If you’ve ever joined us for a workshop, webinar or professional learning session, you will inevitably have heard us share the mantra of “Ready, Fire, Aim”. This is a phrase that we’ve borrowed from the world of business which was popularized by Tom Peters who is a well-known author and consultant whose practise focuses on management, leadership, innovation, marketing, and design. It provides the impetus for engaging in change through a simple cyclical process.
The general idea behind this phrase works on three core principles. First, we “ready” ourselves for the new work or implementation by engaging in reading, research, professional learning or collaborative inquiry. In education, we have a tendency to stay in the “ready” stage for inordinate amounts of time, fueled by fears that we might not do it right or we need to wait for everyone to understand it fully before engaging. For some, this is where we get stalled and sometimes even weighed down by the need to have everyone buy-in. This is why the second step is so important.
We then move to “fire”, based on the learning that we’ve done in the first stage, we just jump in and get started. While this seems haphazard, it is led with intentionality and is a bit more complicated than you would assume. The “fire” stage is set in motion through intentional leadership conversations with staff ensuring that team members understand the importance of getting started and the likelihood that shifts and adjustments will occur. When the specific path and destination are not predetermined, it lays the groundwork for cultivating innovation and creativity. For a leader, this is a delicate balance between focusing on a goal with decisiveness while allowing teams to move forward based on the fluidity of the process.
Heath and Heath (2017) describe this atmosphere as teams engaging in the work without seeing the intended outcome but discover the path through the development of the work. “Tripping over the truth is an insight that packs an emotional wallop. When you have a sudden realization, one that you didn't see coming, and one that you know viscerally is right, you’ve tripped over the truth. It’s a defining moment that in an instant can change the way you see the world” (p. 103). These moments are empowering and bring teams to a new understanding of their collaborative capacity and the inspiration that will lead them beyond their current functioning while impacting the culture of the school to the core.
While engaging in the “firing” stage, it is inevitable that teams will experience implementation dips. An implementation dip is a pause or feeling of stalling during the course of the work that can deter teams from moving ahead. This is often the place in the journey when it becomes more effort to move ahead than turn around and go back to the way that “we’ve always done things”. It is beneficial and perhaps even critical for staff to engage in a conversation regarding the implementation dip as knowing and understanding this principle will often lead to movement forward.
The implementation dip can also be the indication that some tweaks and adjustments are required before moving forward. The feelings of stalling or frustration need to be considered with care and concern as these can be the indication that something needs to change and will typically lead to a crossroads in moving forward. Taking the time to consider the concerns of the team, may lead to new innovations and progress.
The final stage provides the opportunity to “aim” the work of teams to support the activity moving to the next stage of development. Aiming is directly related to the journey throughout the firing stage. While adjustments are made and processes are fine tuned, teams move back to “ready” and the cycle starts again.
As Fullan (2007) reminds us “They do not struggle directly with existing cultures within which new values and practices may be required…restructuring (which can be done by fiat) occurs time and time again, whereas reculturing (how teachers come to question and change their beliefs and habits) is what is needed” (p. 25). Ultimately engaging in long lasting impactful change will influence the foundational culture in a school and this does not happen without intentionality, planning and thoughtful leadership.
Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (fourth edition). New York: Teachers College Press.Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2017). The Power of Moments. New York: Simon and Schuster.