An Opportunity to Get More of the Right People on the Bus
“People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” – Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t
With summer in full swing, school leaders are left with the task of hiring people to fill open positions, including paraprofessionals, teachers, and assistant principals. While some may lament this task, leaders should embrace this opportunity (to continue) to build a positive culture. Whatever the job opening, take advantage of the opportunity to hire the right people.
I do a lot of talking with leaders about school culture and its intentional shaping as a necessity in bringing about excellence. When I speak of culture, I inevitably project a slide in my presentation that has three labels: positive, negative, and toxic. Simply asking the participants to consider the adults in the building and apply those labels, all who are present have an immediate reaction; their response is palpable: a laugh, a groan, a sigh. When I speak of culture and the need to “get the right people on the bus,” as Collins says, everyone in the audience understands and wholeheartedly agrees. There isn’t any room on the bus for negative adults who are pessimistic, disparaging, and drain everyone’s energy; nor is there room for toxic adults who are antagonistic, ineffective, and accept mediocrity. We know that having the right people – smart, professional, caring adults with unwavering integrity, a vigorous work ethic, and who embrace change – are exactly what we need in our schools.
So, let’s add the right people:
Step 1: Recruit. Recruitment starts with a well-defined job description that openly and specifically addresses the types of tasks to be performed, includes the minimum job requirements (e.g. education, experience), and requires applicants to submit a résumé and a cover letter that answers a specific question or questions about the job (e.g. Given the job description, what is one area that you find yourself well-qualified and one area you find yourself least-qualified, yet excited to approach?). This is followed by advertising the position; while advertisements on-line and in print media are the norm (Craigslist is the Wikipedia of recruitment; you wouldn’t accept a paper from a student who referenced Wikipedia, so don’t post a position on Craigslist), the best recruits are usually from within the system itself, as well as from comparable institutions (colleges/universities), and through word-of-mouth. When it comes to vetting the résumé and cover letter, remember that you want the right people; the résumé and cover letter must meet or exceed the expectations outlined in the job description.
Step 2: Select. We’re not looking for a warm body here; hold out for greatness! Our students deserve the best, so we will only interview the best. Consider the following two-part selection process.
Part 1. Part 1 involves a 30-minute phone interview, followed by reference checks. Ask no more than five questions, and the following two are must-haves: 1. On a scale of 1-10, how would your 3 most recent employers rate you as an employee and why? 2: When I call those three former employers for their reference, what would they say are your greatest strengths and areas for growth? In some cases, this phone interview is an exercise in wait time. Some candidates fumble when it comes to these two questions, while others shine. Those who shine are authentic: they know who they are and they are usually confident while quite humble. Follow through with references is vital. In addition to checking the candidate’s responses against the former employers’ remarks to questions 1 and 2, the only other question needed is, “If given the opportunity to re-hire this person, would you?”
Part 2. Should a candidate “pass” Part 1, the next step in the selection process is to bring each candidate in for an interview. The 2-hour interview should include an “on the spot” writing assignment, as well as an interview with a panel of stakeholders. For the writing sample, consider a prompt such as, “As the newly hired (BLANK), please write a one-page letter of introduction to the parents of the school community.” While it may seem unfair to throw an unannounced writing assignment at a candidate, the end justifies the means; the best candidates should be able to compose a brief, well-written memo in about 45-minutes. Following the writing assignment, the candidate should interview with a panel (3-5 people) of stakeholders. Each stakeholder should have 2-3 questions that speak to a particular aspect of the position (curriculum, teaching, learning, parent relations, classroom environment, etc.). Note: all questions should be the same to ensure an equitable selection process.
Step 3: Hire. At the end of Step 2, consider asking each member of the panel to independently rank the interviewed candidates. Only the best of the best of these candidates should be considered for the position. Look for consensus among your team’s rankings and then engage the group in a rigorous discussion about the top two candidates. You’ll want to have a top two in order to make an offer to the first and have the second as a back-up in the case that the first turns you down. Note: ensure you follow up with all interviewed candidates; each candidate deserves, at least, a follow up letter in which they are thanked for their efforts, time, and interest in the position.
Congratulations, you have a new hire… now what?
The human resources process doesn’t end with an I-9 and signing a contract, nor does it end with a set of keys and some office supplies. Hiring is only the beginning. Once you have hired the right people, now what? Next steps include on-boarding and the continued intentional cultivation of a positive culture. To be continued…