Educators are nice.
We assume the best in others. We believe anyone can succeed. We believe you can do anything you set your mind to.
These things are good. We want people with this mindset working in our schools.
At the same time, we must be honest in our assessment of employees.
Are our employees the best fit for our school? Are our employees performing at high levels? Are our employees best for our kids?
Unfortunately, educators are notorious for allowing poor employees to stick around for too long.
Educators are too nice.
“All of our employees are amazing!”
When discussing employee performance, school leaders often contend that all their employees are outstanding.
A little suspicious, I press a bit harder. “All employees?”
“Yes, all employees,” they say.
"Certainly you must have employees who are receiving extensive coaching or formalized assistance?" I ask.
"Nope. No one. Everyone is doing great!" they assure me.
Ok, so maybe they are just protecting their own. That's fine. But what about my own experiences?
When I arrive at a new building or school district, as some point I will take a peek at the employee evaluations from previous years. I'm often amazed at how many employees - nearly all of them - who are marked as "exceeding expectations" on their yearly evaluations.
This includes staff members who have reputations for being under-performers.
Given these external conversations and personal discoveries, one would imagine if every employee is high-performing then student achievement and other school performance indicators must be shooting through the roof!
A closer look indicates that things may not be as great as leaders suggest. Instead of high marks across the board, student achievement and other metrics show little to no growth. When compared to local and state averages, their numbers are mediocre as best.
How can a school full of rockstars produce below average data?
Something doesn’t add up.
As leaders, we are often asked to make difficult decisions. When it comes to employees, we must decide between: 1) getting rid of well-liked but incapable people to achieve our goals, and 2) keeping the nice but incapable people and not achieving our goals.
Whether we like it or not, these hard decisions are the strongest determinant of our success or failure as organizational leaders.
While this sounds harsh, mean, or unfair, this is the path we chose.
Let me make one thing clear: we need to give employees every opportunity to be successful. In this previous article I discuss the coaching and intervention we provide employees. Assuming school districts have sound hiring practices and a strong support system, very few employees should ever be forced to leave a district.
But in the event it's determined team members are not the right fit - either because they are uncoachable or because their skills will never rise to an acceptable level - the manager must have the courage to dismiss those employees.
Letting the wrong people hang around is unfair to all the right people. Your best employees often find themselves compensating for the wrong people. Strong performers are intrinsically motivated by performance, and when they see their efforts impeded by carrying extra weight, they eventually become frustrated. They may even leave.
Great managers do not sit idly and let a team erode. They establish performance and accountability standards and ensure all team members are held responsible.
In education there is a rule of thumb for determining teacher effectiveness which reads as follows:
“Would you want your kid in their classroom?”
I find it ironic when educational leaders say they would not feel comfortable having their kids in a teacher’s classroom, yet do nothing to address the situation.
All employees need to be given ample opportunity to improve. However, once it is determined someone is no longer a good fit, leaders would be wise to remove the employee from the organization.
Educators must stop being too nice and do what is right for kids.
Looking for a great book discussing the importance of addressing underperforming employees? Consider reading Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker.