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Key Questions To Combat the Great Resignation at Your School

A deep understanding of your school’s talent pool is a competitive advantage.

Feb 15, 2022

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

The much-discussed Great Resignation is more than a media moment — its effects are being felt across sectors and undoubtedly in our schools. Following the break-neck pace of change, stress, uncertainty and fear brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, independent school staff and faculty are weary. Add in the already-high burnout rate of the teaching profession, and our work is cut out for us as we approach staffing for the next school year.

That is why a recent Harvard Business Review article, “5 Questions Every Manager Needs to Ask Their Direct Reports,” sparked my interest. In the frenzy to adapt school operations, we may not have attended to performance management as much as we should. These questions from author Susan Peppercorn serve as a strong reminder to pay attention to our direct reports’ professional goals and to foster an authentic connection between employees and the school. The questions may also help us avoid resigning ourselves to an environment of inevitable turnover. They may open constructive dialogue that reengages your team with the reason they first sought employment at your independent school.

  1. How would you like to grow within this organization?

This question is important because it underscores the mutual commitment between your direct report and your school. By asking about future opportunities, you are conveying interest in not just where an employee is today but where they might like to go. This question also provides a roadmap for leadership opportunities and a learning plan to help staff and faculty members achieve their short and long-term professional goals.

Most of us, if not all, are attracted to our work because of the mission of our schools. Sometimes, when we are consumed by the day-to-day, we lose sight of this North Star, but it is what makes our schools special for our faculty and staff. 
  1. Do you feel a sense of purpose in your job?

Most of us, if not all, are attracted to our work because of the mission of our schools. Sometimes, when we are consumed by the day-to-day, we lose sight of this North Star, but it is what makes our schools special for our faculty and staff. Asking a colleague how they connect to the mission of the school, or what is most important regarding the work they do every day, may accomplish two things. First, it may help you develop a deeper understanding of your colleague, and second, it can help them connect with other colleagues who feel similarly.

  1. What do you need from me to do your best work?

This question is one I turn to frequently in my own work. At the end of the day, the job of a supervisor is to help members of the team succeed. Although you may have a perception of what someone may need, it is best to dial direct and find out what they seek from you. This may be your expertise, mentorship, support or simply an attentive listening hear. “How can I help you be successful?” is a question that you can ask not only of those you supervise but also of colleagues in other departments, volunteers on the board of trustees, or even your head of school. I know first-hand that your inquiry will be welcomed.

  1. What are we currently not doing as a school that you feel we should do?

One sign of a genuinely great leader is self-awareness that they do not have all the answers. A conversation about what we could be doing better, or differently, makes it clear that everyone in the school has a valuable perspective and contribution to provide. My advice as you enter this dialogue is to have an open mind, to not be defensive, and to allow these conversations to open new opportunities. You will gain or perhaps share additional context regarding school decision-making, resource allocations and priorities. This is a significant opportunity to advance your school.

In an ideal world, our faculty or staff roles would be built around the specific talent of each employee. While that is unrealistic, it is highly likely that our roles are flexible enough to identify opportunities to tap everyone’s greatest talents to advance our schools.
  1. Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?

And finally, it is so important to know and understand your school’s talent pool. This is not about what someone does today, or the essential responsibilities in their job description. This question will take discussion to a deeper level, where an employee can share what they believe they have to offer, where they feel they stand out and have high competency, and how that can be utilized for the betterment of the school. In an ideal world, our faculty or staff roles would be built around the specific talent of each employee. While that is unrealistic, it is highly likely that our roles are flexible enough to identify opportunities to tap everyone’s greatest talents to advance our schools.

As we enter contract season, it’s important that we shift out of overdrive and take the time to meet our staff where they are and to remember that regardless of our current environment, we continue to be in the ultimate people business. For me, this means we educate and shape young people thanks to the world-class people that comprise the faculty and staff at our schools. And it is to our competitive advantage to truly understand the ambitions, motivations and talents of the people that deliver our school’s mission every day.

Follow  President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.

From Net Assets NOW, January 4, 2022. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

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