From Communication to Coherence: Leading Change

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From Communication to Coherence: Leading Change

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Title: From Communication to Coherence: Leading Change
Author: Hay, David A.
Citation: Hay, David A. 2017. From Communication to Coherence: Leading Change. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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Abstract: This capstone chronicles the task of internal communication in service of coherence making as part of a comprehensive change underway within the New York City Department of Education. School district leaders everywhere face the difficult task of building and maintaining the focus and energy of their employees in spite of myriad external distractions. Inevitably, change means disrupting the existing status quo, necessitating the need to reach a new state of equilibrium, or coherence. This process is called coherence making. Working in the most complex school system in America, the author examines strategies for coherence making. The author explores ways in which a leader can create opportunities for employees to engage in coherence making.

Charged with advancing the vision summarized by the slogan “Equity and Excellence for All,” the author explores ways in which leaders might engage stakeholders in the sense-making necessary to achieve coherence. Within the framework of the capstone, equity means providing children in every part of the city with uniformly high expectations alongside the unique supports and resources necessary for each child to achieve those expectations. Under this definition, equity is not the same as equality, and access alone is insufficient.

To assist in the process of coherence making, valuable data about how employees perceive the organizational vision and how individual work aligns to the vision was obtained by conducting a series of employee town halls, targeted messaging, and additional engagement opportunities. The tactics employed during the project put into practice communications strategies aimed at connecting employees to the vision at the emotional as well as the intellectual level.

The author outlines several leadership challenges and lessons learned. Leadership lessons include (1) building trust by becoming known, (2) viewing leadership as reciprocal, rather than transactional, (3) creating opportunities for stakeholders to create coherence, (4) investing in additional leaders, (5) dedicating time to leadership priorities, (6) tailoring messages to the local context, (7) developing champions for the work, (8) making strategic planning part of the work, (9) normalizing incoherence as a natural part of the change process, and (10) engaging people in cooperative problem solving, rather than solution execution.
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