Tom Wise for Reading, MA School Committee
I am a firm believer in the concept of SMART Goals. I believe in them as I have seen them remove subjectivity from review processes time and time again. Subjectivity is the killer of positive progress and introduces doubt and areas for debate in the review process. A solid review is on that is clear, concise, objective and fact based.
The specific nature coupled with the time limitaction built into SMART goals provides a means of natural prioritization and, when leveraged regularly, has proven to keep individuals that use them out of the proverbial weeds and focused on the task at hand. If a person knows they need to complete a task by a certrain time, or their review suffers, invariably the process leads to a laser focus on what matters most. This is especially important in the annual or yearly goal process. All the goals in that process must be time bound to the annual review cycle to be effective measures used in such a cycle.
Additionally, the attainable and relevant nature of SMART goals means that the person for whom the goal is set is not over burdened and believes the goal is realistic to achieve. This belief is KEY in the process of Goal Setting. If one does not believe they can achieve the goal, they are not likely to try to do so.
As a reviewer, to objectively review one’s progress, it is my belief that measurable goals are critical. If a goal isn’t clearly and easily measured, it needs to be refactored. The goal process should not be subjective - as a goal is either achieved or it is not. Therefore, the measurability of the goal must be clear, concise and agreed upon between the parties involved in the Goal setting and Review processes.
Finally, the annual review process will generally be interim or tactical deliverables along a larger, strategic continuum of strategic goals. Understanding the vision behind the strategic goals will be critical in creating the relevant and specific goals needed for the annual review period. Without that greater context, goals could be taking the parties down a road to nowhere which defeats the purpose and undermines the credibility of the achievement.
By their nature, Strategic Goals are a little bit more vague than Annual Goals. Essentially, they are charting the course or establishing the vision of what the School District wants or hopes to achieve. They, generally, should be more grandiose and focus on setting a high bar for achievement. There is a Biblical verse, Proverbs 29:18 that partially says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
Vision, is generally not something that can easily be achieved. It, by nature, requires one to stretch outside their comfort zone. The role of the Superintendent, should be one of vision in addition to being one of execution. It is critical, therefore, that the School Committee participates in the process of setting and agreeing on a Vision for the Reading Public Schools that is in fact, visionary and not simply operational.
The vision should be broad and wide, but still should provide a SMART element to it. By when should something be done? Specifically, what is that something? How can we measure that it is complete and/or how can we measure that it is progressing the direction we expected or hoped for? Attainability, naturally, should be a bit in question if one is setting large, strategic goals that are stretch goals. However, it should be possible and if the contributors believe it to be impossible, it will not be achieved.
Finally, communication of that vision is critical to all parties involved. The constituency of the Reading Public Schools needs to know what the vision is, why we are trying to achieve, how we will go about achieving it and when will it be done. Ideally, the vision is something other members of the community can participate in as well and contribute to. This communication and participation will bring with it the ever illusive "buy-in" that is necessary to achieve Strategic Goals.
Growth of a reviewed person comes from Objective feedback that can be easily understood, internalized and processed. Subjective feedback is much more difficult to grow from as it is "in the eye of the beholder." Therefore, I am a big believer in providing fact based, objective feedback.
The School Committee currently has a process of conducting the review of the Superintendent starting in May of each calendar year and completing in June, prior to contract and/or salary review. This process is open and includes an initial submission by the Superintendent on his goals and achievements. If we are able to achieve SMART Goals, then this self review is likely to become more objective than it has been in the past. SMART Goals will be Specific enough to avoid "wiggle room" and provide the means by which to explicitly Measure the success or lack of success.
However, it is my hope to bring more real time feedback into the process. I have seen time and time again that feedback given shortly after an event registers more fully with a person than feedback given six months after the event. Simply put, the event is much closer in time and therefore much easier to remember. While a more regular feedback loop is not directly aligned with the Annual process imposed by the State, it doesn't preclude us from also using the official process. Further, in my experience, it makes the Annual Review much easier to prepare and digest for both parties as the topics have already been discussed. As a final point on this idea, it is critical that both parties use the regular feedback as a constructive and not destructive process. The intent, delivery and receipt of the feedback has to be done well by all parties involved.
Therefore, I am looking to bring a slightly different view to this process based on years of managing people, across the scale from high performing to low performing and high potential to low potential. At the end of the process, if all goes well, we end up with a highly performing person with high potential to get even better.