Parents the length and breadth of England took their children out of school recently in protest about the tests required of 6 and 7 year olds. It’s been argued that those tests are unnecessarily complex and advanced in comparison to previous years and it’s also been argued that they were introduced hastily and clumsily. All this has served to undermine their value and credibility.
We’re not arguing for against the tests here because there are equally valid points on both sides. But one thing is true: by the time we get to adulthood, we are being tested all the time both formally at work through appraisals and selection processes, and informally, in our social lives, on-line presence, fitness classes and more.
Our point in raising this issue is that we think this debate should focus as much on the way that children are tested as much as on the testing per se. There are lots of examples of schools running tests for children that are stress free and that bring out the best in their students. In these schools, tests are the norm, they’re simply seen as a regular part of school life. There’s no stress around them, children are confident and happy to demonstrate what they know and to take part. They are also told, as appropriate, that tests like SATS are a reflection of the teachers’ and school’s performance rather than a judgement on the children themselves. This is an early and useful lesson on showing where accountability in a social system lies.
And so it is in business too. If any organisation or community asks for evaluation or opinions on how things are going a part of everyday activity, it helps to reinforce that everyone has their part in making things run well – leaders, managers and individual contributors alike.
In business, the way that questions are asked also matters hugely. There’s a science to the way that individual questions or groups of questions are framed, and we’ve talked about that elsewhere[see our thought piece called ‘The Hawthorne Effect’]. In a similar way to positioning SATS tests with children, a business needs to be intentional about how it positions a change questionnaire with its people. Leaders need to be clear about how they expect people to engage in dialogue to make change better and easier. Just as children need to hear that SATS tests are a reflection on the head teacher and the school; employees need to understand that leaders are accountable through questionnaires too.
Building testing or evaluation or feedback into the fabric of the way we do things around here using just-in-time and user friendly questionnaires help bridge the gap between people. It keeps dialogue about what’s going well and not going well current and dynamic, and it helps leaders and the business as a whole continually correct its course in small bite-sized steps rather than huge big jumps. We argue for the continuous exchange of views and opinions between all parts of the business to help build the collective responsibility for change – and success.
4 May 2016