there any areas where students/parents needs and educators’ desires clash? If so, how have you resolved them?
- What are some of the key direct and indirect metrics that reflect the impact of school design?
- What role do you foresee Artificial Intelligence (AI) playing in the respective context for the future?
- Have you used innovative workplace design as a recruitment tool too? If so, is it attracting the desired talent accordingly?
- How do you intend to inculcate lessons learnt from such experiences in future endeavours?
The aforementioned questions create the ‘thought space’ that can compel progressive leaders to not only focus on the ‘palatable’ prioritised areas, but also, the ‘contentious’ marginalised areas, e.g., overcoming communication/engagement challenges through the astute use of space, elevating productivity levels by effectively catering to ergonomic considerations, boosting diversity and inclusion initiatives through design innovation, excelling in meeting stakeholders’ needs/expectations.
The Business aspect focuses on all areas pertaining to the strategic imperatives and operational elements that work in congruence to robustly maintain a school’s relevance and competitiveness in the Digital Age. It cautions against falling into the abyss of an idealistic vision that projects the ‘mirage’ for embarking upon doomed initiatives by conducting timely and effective due diligence of the school’s capabilities with respect to the ‘mobilizable’ resources, availability of ‘prodigious’ talent, and prevalence of ‘scrumptiously’ favourable factors for business in the foreseeable future.
The two toughest decisions that astute leaders have to make in the Digital Age are:
- Saying ‘No’ in an Era of Prosperity
This pertains to going beyond the allure of short-term gains in favour of progressive measures that secure long-term sustainability
- Saying ‘Yes’ in an Era of Uncertainty
This pertains to taking calculated risks for initiating progressive measures against the conventional wisdom of playing it safe
Therefore, the key question in the respective context becomes ‘Are our strategies aligned with our capabilities to achieve desired results responsibly and sustainably?’
The Technology aspect focuses on all areas pertaining to the incorporation, utilisation, supervision, viability, efficacy, and improvement of technology in enhancing the function of the school. Currently, the preferred approach is to find the means to complement the bulk of the human workforce; however, the future seems to be gravitating towards minimal human presence/interface/interaction as AI-enabled entities achieve primacy in the learning environment.
A common mistake made by schools, in their dash to embrace technological solutions is to equate technology with innovation
However, innovation is a cardinal ‘humanistic’ concept that refers to the astute application of human ingenuity, whereas, technology is a consequential ‘mechanistic’ tool that enables the efficient accomplishment of targeted tasks/assignments/responsibilities. Keeping the ‘human factor’ in prime position while charting the course of a prosperous future in the Digital Age is paramount.
A key aspect of strategic reviews within progressive schools should be to the ascertain whether there is an inherent inclination for the ‘need to change’ or the ‘want to change’ approach to stay relevant in the digital world. The first one reflects a reactive approach and is a clear signal for course correction before being marginalized by more astute competitors. The second one indicates a proactive approach that signifies a hearty embrace of timely innovative practices for assuring a school’s competitive future with a robust ‘going concern’ status. How was your last school review? Are you alarmed, hopeful or confident? Your future awaits…
Murad Salman Mirza is an innovative thinker and an astute practitioner in areas within and associated with the fields of Organizational Development, Talent Management and Business Transformation. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at https://www.linkedin.com/in/muradsalmanmirza/