Don’t get Burnt by the Burning Platform

The ‘burning platform’ is a well-known metaphor for igniting personal or institutional change. It’s based on the idea that change needs a spark – a very big one – to ignite the process. Without a burning platform, the change process flames out.

Burning Ambition

While the burning platform metaphor may provide the initial spark, the problem is that the fear it strikes doesn’t last. As my colleagues Professor Richard Badham and Dr Peter Fuda point out, it’s burning ambition, not the burning platform, that sustains the motivation to change. That’s why in my last blog, I introduced a range of techniques such as Immunity to Change, Forum Theatre and Entertainment Education to spark the personal and institutional motivation to change. These techniques call out the fear factor individuals and institutions experience when confronting change but don’t rely on fear to sustain it.

Road Map for Change

In addition to using these techniques to motivate and sustain change, institutions need a road map for the change journey. To that end, Harvard Professor John Kotter’s 8 step process for leading change model provides a useful framework and methodology to follow. Based on Kotter’s observing countless leaders and their organisations try to transform or executive their strategies, the 8 steps provide a logical process to guide institutions as they transform from industrial age to information age education. The 8 steps are:

Step 1: Create a sense of urgency

Help everyone understand the need to act and change immediately by communicating an aspirational statement that goes beyond the burning platform.

Step 2: Build a guiding coalition

Getting a diverse coalition of people from across the organisation is needed to guide, coordinate and communicate the change journey.

Step 3: Form a strategic vision and initiatives

People need to know why and how the future will be different from the past and how the changes being made link to the vision.

Step 4: Enlist a volunteer army

The more the merrier. Large-scale change occurs when the majority of people are engaged with and want to drive the change quickly too.

Step 5: Enable action by removing barriers

Successful change means systems, processes and hierarchies need to be broken down so that people are free and real impact occurs.

Step 6: Generate short-term wins

Celebrating success early and frequently and communicating this success are critical elements to track progress and energise people to persist.

Step 7: Sustain acceleration

Success sustains success so as the change proceeds and credibility builds, keep pushing the foot down harder on the accelerator.

Step 8: Institute change

We know how hard it is to habituate change so continuing to show and reinforce the benefits of the new world is crucial to sustain the transformation.

Get People Involved

Kotter shows how getting people involved with and helping to drive the change process is crucial to success. During change processes, communicating not just the vision but the quick wins is also critical to sustain energy, particularly through the tough times when the temptation is to retreat to the old habits. Kotter highlights the importance of removing change barriers, an analogous process to Levin’s approach to restrain the forces against the change. Finally, sustaining and institutionalising the change is all about re-freezing the gains made in the journey to fully adopt student centred learning.

Sense of Urgency

At a terrible cost, COVID-19 has provided a “burning platform” and created a sense of urgency for many educational institutions to gather their stakeholders together and make the move to student-centred learning. Let’s help people find the “burning ambition” they need to achieve the change sustainably.

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