Early Childhood Systems Building Resource Guide

What’s needed to accelerate implementation of your strategic plan, argues John Kotter, a leading expert in this area, is an organizational design that has not one, but two “operating systems.” One system conducts the everyday business of your organization or partnership, while the second system, more like an agile network, sits alongside to focus on the opportunities and demands of the future. Kotter outlines five principles and eight “accelerators” that fuel this new dual system in his book, Accelerate: Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World. The book describes large-scale systems and organizational change. Fifteen years ago, in Leading Change, Kotter offered readers eight steps to create more speed and agility in their processes. Accelerate takes those steps and "turbocharges them.” Under a dual operating system, all processes and activities that involve what an organization or partnership already knows how to do stay on the regular, hierarchical side of the company. High-stakes initiatives that involve change, speed, innovation, or agility go to the new agile network.

The principles of Kotter’s dual operating system are as follows:

  • Be inclusive. Important changes are driven by many people from everywhere in the agency or the larger early childhood system. In a hierarchy—whether an early childhood systems partnership or top management in an agency—there is typically a limited number of people who are trusted, and leadership often returns to them time after time. That system doesn’t work because these trusted people eventually burn out or move on, and the system isn’t inclusive enough.
  • Shift the mindset. Change from a “you have to” to a “you get to” mindset. With this approach, which emphasizes to partners and staff the privilege of working with great people on important work, you don’t have to assign tasks. People who feel privileged to be involved in an effort will volunteer.
  • Don’t forget to engage hearts. Focus on action that is head and heart driven, not just head driven. Most people won’t want to help if you appeal only to logic with numbers and research. You must also appeal to how people will feel about doing important work to make big change for the system or agency.
  • More leadership, less management. For desired results, there needs to be more leadership and less management. To take advantage of unpredictable opportunities that might pass quickly, and to spot and avoid unpredictable threats, leadership is required beyond one leader.
  • Integrate the two operating systems. There needs to be an inseparable partnership between the hierarchy and the network. The two systems work as one constant flow of information and activity. The approach succeeds partly because the people who volunteer for the network are already working on important issues for the field.

[1] Kotter, John P. (2014). Accelerate: Strategic agility for a faster-moving world. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.