“What do we need to do to stop the huge number of teachers leaving the profession within the first five years?” was the question one tweet asked last week. A host of replies then ensued, all giving their strong opinion and whose fault it was. Too much interference from government, unrealistic pressures due to Ofsted, constantly changing educational landscape, passion being extinguished by vision for education not matching reality and pupil behaviour in classrooms. All of these hold some validity in the reason for this significant retention issue. But retention of people, has a simpler root. It is something crucial for not just education but for all of us as leaders as we lead our organisations at this time of uncertainty and change.
Seth Godin, in his book ‘Tribes: We need you to lead us’, says leadership is “The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” It is clear and simple, but there is a crucial aspect that sits behind this. The picture, the vision and the purpose needs to be so compelling, so engaging, so intertwined with their purpose that those that follow would go through hell and high water to come with you. This is where the skill of the leader, passionately painting that picture in a way that engages the listener. Creating it in such a way that, like a good Venn diagram, the painter ensures their circle of vision matches the circle of purpose of the follower. The key to retention is engagement in a passionate purpose. The skill of engagement is one of the 4 key skills we need as leaders at this time.
So how do you ensure that those that you lead are engagement. I bow at this point to the mastery of the wonderful Patrick Lencioni. In his book, ‘The truth about employee engagement’, he explains with beautiful simplicity the 3 simple tenets that are needed. He explains that the things that disengage employees are
Anonymity – not being known and understood by their leader
Irrelevance – not knowing the purpose of who they serve and make a difference to
Immeasurement – not knowing when they are successful or making progress
So, the 3 things that we need to engage our team are
Valued – They know that their leaders know and understand them
Relevant – They know who they make a difference to and how they do
Successful – They know what success and progress is
All 3 of these need to be part of a culture that you create as a leader. It starts by modelling it and then mentoring it in others.
Value – get to know your team members. Ask them about their weekend, get to know their family member names, their interests and their passions. It doesn’t take much to chat to them as you enter the building, chat in the coffee queue or in the corridor.
Relevant – Spending time with the team, clarifying the purpose, who is at the core of what you do is important. The danger with this one, is that leaders can think that the briefing at the start or induction meeting is enough. People’s minds are like a bath with a leaking plug. They need the drip, drip, drip of the dripping tap to keep it topped up and keep the water warm. As leaders we need to take the water cooler moments to retell the stories, remind them, thank them. We need to be the CRO – Chief Reminding Officer, seeing our key job as ensuring they can never forget who they make a difference to and how to do it.
Successful - The obvious one here is it is about figures, profit, pass rates, whatever numeric is important to your field. But if it is just about numbers, I think you miss something in your leadership. Chapter 12 in my book, ‘Everyday People, Everyday Leaders’ on the topic of ‘defining success’ talks about this in more detail. People are rarely fully engaged by numbers. They are engaged by story. Story of impact. Let your team know about what success looks like in the eyes of those that you serve, whether that is customers or families in communities depending on your field of leadership. This area is particularly important in the changing landscape of Coronavirus. What success was for your company many have changed. Is it about survive now in order to thrive later? Is it about flexibility? Get clarity as a leader on this first and then make sure that your team knows what it is.
When you have an absence of these things, you will often have signs of disengagement in attendance, engagement in work and in corridor politics. Silos can also create. Patrick Lencioni, talks about that there are no silos in a crisis, for a crisis pulls people together as one accord. The art therefore is to ensure that that ‘one accord’ is there for all, engaging them. Clarity on ‘this is who we serve and how we are successful and make a difference to them’ is a key part of that. At this time of Coronavirus, the most important thing to those that follow us is that they hear our voice. When they hear our voice valuing them and letting us know how we make a difference to others, people will be fully engaged and follow us to the picture of the future that we have painted.
This is the second in the ‘Leading in a new territory series of blogs.
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