Our Sometimes Forgotten Hiring Advantage

In a hot labor market, independent schools’ mission offers a distinct advantage over non-educational employers.

Nov 21, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

As those of us in independent school administration continue to wrestle with recruiting and retaining quality faculty and staff, I’ve often reflected on a unique asset held by all NBOA member schools. It is not found on our financial spreadsheets or the paystubs that result from them. That asset is our educational missions. 

Throughout my tenure at NBOA, I have observed that a school’s mission is one of the primary factors that motivates chief financial officers, human resource professionals, accounting staff and others to work at their schools, in many cases, for the remainder of their careers. Business, finance and operational expertise is valuable to all types of organizations, so why do staff choose to share these talents with our PK-12 independent schools? My hunch: Our schools’ educational missions set us apart from other employers. At the same time, a school’s mission is so much a facet of its collective DNA that school leaders may miss the opportunity to spotlight this differentiator while recruiting potential faculty and staff. As one of our schools’ most compelling factors, it is worthy of engagement in the current market’s war for talent.

A recent Harvard Business Review article, “Narrow the Gap Between Company and Employee Purpose” by Isaac H. Smith and Maryam Kouchaki, suggests how we might maximize this advantage. When our schools’ missions align with our employees’ individual purpose, it creates a synergy that enhances their job performance and likelihood to stay because they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. That’s how I feel as NBOA president and CEO, and I wish the same for every individual on the NBOA staff. I imagine that you likely feel the same about your school’s mission, and in turn, want that same connection for your staff.

So, how do we leverage our school’s educational mission and help ensure that it is at the core of the work our current and future staff perform every day throughout the school year? The article provides several simple steps to consider, which I have framed in the context of NBOA’s work environment.

Facilitate “Purpose Discovery”

As someone who has worked at educational associations for much of my career, I’ve often asked potential candidates at all levels: “What, if anything, excites you or motivates you about working in education?” Our work is different from that of many other types of associations, and it is important to communicate that from the start. A substantive response helps differentiate among equally qualified candidates.

Promote “Purpose Sharing”

Sharing what motivates us at work enhances collaboration and helps staff gravitate toward mutually satisfying goals. At NBOA, staff members have a shared commitment not only to advancing the association’s mission but also to quality and member service, which binds us together. This commonality feeds a staff culture that values this purpose, and additionally, sends a signal to new staff members that committing to member service will help ensure their success. I think it’s why the average tenure on NBOA staff is seven years, highly unusual in the current environment.

Encourage “Purpose Integration”

Tailoring roles that align individual and company aims — or what I would call aligning “talent to task” — is critical. I’m reminded of the CliftonStrengths Online Talent Assessment by Gallup, which we have used with the NBOA Leadership Academy over the last few years. The assessment helps identify one’s natural talents, and when you align these talents to organizational goals, employee satisfaction and goal achievement quickly follow. In contrast, trying to fix the perceived deficiencies that you may observe in someone will likely lead to frustration for both the employee and supervisor, and diminished goal achievement.

Implement “Purpose Reminders”

While attempting to overcome various challenges or solve a problem with my staff colleagues, I often find myself saying aloud, “Remember, we are an educational association,” as a verbal reminder to me and everyone about the level of work we are committed to producing. It’s my shorthand that NBOA’s work should reflect the noble educational missions our schools.

In sum, “By personalizing purpose, business can boost productivity and job satisfaction, benefiting both the company and its employees.” I agree with these words from the authors and believe our schools can follow a similar approach.

As we look forward to Thanksgiving, I for one continue to be grateful to work for a mission-driven association that represents mission-driven educational institutions. I sincerely hope having that sense of purpose is what motivates you to do the exemplary job that you do day in and day out and that you are grateful for it as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

Jeff Shields signature

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO



Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO


Washington, DC

Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the NBOA since March 2010. NBOA is the premier national association serving the needs of business officers and business operations staff at independent schools. Shields, an active member of the American Society of Association Executives, has been recognized as an ASAE Fellow (FASAE) and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) professional designation. His current board service includes serving as a director for AMHIC, a healthcare consortium for educational associations in Washington, DC, as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association. Previous board service includes serving as a director for the American Society of Association Executives, as a director for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and as a trustee for Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Shields holds a BA from Shippensburg University and an MA from The Ohio State University.

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