October 2016 | 

Change Leadership that Works: Success in New Zealand

Change Leadership that Works: Success in New Zealand

Just before she left New Zealand to attend Wharton’s Leading Organizational Change program, Lynda Pura-Watson’s role in her country’s Education Review Office (ERO) was expanded. The deputy chief review officer was tasked with leading a newly formed Waikato region, located in one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country. “I am leading a new national initiative that focuses our evaluations on equity and excellence,” she says. “I’m working in a new region with a new staff moving in a new direction. We have to increase our own capability to shape expectations and create a culture that supports our national drive for excellence in our schools.” In other words, she is leading fundamental changes for both the ERO and the region’s schools.

Pura-Watson is focused on achieving the desired outcome, where ERO’s evaluation insights provide a catalyst for change, so that every child achieves success as a lifelong learner. She says that during Leading Organizational Change she could already find applicability between the classroom sessions and her new role. “I was better able to understand the change process, and see many possible pathways to getting our team where we needed to go.”

Once back at work, though, it was clear that the new direction required a new way of thinking, planning, and operating. It was important to acknowledge the expertise of the existing group of regional leaders and seek out other people, who would be keen to share their skills and knowledge. She tapped the expertise of Greg Shea, who teaches in the Wharton program, presenting the idea of expanding the group of three into a “leadership forum” that would include a diverse set of members. “I asked the original group to identify people who could help us achieve our goals. They came up with five, representing various ages, gender, and races. Our new diverse group of eight met over two days, initially. We looked at ERO’s strategic direction, the education strategy, policy human resources, and professional development and began to brainstorm what the desired states would look like.”

Once they identified what they needed to do, the next step involved drawing on the new group’s circles of influence. “This was also something I learned at Wharton. Everyone has the capability to take on part of the project, but they also have ‘reach.’ I pushed them out of their comfort zones to move our initiative into their own circles where natural influence occurs. When they went back to their areas and connected with people who were not originally on board for changes — that is when we started to move forward.”

Pura-Watson says she also learned the importance of clear messaging. “This was a strong focus in the program. At any point when we came up with a goal, I insisted that we define it and create a message around it. We all had to be clear about not only what we want people to do but also how we deliver that message.”

While their initiatives are still a work-in-progress, Pura-Watson is confident that her team’s goals will be reached. "Since I’ve been back I have been applying what I learned, building a culture, creating change, bringing a team together, and ensuring good communication. It is working.”

She says she will be “forever grateful” for her experience at Wharton. “For a moment in time I had to stop and pay attention to the things that matter and that are most likely to make the most difference. I was able to create a pathway, to focus the collective and change the way we think and perform. I didn’t think when I took on this role six months ago that I could be where I am today.”