Saturday, January 31, 2015

Project GPA and Leadership

During my 30+ years in business I became all-so-familiar with the costs associated with poor customer service. When an employee made poor choices, there were ramifications all across the board, from correcting the wrong to addressing the hurt-feelings with customers, much less regaining the lost trust and confidence. Schools have this same problem as it pertains to daily attendance, delinquencies, behavior problems, poor grades, lack of motivation, and non-conformists. While administrations have consequences in place for their problem kids, the time and resources which are allocated can be a huge cost factor. It robs time and resources which could be spent working with students who see school for what it is....a chance to learn knowledge.

A few weeks ago I awoke at 2 AM with an idea which could very well address all these issues plus change lives in a unique way. As adviser to the Class of 2017 I have the luxury of working with an exceptional group of almost 250 young people. They are close in camaraderie and enjoy having a good time together. They also enjoy a challenge...for which I was about to place one of the biggest opportunities on their plates. In the business world we referred to it the "pursuit of excellence", but from this day forward their class calls it "Project GPA". (note that the letter 'A' is underlined intentionally)

My idea began with identifying their class GPA (grade point average). Since the current semester had not yet ended, I would pull information from the end of their freshmen year. I was not seeking individual information as this was to be a group effort for all 250+ students with no one being singled out for being near the top nor close to the bottom. The school's administrative secretary provided me with the number 2.728 (our starting point). The goal? Raise the accumulative GPA of the Class of 2017. And the objective? The pursuit of individual and group excellence in Academics, Athletics, and the Arts. How to pull all of this together? Thinking along the mindset of "what's in it for me?", I drew from Urban Meyer's coaching technique of communicating the leadership formula of E + R = O and thought about the quality of individuals with whom I was associating myself with. Would they buy into it?

Our school uses Enrichment Periods twice-a-week to provide help time to those needing academic intervention. Other students who maintain their grades use the time to relax playing intramural sports, other leisure activities, or simply use it in quiet study halls. Our Sophomore Enrichment hadn't met in over a month and they enjoy getting together to plan class events and fund raisers. Upon meeting with the four class officers, I explained my idea and asked if they would like me to present it to their group. Without question it was a slam-dunk and I began planning how this might be introduced. I was excited but also guarded in my approach. When I saw the attendance sheet of 27 students who had signed up, I was feeling pumped as I had gotten the right people in the pews.

I started with large numbers on the board:  865,  $243.12,  1247.86,  2.728  and  3 + 2 = 5
When I pointed to the first, I asked if they could identify with that number.  No responses. "There are 865 days until you graduate. That time is going to fly by and before you know it, you'll be out in the real world. Are you going to be ready?"
The next set $243.12..... this is what their class made on their last project in December. It was a promotion with a local business and all students needed to do was recommend people going to their restaurant on a Monday night.
1247.86.....that's how much their class had in the treasury. No other class has ever had that kind of funds sitting in their account as this point in their academic career. This group knows that will ratchet that amount up even higher over the next two years.
2.728....that one got some stares. Since the class officers were aware of my idea, I reminded them not to respond as I wanted the others to think first. "Folks, this is your class GPA as a whole. Are you really satisfied with this? Hold your thinking....."

For the next 15 minutes these students were as attentive and resourceful as I've ever seen them. "Think of the impact this could have on your class, much less your school, if you could get your accumulative GPA to rise over the next 2-1/2 years? The benefits would be huge for the school as well as yourselves. Higher GPA normally associates with few issues with discipline and associated behaviors. Do you think your principal might appreciate that? Could the school realize some savings in money that might equate to a reward for your class which would be worth your time and effort?"

Project GPA was launched, but its ownership doesn't rest in the hands of Mr. D. It belongs to their class and the extent for which they are willing to give in the ways of time and effort. I will stoke their collective fires with suggestions for staying on track, acknowledging that not everyone will buy into the concept. Doubters love to see such ideas fall....but this is one group of students who see the benefit of listening to reason. 

And what does the 3 + 2 = 5  stand for?  That was a special conversation all in itself. The concept belongs to Urban Meyer, coach of national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Our class discussion about leadership took place on the second day of our four day meeting. Check back for another's pretty special!