The Elusive Discipline of Talent
"Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools." (Jim Collins, Good to Great) And the primary reason good schools remain the norm is a lack of understanding of and commitment to the Discipline of Talent.
The core value proposition of a school is the Living Curriculum, and nearly all school problems are ultimately people problems. Recruiting and retaining talented educators is an area of leadership where innovation matters far less than process and discipline.
Schools leaders are first and foremost responsible for recruiting talented educators, creating an environment for them to maximize their talents and skills, and providing the resources for them to deliver on the mission and the promised curricular experience for families.
This commitment starts at the top...
... with resolute devotion from the top leadership.
... as the top goal in the strategic plan.
... as a top priority in the allocation of time and budget.
Consistently recruiting excellent candidates doesn't happen by accident--it requires significant effort to develop the processes and systems, refine the value proposition, elevate the culture, and sustain the compelling narrative. (Re-)Hiring the wrong people is the most effective way to undermine the mission and culture of the school.
That's why talent recruitment is the most important part of the job for any school administrator and it's a daily duty. They are the chief recruiting officers and wisely develop and master the habits and activities required to build a remarkable team of talented educators. Recruiting must move from an annual exercise to an everyday commitment where they are always looking for and building their list of qualified people.
Job postings are a very effective way to receive a flood of resumes, but that's just more work with less return-on-investment. Better methods are available to attract qualified candidates, so let's look at a few.
Some schools utilize recruiters, but it's hard to find recruiters who really understand and get your mission and culture. Carefully selecting and closely collaborating with a recruiter is crucial to success, but it's unwise to totally outsource the most important part of your growth plan.
The number one method to recruit people is to actively ask for referrals from your personal and professional networks. This approach is more time consuming, but it is the single most effective way to find the best candidates.
By constantly asking others to introduce talented educators they know, you can build a list and create a continuum of engagement with those people. Using this approach, when a job becomes open, you already have a database of qualified educators with whom you have established a relationship.
Repeatable, Reliable Process
Standardizing the hiring process helps ensure equity, minimizes the risk of legal issues, and supports continuous improvement in the Discipline of Talent. Try to use the same process for all candidates regardless of who they are or existing knowledge. It's easy to run into trouble when different processes are used for different people.
Team building is all about relationships, but it also takes practice using repeatable activities. That allows measurable results that can be improved.
Personnel decisions are the most important made by education leaders, so they should be made with all due respect and principle. A disciplined approach helps avoid impulsive decisions that too often result in compromise.
Defining and authentically implementing behavioral core values is perhaps that most impactful way to elevate recruiting and talent strategy. Unfortunately, too many schools have well-intentioned values statements with little corresponding professional development and accountability. This creates a cynical and dysfunctional culture that undermines leadership credibility.
Properly defined and implemented Core Values are part of the initial journey to excellence, clarifying the school's identity and creating a language for behavioral expectations and feedback at all levels in the organization. Developing Core Values is an important exercise, but enforcement takes resolute courage because it's hard to change attitudes.
We have guided hundreds of schools through the journey of defining their Core Values Rubric, and then supported them with coaching to reinforce the desire culture. The testimonies of these administrators has consistently demonstrated that working through the challenges is absolutely worth it.
When properly implemented, such values make people uncomfortable because they define specific limits on what is acceptable and what is not. Is it okay for a school employee to be moody and unprofessional? Will isolated, inflexible attitudes be tolerated and ignored? Moving to this level of leadership requires constant awareness and feedback, but it's a proven way to more effectively love and lead educators.
If you’re not willing to accept the difficulty and obligation that authentically implemented values incur, please skip this step in the Discipline of Talent.
But if you have the fortitude to persevere, school culture can become a strategic and sustainable advantage for organic school growth.
Education leaders have no shortage of responsibilities to keep them busy, but nothing contributes to the mission and growth of the school more than recruiting, renewing, and retaining the right people. Ultimately, success depends on the quality and qualities of the educators the building, and no Strategic Plan will overcome dereliction of this duty.