Key Components of Real Change

Sekolah Menengah Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam

In any complex system change can wreak havoc. When the intended change is perceived as yet another disruptive intervention strategy it runs the risk of failure. One of the key components that seems to determine a successful outcome is systems leaders who move away from a mechanistic approach characterized by rigid command and control and opt to be all in. In other words, a leader who focuses on the people within the organization and showing empathy for where they are at by stepping into the process of change himself. 

Principal Hj Juma’ata Sonadey Hj Mornie has made this paradigm shift. The anticipatory counter measures he took to the resistance to the Literacy and Numeracy Coaching Programme (LNCP) and the introduction of the Teaching for Mastery Framework, started a year before its launch.  The development of a culture of connectedness and networking forged the teaching and non-teaching staff into a family. Regular formal and informal professional development events contributed to open communication and focused on the development of the soft skills of collaboration and transparency. A shift from a hierarchic and vertical management style to a lateral one, gradually influenced trust and openness.  This was further strengthened by an open-door policy whereby he made himself accessible to every staff member, while simultaneously becoming a regular (albeit unexpected) visitor to lessons. Technology became his weapon of instantaneous in-house training as he posted photographs of and commented on good practices observed to encourage the teaching team to learn from each other. The field was prepared for the game to begin.

During the past 18 months he immersed himself in every detail of the change.  He put himself at the cusp of new strategies by engaging in weekly conversations with the two ICs, attending and participating in every modular PD session, and supplementary workshops – always an active member of the team. He made it a priority to study the TPA+ rubric in consultation with the ICs and becoming part of almost every assessment, increasingly confident in applying it to contribute to purposeful feedback to the teachers.  This was continued in impromptu discussions with teachers, inviting sincere perspectives and opinions. When he subsequently created the School Improvement Plan for 2019 with the leadership team, he had formulated a clear vision for the school, not unlike many other principals were doing. So, what makes him any different? A sense of realism characterized the preparatory phase as is evident in his systematic approach to resolving the issues at hand. He was ready for the reaction to the programme that initially ensued because he had already become part of his team – a position that gave him direct access to listen to and hear them. He never denied them the opportunity to freely express their discomfort, dissatisfaction, mistrust and resistance to it, unafraid to manage on the edge of a cliff. 

Realistic expectations lead to wise decisions born of the knowledge that change requires time and patience to bring about greater acceptance until he could announce his plan for embedding the TfM. This hands-on approach convinced him that the framework as a whole would be overwhelming. He has consequently crafted a plan of gradual roll-out coupled with ample time for monitoring growth and embedding. The plan utilizes all ten learning partners in the school to play key supporting roles, inviting their colleagues for learning walks and further support. The TPA+ rubric will also be thoroughly socialized and subsequently used for monitoring and assessment purposes.


Mechanistic Organization Form/Management System

Organic Organization Form/Management System

Appropriate conditions



Distribution of tasks

Specialized differentiation of functional tasks into which the problems and task facing a concern as a whole are broken down

Contributive nature of special knowledge and experience to the common task of the concern

Nature of Individual task

The abstract nature f each individual task, which is pursued with techniques and purposes more or less distinct from those of the concern as a whole: i.e., the functionaries tend to pursue the technical improvements of means, rather than the accomplishment of the ends of the concern

The “realistic” nature of the individual task, which is seen as set by the total situation of the concern

Who (re)defines tasks

The reconciliation, for each level in the hierarchy, of these distinct performances by the immediate superiors, who are also, in turn, responsible for seeing that each is relevant in his own special part of the main task

The adjustment and continual redefinition of individual tasks through interaction with others

Task scope

The precise definition of rights and obligations and technical methods attached to each functional role

The shedding of ‘responsibility” as a limited field of right, obligations and methods (problems may not be posted upwards, downwards or sideways as being someone else’s responsibility)

How is task conformance ensured

The translation of rights and obligations and methods into the responsibilities of a functional position

The spread of commitment to the concern beyond any technical definition

Structure of control, authority and communication

Hierarchic, Contractual

Network, presumed community of interest

Locating of knowledge

Reinforcement of the hierarchic structure by location of knowledge of actualities exclusively at the top of the hierarchy, where instructions and decisions issued by superiors the final reconciliation of distinct tasks and assessment of relevance is made

Omniscience no longer imputed to the head of the concern; knowledge about the technical or commercial nature of the here and now may be located anywhere in the network

Communication between members of concern

Vertical; i.e., between superior and subordinate

Lateral; i.e., between people of different rank, resembling consultation rather than command

Governance for operations and working behavior

Instructions and decisions issued by superiors

Information and advice rather than instructions and decisions

Sustainable change is possible where school leaders are prepared to take similar steps. No two schools are the same, but his example could provide inspiration for others. He is the first to admit that there was no 12-step plan in advance, he did however, firmly believe that change was both necessary and possible. In terms of the organic system change theory, Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker, in their influential 1961 work, The Management of Innovation, summarized the difference between a mechanistic and an organic approach (table attached) which identified the key factors applied to this school leader’s management style. “And the most successful people are those who accept, and adapt to constant change. This adaptability requires a degree of flexibility and humility most people can’t manage.” (Paul Lutus) SMJA is fortunate to have such a visionary leader. SMJA is moving forward. [Retrieved: 26 January 2019].

Article by: Charlene Van Schalkwyk (International Coach) 1

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