Urban Meyer at summit: ‘Empower your people, give them ownership’

The speaker kicking off the final day of the Center for Operational Excellence’s Leading Through Excellence summit needed no introduction.

Just days out from the spring game, Buckeyes Head Football Coach Urban Meyer joined the sold-out crowd of more than 400 attendees at the summit to share his insights on leadership and team-building at Ohio State, his 2012 return he called coming back to “a school I love, a state I love, really a dream.”

Here are highlights of his keynote:

On his mentors, Earle Bruce and Lou Holtz: “I’m humbled to say those two are my mentors, and I would be here today without them. That’s how much I love those guys and appreciate what they taught me.”

On his philosophy of any team, inside or outside sports: “Every group has a breakdown of 10-80-10. That first 10 percent are the elite, the core of any organization. The 80 percent are average, and then you have the bottom 10 percent: the defiant, the disinterested. We want to harness the power of the elite, grow the 80, and eliminate the bottom 10.”

On transforming the average into the elite: “You have to empower your people, give them ownership somehow.”

On motivation: “If your people deep down think you can make them great, you can coach harder and demand more. That person has to believe they can be great and you have to sell that.”

On the importance of alignment: “When you’re dealing with masses of people, you have to be very clear on the purpose of your organization and the alignment has to be very good. You have to make sure your mission statement, alignment and culture are so clear that if people don’t operate in that culture, it’s insubordination. In so many organizations, it’s a gray area.”

On benchmarking: “Always learn. There’s always someone out there doing a great job with something.”

Looking for more on the 2017 summit? Check out a recap of keynote Don Sull and a look back at the entire event in pictures.

‘Power of Habit’ author Duhigg set for 2018 summit keynote

When New York Times investigative reporter Charles Duhigg took the stage at the Center for Operational Excellence’s first-ever Leading Through Excellence summit to share insights from his book The Power of Habit, he probably didn’t realize he was on the cusp of a breakthrough.

A mere three days after his summit keynote, he was part of a team at the Times awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper’s series on Apple’s business practices and the changing global economy. At the same time, The Power of Habit was ramping up for a blockbuster run as a pop-science phenomenon that kept it on the bestseller list for more than a year.

In 2018, Duhigg’s journey brings him back to Ohio State.

Duhigg will serve as the featured keynote at COE’s sixth-annual Leading Through Excellence summit, set for April 10-12 at the Fawcett Center. Opening the second day of the summit on Wednesday, April 11, Duhigg will be presenting insights from Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity, his Power of Habit follow-up.

In Smarter Faster Better, Duhigg explores why some people and companies – from CEOs and four-star generals to FBI agents and Broadway songwriters – get so much done. Duhigg in the book posits that it’s not how the most productive among us act – it’s how they view the world and their choices. In the introduction, he calls Smarter Faster Better “a book about how to recognize the choices that fuel true productivity.”

Duhigg will be one of four featured keynotes at the summit. Additional speakers are set to be announced at COE’s Sept. 15 seminar. Registration for the 2018 summit is scheduled to open Dec. 8.

Click here for a look back at COE summit 2017.

Summit keynote: Simple rules pack surprising punch

It’s a reflex for leaders in many businesses, and it drives Don Sull absolutely crazy. When a complex problem arises, leaders spring for a solution just as maddeningly complex, full of contingencies and if-thens.

The problem, he offered in his keynote at the Center for Operational Excellence’s Leading Through Excellence summit: “Just because a solution is complex does not mean it’s better (than a simple one).”

Sull, a researcher and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World, kicked off the second day of COE’s fifth-annual summit with a crowd of more than 400. Detailing the surprising findings of Simple Rules, he offered a path forward on a critical challenge to business leaders in a wide variety of industries: How can critical processes be structured but still have “breathing room” for creativity and innovation?

The answer, culled from years of research, mostly at tech companies in Silicon Valley, is the concept of “simple rules,” a small, concise and appropriately specific set of guiding principles that can transform a hazy path forward into a sure thing. These rules, Sull said, can be helpful in situations ranging from resource allocation and knowing when to call it quits on a project to turning analysis into action (think Moneyball) and reigning in innovation.

Sull is careful to point out the many processes, by contrast, where less structure and simple rules aren’t the way to go: Surgery, high-volume manufacturing, and airplane-flying, to name just a few.

“There are a ton of processes activities where a high-structure approach is the right thing to do,” he said.

The problem, Sull said, is that so many companies apply the same structure and rigor to processes and decisions that would only benefit from a pivot to simplicity. And it’s up to us as leaders, he said, to make it happen.

“People default to complex solutions for a variety of reasons that I find intriguing and maddening,” Sull said. “As leaders, you have a choice.”

For a full look back at the summit, head to our photo retrospective.

COE Summit 2017: In Pictures

The Center for Operational Excellence launched its first-ever Leading Through Excellence summit in 2013 with a crowd of 200 process excellence leaders – and a vision for bringing together teams from a variety of companies to dive into the latest insights on leadership development and problem solving.

Just this month, COE concluded its fifth-annual summit, smashing records with a sold-out event that brought more than 400 change agents from more than 50 companies to Columbus. Here’s a look back at the event in pictures from photographer Jodi Miller:

Nearly three-dozen breakout sessions, workshops and keynotes take place at the Fawcett Center over Leading Through Excellence‘s three-day span, but hundreds of attendees also head off-site as well. COE member Engineered Profiles, led by President Mike Davis, hosted one of several tours during the summit, offering attendees an inside look at how the manufacturer sustains leader standard work in the plant and office sides of the business.

COE featured a leadership icon in sports – Buckeyes Football Coach Urban Meyer – as one of its keynote speakers. Meyer encouraged the crowd to “empower your people, give them ownership,” outlining how his trademark 10-80-10 philosophy allows him to leverage the talents of his elite players to build excellence throughout the team.

How can the A3 problem-solving structure be leveraged to involve all members of your team and generate discussion? Cal Poly Prof. Eric Olsen took 50 Leading Through Excellence attendees through an interactive workshop exploring lean facilitation methods that can be adopted at any organization.

Keynote speaker Donald Sull, a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, brought key insights from his book Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World. Sull and co-author Kathleen Eisenhardt set out to see how the best companies balance the need for standardization and efficiency with creativity and innovation. Sull offered that “simple solutions aren’t always better than complex ones, but just because it’s complex doesn’t mean it’s better.”

Fisher College of Business students are a vital element of Leading Through Excellence, where they volunteer on tours and introduce speakers and showcase some of their own work. Here, students share takeaways from Six Sigma projects they completed at non-profit and for-profit organizations in the Columbus area.

Dozens of teams from companies across the country – including this group from COE member and summit sponsor Huntington Bank, pictured here with Executive Director Peg Pennington (far left) – use the summit to hit “pause” on their schedules at the office and search for new insights they can use upon their return.

Summit breakout sessions are a mix of insights from Ohio State researchers and presentations from leaders at a wide variety of companies. Here, American Woodmark Corp. CEO Cary Dunston opens up on his journey as a leader and the crucial role of emotional intelligence.

 How can the art of storytelling be used in business to make a case for change? Aditi Patil (pictured, top right image) and Tony West of ThedaCare in their full-day workshop guided attendees on how to blend “hand,” “head” and “heart” to tell impactful stories as leaders.

Fisher Prof. and Associate Dean Elliot Bendoly, one of several faculty researchers featured at the summit, shared results from recent research he’s conducted on how cutting cycle time in different stages of research and development can help – or harm – market performance.

Businesses can’t ignore the digital revolution and have to decide “if you’re going to be the taxi cab or Uber,” keynote and Mindset Digital CEO Debra Jasper says in her presentation. 

Summit closing keynote Chris Yeh, (Buckeye fan and) co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, argued that companies today need to view their employees less as a family and more as a team, empowered to reach outside to their extended networks to help solve tough challenges. “People are your differentiator,” Yeh said.

For a look at all summit photos, head to our Flickr page.

Want to join us in 2018? We’re back April 10-12 with featured keynote and The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg.

Summit Keynote Q&A: Communication in a distracted digital world

Communicating effectively – for a large-scale process improvement initiative, about new standard work, even just scheduling a meeting – is always a challenge, but it’s never been more of one. We’re deluged every day with information from a wide range of sources competing for our attention that can make our lives as leaders harder even as they bring unprecedented ease to our lives as consumers.

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Mindset Digital CEO Debra Jasper is the afternoon summit keynote on Wednesday, April 12.

The Center for Operational Excellence is focusing on this challenge at its upcoming Leading Through Excellence summit by dedicating an entire keynote session to the challenge of communication in today’s fast-paced, distraction-rich world. Taking the stage at 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday, April 12, is Debra Jasper, founder and CEO of Columbus-based Mindset Digital. Jasper is an award-winning investigative journalist who’s now a leading authority in honing how we communicate in a digital world, making the complex simple.

Jasper, who’s focusing her summit keynote on communication essentials inside organizations, spoke to COE about what’s in store at her presentation.

COE: We live in a world of high-volume, high-speed demands on our attention. How has that changed the game for communicating as a business leader?

Debra Jasper: In a world of information overload, we have become a nation of skimmers and scanners. We have 147 emails coming at us each and every day, and that doesn’t count all of the text messages, posts, tweets and invites.  So at Mindset Digital, we teach business leaders how to adopt an “SOS” approach — everything must be short, organized and skimmable.

COE: What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when communicating internally to colleagues?

DJ: So often we’re so busy, we think “I’ll just rush through my emails and get them off my plate.” In reality, we have to write with clarity and impact, or even our own colleagues will tune us out. Ask yourself: Are your emails too confusing, too detailed or just too tough to puzzle through? If your colleagues are taking a long time to get back to you, it may be more on you than on them.

COE: One of your big passions is getting people to change how they communicate via PowerPoint presentation decks. What common misconceptions are out there regarding best practices in this format?

DJ: One big issue with PowerPoint is that it was invented in the ’80s, but many of us are still using it as if it still is the ’80s. Today’s audiences are much more visually sophisticated, which means that to tell a great story today, you must tell a great visual story. I sat next to an executive on a plane the other day, and he had been going to Toastmasters to improve. I told him: “If you want to be a great storyteller, spend more time crafting a great story.”

COE: You’ve written before about “the curse of expertise.” What’s the downside of being extremely knowledgeable in your field? 

DJ: “The curse of expertise” is when you are speaking to impress, rather than inform. Sometimes we think that speaking in our lofty language makes us seem smart and credible. Instead, all of that jargon can simply drive away your audience.

COE: You speak to audiences in a wide variety of industries. What can our group of process excellence-minded “change agents” expect to walk away with when they hear from you at our summit next month?

DJ: In today’s world, it’s easy to get a message out. It’s tough to get a message in. We will show people how to write and present with clarity and impact.

 


 

Leading Through Excellence is sold out but a waitlist is available. For more information on Jasper and other keynotes and speakers, visit our official website.

COE Summit 2017: 10 weeks out, 10 things to know

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In just 10 weeks, 400 process excellence leaders from around the country are gathering at the Fawcett Center in Columbus, Ohio, for the Center for Operational Excellence’s fifth-annual Leading Through Excellence summit, a wide-ranging deep dive into problem-solving and leadership insights featuring two-dozen speakers.

Here are 10 things you should know as the April 11-13 event approaches:

We’re 70% booked. Registrations are coming in at a record pace that could lead to a full sell-out before April 1. If you’re considering returning to the summit or joining us for the first time, now’s your opportunity to guarantee your spot and have the best access to available Tuesday workshops and tours.

Early bird pricing ends Feb. 13. Right now, all member and non-member registrations to the summit are automatically discounted by 5%, while groups of five or more that register trigger an additional 5% discount. On Feb. 14, one of those price breaks will vanish, leaving only the group discount on the table. Gather your team now and sign up before then to ensure the best pricing.

fedex_servicesMost breakout sessions are up for view. Leading Through Excellence offers five breakout session windows across April 12-13, with four options during each session. Of the 20 total options, 15 full abstracts are now posted on our website, with the remaining five set to debut by Friday, Feb. 10. Take a look now at what’s being offered and some of the organizations featured, including Cleveland Clinic, Bose, LeanOhio, IBM, LeanCor and FedEx.

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Debra Jasper

Another keynote will be announced next Friday. Right now, we’re thrilled to feature Mindset Digital CEO and organizational communication expert Debra Jasper and The Alliance co-author Chris Yeh as keynotes for Leading Through Excellence. If you’re joining us for the Feb. 10 seminar via live-streaming or in person, you’ll be the first to hear our latest keynote announcement, which we’ll be posting on our website and via social media later that day.

Workshops and tours are filling up… Even with a record 15 workshop and tour offerings on Tuesday, April 11, some sessions are beginning to fill up. The all-day “Business Storytelling for Leaders” workshop hosted by ThedaCare has reached capacity along with the morning “Aligning Improvement with What’s Important” strategy workshop hosted by lean expert Beau Keyte. In the afternoon, tours to Anheuser-Busch InBev and Fuse by Cardinal Health – 2016 offerings back by popular demand – have booked up, as has a tour of BMW Financial Services.

cleveland clinic logobut many are still available. The upside? Another 10 tour and workshop offerings – including a newly added afternoon session of Keyte’s “Aligning Improvements” session – are still up for grabs. That includes an all-day lean office-focused tour of the Cleveland Clinic’s massive Revenue Cycle Management area, a morning crash course in data analysis, a zombie-themed afternoon Six Sigma workshop, a trip to Honeywell Aerospace, and more.

We’re going digital. Leading Through Excellence is debuting an official app for this year’s summit that includes all information on sessions and keynotes, speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and more. Attendees also will have the opportunity to connect with others via messaging, rate sessions, and submit Q&A electronically. The summit app will roll out a month before the summit, giving you a chance to explore what it  has to offer and make the most of it across the event’s three days.

Hotel deadlines are approaching. Coming in from out of town? Bringing a group? There’s still time to take advantage of specially reserved hotel blocks at two venues near the Fawcett Center: The Hilton Garden Inn and Staybridge Suites OSU. Hilton Garden Inn’s block pricing is available through March 10, while a newly added block at Staybridge must be booked by March 25. Rooms in the summit block have sold out each year in advance of the deadline, so head to our lodging/travel page to make your reservations.

Our summit schedule has changed – for your convenience. To better accommodate travel schedules on the summit’s final day, Thursday, April 13, Leading Through Excellence will kick off at 8 a.m. and conclude with a 12:30 p.m. lunch following closing keynote Chris Yeh.

Thursday’s early start is worth it. A very special guest will take the stage at 8 a.m. on the summit’s final day – and you won’t want to miss it. Intrigued? We’ll be making the announcement in the March summit preview edition of our Current State e-newsletter and on this blog.

Ready to register? Click here or check out event details on our official site.

COE’s Feb. 10 strategic leadership keynote filling up fast

The Center for Operational Excellence’s first event of 2017 is shaping up to be one of its biggest.

trish gorman
Trish Gorman

The Friday, Feb. 10 keynote featuring strategy expert Trish Gorman is nearly 80 percent full with weeks to go. The 1 – 2:30 p.m. session, open to employees of COE member companies and invited guests, is preceded by a noon networking lunch and is followed by a book-signing with Gorman and an optional debrief session.

Gorman’s keynote, “From Strategic Thinking to Strategic Leadership,” explores how strategic thinking is essential to competitive success – but it’s not enough. Strategic leadership, Gorman assets, is needed to energize yourself and others to convert ideas and analysis into coordinated and timely action.  Especially in dynamic, uncertain environments, it’s leadership powered by analysis that ensures firms can respond with agility and resilience to challenges in real time.

Gorman is a renowned speaker and consultant currently working as an innovation expert for the Ohio State Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Fisher College of Business. She is the founder of an online assessment firm, KEASkills, and serves as an advisor and subject matter expert for early stage investors and leaders of growth-focused organizations. Gorman also co-wrote What I Didn’t Learn in Business School: How Strategy Works in the Real World, which she’ll be selling and signing following her talk. Five registrants at the event also will win a copy of the book in a drawing that will take place the day before.

Click here to register for this event, which is expected to reach full capacity by the end of January.

First breakout sessions revealed as summit discount deadline approaches

Planning to attend the Center for Operational Excellence’s Leading Through Excellence summit in April? Less than two weeks remain to get the best available pricing on the three-day event.

summit-banner-resized-smallAny registrations before Jan. 1, 2017, automatically will receive 10% off the total price. Group registrations of five or more receive an additional 5% off, a discount in effect the duration of the summit sign-up period. The automatic early bird discount for individuals and groups of up to four drops to 5% at the beginning of the new year.

Leading Through Excellence, COE’s signature event, will take place April 11-13 and feature a wide variety of workshops, tours, breakout sessions and keynotes designed to help attendees sharpen their problem-solving and leadership skills. This year, we’re taking attendees to the Cleveland Clinic, exploring the power of business storytelling, and hosting sessions from leaders at companies including IBM, Bose, FedEx and more. Keynote speakers include communication expert Debra Jasper, CEO of Columbus-based Mindset Digital, and Chris Yeh, co-author of the bestseller The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

Details on all 20 breakout sessions will be posted by the end of January, but the first several are already up for review. They include:

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C. Dunston

Emotional Intelligence: Becoming a Leader Who Cares, hosted by American Woodmark CEO Cary Dunston. In this session, Dunston will explores why leaders with the best intentions often make choices that limit their ability to be effective. The root cause, he proposes, is a lack of “emotional intelligence,” which can steer leaders to become emboldened by purpose and aligned with their core values.

The Power of Lean Habits, hosted by Eric Olsen, a professor at California Polytechnic State University. Drawing from Charles Duhigg’s bestseller The Power of Habit, Olsen in this session explores how companies can leverage the key components of the habit loop – cue, routine, reward, craving – to identify the lean and non-lean habits at work in their organizations.

Building the Fit Organization, hosted by Dan Markovitz, Shingo Prize-winning author. Markovitz wrote his book of the same name after realizing too many companies in their pursuit of operational excellence were trying to mimic “the Toyota way” without translating the core concepts of lean into a language that resonates with their employees and in their unique corporate culture. This session offers the keys of the Toyota Production System in jargon-free terms.

The clock’s ticking. Read up on other breakout sessions or head to the summit website to explore the rest of the event and register! Fees start at $695 for employees of COE member companies, $975 for non-members.

L Brands CEO Wexner shares leadership lessons from storied career

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Les Wexner’s September keynote attracted a record audience for a COE event.

Even as an icon in leadership circles who’s built a thriving, multibillion-dollar retail business, L Brands Founder, Chairman and CEO Les Wexner stays true to his roots – and is quick to acknowledge them.

“But for The Ohio State University, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college and get the basic education that helped me so significantly in my career,” he said, opening his featured keynote at the Center for Operational Excellence’s September seminar. “Every time I come back on campus, I smile to myself.”

Wexner came back on campus to headline a leadership seminar that attracted nearly 300 attendees, making it the largest in COE’s nearly 25-year history. Here’s a look back at some of his best insights over a wide-ranging discussion that covered his personal philosophy on leadership – what he called “a lifetime executive education program you have to master for yourself” – along with his outlook on the retail business and his verdict on crucial past decisions he’s made:

On the value of leadership education: “I firmly believe leadership is not just an important thing – it’s the most important thing, and it’s undervalued in high schools, colleges and universities. If there’s a single thread of teaching and learning that I try to influence at our university, and influence other educators to think about, it’s the importance of leadership as a subject.”

On what makes a great leader: “Leaders come in all shapes and sizes with virtually every characteristic and kind of personality, but they all have the ability to influence, and influence is the foundation of leadership – whether it’s by pushing from behind, coalescing the middle or being an insurgent, General Patton-type. I always default to the front; I like to churn things up and say, ‘We can take that hill, let’s charge.’”

On the virtue of adaptability: “Leaders that continue to grow are optimistic but they’re professionally curious about society and they think about adapting, trying new things, and understanding things they can’t so they can be continually relevant in their own lives. … In my thinking, the only way to test my adaptability is to do something different. It’s very important mid-career not only to have a good understand of yourself, but to think about how to exercise that curiosity muscle between your ears and be adaptive.”

On why brick-and-mortar retail is here to stay: “We’re pack animals. People like to be with people; that’s part of the human condition. It’s what they buy that changes, and one of the things that’s interesting to us is how the Internet has changed lifestyles, communication, and the consumer. … Still, we find that shopping has to be fun and interesting, and we’ve been experimenting with that for several years.”

les wexnerOn his game-changing decisions to spin off brands such as Abercrombie + Fitch, The Limited and Express: “I believe in life cycles. I look at those cycles and say, ‘OK, when’s the next wave coming, and is that a good or a bad thing for us? Those were very tough decisions I thought over for a long time. I gathered in my own mind the information and had to suck up some courage to do it. It turned out to be the right thing to do and it did take our business to a better place.”

On the inevitable challenge, and opportunity, of risk: “Leaders have to have a pretty good instrument on risk. We remember generals that won wars, not the ones that got killed doing foolish things. There’s that notion of knowing yourself, and leadership is about change, taking people to places that haven’t imagined. That means risk. … Leaders have a vision that’s a little different than the one that’s popular at the moment, and in that you have to assess failure. If I didn’t screw up some things, that means I didn’t push hard enough.”

On why aiming high matters: “I try to encourage our enterprise to really dream. If you don’t have a dream, you can’t have a dream come true. Still, you have to focus on ambition, in part, and separately think about the resources you need, and the risks. … The world’s changing while we’re here and it’s just going to get faster in the future. Are we stimulated by that? I am.”

On how he stays busy – and grounded: “What I worry about is running out of work – it would just be a terminal thing. I like the idea of work, and I have a substantive to-do list that’s more than I can finish. … I made a decision in my early 40s that I could make more money but I couldn’t make more time. Nobody can make more time. If I was effective and efficient, I could do more with the limited time I have.”

On why he enjoys leading: “People ask me when I’m going to retire, and I say, ‘When I’m unhappy.’ I like the people I work with, the challenges, the changes. Leaders have to be happy with themselves. If they’re not, they can’t lead themselves, let alone others.”

On the ultimate test of a leader: “The simplest measure of leadership is this: Did you actually take people to a better place? Are we better off today than we were yesterday, whether that’s in business, family or community? It’s not about how many people followed you blindly. Did you actually improve things in hindsight?”

Employees of COE member companies can revisit Wexner’s full keynote, along with the morning “Authentic Leadership” keynote by Fisher Prof. Tony Rucci, by logging into the members-only area on our website.

(Author’s Note: Quotes have been lightly edited and condensed)

Fisher collaboration brings op-ex tools to realm of education

An unconventional effort to reform Ohio’s K-12 education system is sending a new pack of leaders out with more than an MBA from Fisher College of Business and a certification to serve as a principal.

They can wield some foundational operational excellence tools, as well.

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BRIGHT fellow Shaun Mitchell, right, shares the results of his A3 problem-solving project.

Fisher this summer graduated 30 students as part of the BRIGHT New Leaders for Ohio Schools program after they spent nearly a year working as administrators in high-poverty schools around the state and completed an accelerated MBA program at Fisher. The program, launched in 2015 with $3.5 million in state funding and help from Fisher and the Ohio Business Roundtable, takes business professionals from a variety of backgrounds – largely non-education – and deploys them throughout the state as principals. BRIGHT fellows, as they’re called, must serve as a school administrator for at least three years after graduation.

At a presentation prior to graduation, a number of BRIGHT fellows showed the results of their work tackling the A3 problem-solving methodology, one of a few tools Center for Operational Excellence Executive Director and BRIGHT educator Peg Pennington introduced to the curriculum.

“The BRIGHT program itself is an experiment, so I thought to myself, ‘Why not do an experiment of our own here?’” Pennington said. “These problem-solving skills – A3s, root-cause analysis – are powerful tools anywhere, and I think they can really help cut to the heart of some of issues that plague our education system.”

For the BRIGHT fellows, those issues included lagging math and reading scores, a lack of collaboration between upper- and lower-grade students and educators, truancy, and discipline referrals, among others. Pennington in her classes with the BRIGHT fellows showed how the A3 and root-cause analysis can properly define the problem and, medically speaking, move past managing symptoms to truly treat the underlying ailment.

David Maile, a longtime plant farm owner who transitioned out of the business two years ago, signed onto the BRIGHT program and found himself as an administrator at Highview 6th Grade Center in the Cincinnati suburb of Middletown, where the poverty rate has jumped from 9 percent to nearly 14 percent in about 15 years. Maile leveraged root-cause analysis and A3 problem-solving to improve math scores in the school, where he said much of the challenge was in bringing a level of consistency and precision to data collection.

Other process-improvement projects were of a more qualitative nature. Jeff Greenley, a lawyer by training, worked in the Switzerland of Ohio School District in Appalachian Ohio, the highest-poverty region in the Buckeye State. Greenley’s school housed a wide age range of students that rarely interacted, in large part because they didn’t see the value in it. Greenley did.

After defining the problem via an A3 and enacting countermeasures, Greenley finished the school year with more than four in five upper-grade students helping out and interacting with elementary-age students. The A3 process, he said, was eye-opening.

“There are not a lot of tools at our disposal in education to think about operational problems,” he said. “This is a hammer we can use to hit the nail.”

Regardless of the challenge, the BRIGHT fellows discovered very quickly that data was a crucial asset in their problem-solving journey – even if it wasn’t used as such in their schools. Astrid Arca, an economist for the state of Ohio, served in the same Appalachian school district as Greenley and took on the challenge of improving reading and math schools in a student population with a high percentage on so-called individual education plans. The data needed to cut to the heart of the problem, Arca found, existed – but weren’t being analyzed to inform instructional practices.

“There was almost a fear of the data,” she said, “and most of my job was removing those barriers.”

BRIGHT leaders are hoping that spirit has a transformative effect in the schools where its graduates are heading this fall and beyond, even if the difference in background for many fellows hasn’t gone unnoticed. Deborah Copeland, a BRIGHT principal coach with a nearly 30-year background as an elementary school principal, acknowledged a level of skepticism around “outside” people taking a leadership role in education. Often, she said, it just takes spending time alongside the fellows to see that they have the skills and capability to drive change.

“It’s been a joy watching these fellows coming in with a different perspective, full of hope and promise and not weighted down by the barriers that those of us who’ve been in the trenches often get blinded by,” Copeland said.

The BRIGHT fellows themselves are the source of a telling data point: About 90 percent had K-12 principal or assistant principal jobs locked in at the start of the school year.