7 Case Studies in Strategy, Culture, Creativity and Data An Online portfolio by tim schwartz

This is a collection of 7 select case studies I developed to highlight relevant work I've done in my current position. The common theme across all of these case studies is strategy. Please note that I created this portfolio specifically for the role at Sparks and Honey.


1. Box: Creating a Culture of Collaboration and Innovation

2. All Hail the Underdog: How a Shift in Marketing Strategy Helped Our School LOVE the Fact that We're Different

3. The Science of Engagement: A/B Testing Blog Post Introductions in Order to Increase Reader Engagement

4. Constructivism Through Deconstructing: Our Journey to Promote Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills Through Access to a Makerspace

5. OneLogin + Whitby School: A Silicon Valley Love Story

6. Reimagining Onboarding and Performance Appraisals: 3 Steps to Accelerate the Organizational Acculturation Process, Create Joy and Fuel Performance

7. Rock Stars Over Robots: Getting The Best Applicants is the First Step to Building the Best Culture

Box: Creating a Culture of Collaboration and Innovation

Lean staffing models are the norm in independent schools because budgets are small. This means that administrators and teachers alike have to learn to do more with less. The pressure is always on for IT Departments to provide more than just support but also solutions that promote productivity. Enter Box. I decided to take a risk and migrate the school's entire file server to Box five years ago knowing it would solve a variety of operational challenges. I had a hunch that it would also provide tremendous value in ways that no one would have imagined at the time and that we wouldn't know for sure until the platform was fully adopted.

I spent the first two years evangelizing the solution in order to maximize value as our staff slowly embraced the platform. Fast forward to today and our success story with Box has even caught the attention of the Box Marketing Team. Whitby has blown through industry benchmarks for usage and adoption of the product.

But this isn't the best part. Through features like file versioning, commenting, assigning tasks, email notifications, asynchronous content creation and browser-based access, Box has facilitated the creation of an organizational culture where collaboration and innovation can flourish. Employee productivity has gone through the roof and the staff's comfort level with having their work be visible early on in the ideation process has created more opportunities for feedback and inspiration - both of which are key to innovation.

After a year of evangelizing the product, my colleague the art teacher made these shirts on her own and played a joke on me getting everyone to wear one.

All Hail the Underdog: How a Shift in Marketing Strategy Helped Our School LOVE the Fact that We're Different

It is tough to be an underdog especially when you know that your product is actually better than the competition. That's our story. We're an underdog in a community oversaturated with private schools that have longer histories, waitlists across grade levels and larger endowments. The benefit of time has served our competitors well. And, to make matters worse, or better, depending on how you see challenges, we don't prescribe to traditional approaches to teaching and learning. We're an International Baccalaureate and Montessori school. The combination of these two curricular frameworks together makes us different and hard for prospective parents to consider our value proposition. It has also made it hard for staff to talk about what makes us great.

Although the school has been growing over time, it just hasn't been happening fast enough to keep pace with an ambitious Head and rising costs. Moreover, the realization that our Marketing efforts could not be quantified meant that we had no way of determining whether expensive ad campaigns were even giving us a return on our investments. We needed a magic bullet.

It came in the form of Inbound Marketing. I attended the Inbound Conference in 2014 and came back fully converted. I worked with our Director of Marketing to prompt the shift in strategy from Outbound to Inbound and together we got buy-in from the Head of School as well as the Board of Trustees.

We journeyed for over a year in recreating the website, rewriting all of the copy, creating a variety of original content offers, creating multiple videos, populating the blog, developing automated email workflows and evangelizing the new approach.

Fast forward to today and just like in the Box Case Study above, we caught the attention of the Marketing team at Hubspot for the outstanding work we've done in the education vertical. This past year the Director of Marketing and myself were both invited to participate in sessions at Inbound 2016.

The switch in strategy from outbound to inbound has resulted in higher traffic to the website and better quality applicants that match our idealized persona. More importantly, one of the best outcomes from this initiative was the fact that all of the staff now have a common language to refer to in communicating the school's many value propositions in large part due to the work I did in creating the Whitby Difference Page.

The Science of Engagement: A/B Testing Blog Post Introductions in Order to Increase Reader Engagement

Among the trends in SEO that were discussed at this year’s Inbound 2016 Conference, there was one in particular that caught our attention. Google’s announcement that they’re weighing “reader engagement” more in search result rankings means that we need to be creating content that does more that just get a reader’s attention, it needs to keep a reader’s attention. With this news in mind, we decided to tap into two sets of data to see if we couldn’t create a blog post that outperformed the others.

The first step was taking a look at the blog post that has performed the best in organic search results to date. We determined that the topic of the post that performs the best was about language learning. Knowing the topic, I was perfectly qualified to create a new blog post on language learning having lived abroad in Japan for 12 years and learning Japanese as an adult. I wrote a post titled 17 Tips to Accelerate the Language Learning Process When Living Abroad. Then, I wrote three different introductory paragraphs for the post.

The A/B testing came in to play when I took the three different introductions and put them into Survey Monkey. I shared them as a survey with 120 staff at the school and asked them to participate in an experiment in reader engagement. I asked them to tell me which introductory paragraph would prompt them to continue reading the rest of the post. I got a 33% response rate and went to press with the paragraph that had the most votes.

This was a great example of three things. The first is how I used data to drive reader engagement. The second is how I modeled for everyone the benefit of using data to make strategic choices. The third thing is I how I involved the staff in a large scale collaborative effort.

Constructivism Through Deconstructing: Our Journey to Promote Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills Through Access to a Makerspace

I recently spearheaded an initiative to build a Makerspace at our school. Although there were other areas we could have funded, we felt that the Makerspace would give us a better return in the long run. The idea of a Makerspace is still very new for most staff, students and parents so I've had to spent a lot of time promoting the value of the space.

The thinking behind the space is that in providing access to equipment, tools and materials that students don't ordinarily have access to, it will prompt curiosity-driven exploration. This in turn creates opportunities to build, tinker and take things apart. These activities when unconstrained promote creativity and help students develop collaboration and problem-solving skills.

We've only had the space open for a month and it is already incredibly popular with our students. One of the things that has surprised me is how much students love to take things apart. We've provided them with a variety of broken objects from door handles, to bookshelves to laptops and they clearly find great joy in taking them apart. As educators, it is exciting for us to see deconstruction play a role in constructivism.

5th grade student learning to solder a circuit.
4th grade student exploring how hydraulics work with syringe, tubing, water and of course, glitter!

OneLogin + Whitby School: A Silicon Valley Love Story

Every System Administrator worth their weight in gold knows that Single Sign-On (SSO) is the holy grail of infrastructure management. If you're an all Apple organization like Whitby School then you know that SSO is very difficult to achieve. This meant that for years, our staff had different passwords for the different solutions that IT put in place. I knew there had to be a better way to work so three years ago I started investigating Identity Management Providers. We researched our options and ended up going with the company OneLogin. Today, our staff use the same password for their laptops that they do for Google Apps, Box, Veracross, Hubspot, OpenDNS, Meraki and JAMF.

That's just part one of this success story though. The second part of this story is about the mutually beneficial partnership I established with OneLogin in an effort to create cross-promotional content that could be leveraged across social media as well as our respective websites to improve search ranking. I agreed to help their Marketing team in three ways on the condition that everything they published was linked back to the Whitby website. First, I participated in a customer spotlight video which you can view here:

Then, I spoke on a customer panel at their NYC user conference this past summer.

Finally, I agreed to beta test a new product they launched called OneLogin Desktop. You can read the quote from me here and see how Whitby is back-linked off of their main website.

Reimagining Onboarding and Performance Appraisals: 3 Steps to Accelerate the Organizational Acculturation Process, Create Joy and Fuel Performance

You get better results faster from new hires the sooner they buy-in to your organizational culture. In an effort to promote quicker buy-in from new hires, I developed a three step program for department heads to manage that could be run in addition to the standard HR orientation. The logic being that managers are positioned well to understand the specific needs of the role so they can develop a meaningful plan of action.

Step 1 - Immersive On-Boarding - This step lays the foundation for a new hire's understanding of the scope of their responsibilities, the scope of the responsibilities of people in other functional areas as well as the thinking behind the organization's mission, vision and strategic plan. It is a three week process designed to provide opportunities on a daily basis to interact with people across the organization in the hope that new hires begin to learn skills and develop key relationships. Day-to-day activities are tracked with the new hire's direct report in a shared document. The document provides suggested areas of focus for each activity and can be categorized into seven areas. Here is an example taken from the IT Department:

Step 2 - Weekly Check-Ins

This part of the process is not unique. Weekly check-ins are becoming more common in many organizations because they provide opportunities for new hires to share their thinking or concerns, confirm their understanding of responsibilities related to their role and prompt reflection and growth.

Step 3 - Professional Growth Process

This is the final step in the process and is done over the course of a year. It is a reimagining of the typical performance appraisal process found in many organizations but with a laser-sharp focus on the kind of growth that leads employees to love their work.

Employees are prompted to identify areas of interest that they'd like to explore more in depth that are related to their role or the organization. Under the guidance of their manager, employees turn their interests into goals. They are told that they should spend a certain percentage of time each week working towards achieving their goals. They're provided a template which prompts them to define the goal, to give background, to explain the benefit to the school, to define an action plan and then to consider what metrics will be used as evidence of success of achievement of the goal. The employee is given 2-3 weeks to complete these prompts and is expected to go through multiple iterations with their manager.

I asked one of my team members for one goal and got three. That's excitement and passion.

This part of the process is key for developing the ideas and, when its done right, holds tremendous potential for professional growth. The final section of the template prompts them to list actions and outcomes. This part of the document is completed over the course of the year as the employee pursues their goals. Managers schedule periodic check-ins on a need basis. The most important part of this step is the learning journey not the outcome. The thinking is that if the outcomes adds value then it is even better for the employee and the organization where applicable.

Rock Stars Over Robots: Getting The Best Applicants is the First Step to Building the Best Culture

First, kudos to the team at S&H who wrote the "Let's Work Together" section on your website. Given that write-up, I know you'll be able to relate to this case study.

In the course of redesigning the school's entire website, we decided to rethink how we appeal to potential employees. We had already gone through the experience of developing "personas" for our prospective parents so it made sense to apply the same logic to prospective "best-fit" employees. We wrote the employment landing page in a way that makes it immediately clear who we are and what we value. We wanted to simultaneously appeal to candidates who share the same values while weeding out those who just aren't a good fit for us.

We came up with two ideas. The first was to add video testimonials from current employees and the second was to develop a quiz in the spirit of the Turing Test.

Go ahead, take the quiz and see if you're a good fit for Whitby.

Bonus Case Study: 31 Strategies That Have Kept us Nimble and Facilitated Rapid Growth

This case study is probably the best example of my affinity for strategic thinking. The story here in short is that I prepared a partial list of all of the strategies I have created and successfully implemented over the last 8 years to provide to a group of visitors from the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS).

The visitors came as the final step in a year long self-study done as part of the re-accreditation process. The self-study covered 14 Standards of which "Infrastructure" was one. The Infrastructure standard required the submission of a Three Year "IT Plan".

In my role overseeing the IT Department, I was challenged by the request because I've never bought in to the idea that "IT Plans" have a place in organizations that value continuous improvement. The fact is that the technology landscape changes too quickly to expect plans written in the past to consistently maintain relevance in the present.

With this in mind, I decided to document the many strategies I developed and share them with the CAIS reaccreditation team in lieu of an IT Plan. The strategies have been employed in achieving specific operational and academic goals that arose from continuous assessment of the school's needs as well as trends in the field of technology and changes in thinking on the role that technology plays in teaching and learning.

Yup, I'm a blue sky thinker.

Ask me about these other case studies when we meet:

Exploring The Innovation Process: A Guided Reading of Collective Genius with Leadership Team

Leveraging Values in Promoting Digital Citizenship

11 Lessons Learned on Our Journey to Disrupt Private School Marketing

From Decommissioning Data Silos to Sys Admin for All: Rethinking Data Access and Empowerment for More Efficient, Productive Organizations

Defining the Role of a Director of Innovation


Created with images by StartupStockPhotos - "startup start-up notebooks" • StartupStockPhotos - "office startup business" • Pexels - "art creative school" • Unsplash - "pattern background patterns tiles" • tookapic - "notepad pencil green" • Pexels - "chairs conference room long table"

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