Last year, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen published the fantastic book Great by Choice, which looked at companies that not only persevered, but actually thrived in eras of uncertainty, chaos, and competition.

There are certainly lots of great lessons in the book (as there always are in a Collins work) but one component Collins and Hansen found among the organizations they studied was the development of what they called a “SMaC” list.  “SMaC” is an acronym that stands for “Specific, Methodical, and Consistent” and its purpose is to help guide decisions back toward a core set of operational principles.

Collins and Hansen go to lengths to explain that a “SMaC” list isn’t a value or mission statement, nor some amorphous set of ideals – rather, its intent is to be very action oriented and to help guide those in an organization to make good decisions … and also to avoid bad ones.

Over the last three months we’ve been heavy into the work of redesigning and refocusing the Iowa Department of Education and I’m so proud of the effort and tremendous progress of my colleagues at the DE.  The ideas that have been driving us come from a variety of sources including Richard Elmore’s Instructional Core, Marc Tucker and McKinsey & Company’s work on international educational benchmarking, McREL’s work on “High Reliability Organizations,” … and of course Great by Choice.

Part of this effort was the development of a “SMaC” list for the DE.  My time at the helm of the DE is coming up on two years very soon.  When I reflect on where we’ve been successful and where things haven’t gone as we’d hoped, I can usually point back to one of these “SMaC” principles and there is a lesson we learned … sometimes the hard way.

Presented below is the “SMaC” list for the Iowa Department of Education.  I share it with you in hopes it may be of some value for similar efforts aimed at improvement within your own organizations.

SMaC Principles for the Iowa Department of Education

The following SMaC principles were designed for the Iowa Department of Education based on our ongoing Open Leadership forums.

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Use state statute as a guidepost.
  3. Be able and willing to follow through or don’t start.
  4. Make small, manageable changes focused on the goal – then multiply with time.
  5. Develop and stick to a do-able project plan.
  6. Anticipate how it will impact the field.
  7. Use an informed team to make tough and complicated decisions.
  8. Always treat people with respect and dignity – whether they deserve it or not.
  9. Attend to proofing, branding, and style.
  10. Think politically – know which coalitions will stand with (and against) you.