A Business Lesson From A First Grade Teacher
My wife Jane is a first grade teacher and she has taught me lessons that have earned her a lot of apples. As a teacher she must earn yearly professional development credits outside of work to maintain her certification. She must have a measureable project that she works on independently and is part of her annual professional assessment.
She must maintain a daily planner that each day states her lesson plans and learning objectives. She is subject to walk-in reviews of her plans, performance assessments, and two formal scheduled assessments each year.
When I talk to business leaders in our industry about this type of employee focus they say that level of discipline would never stand up in our business; people would leave, it would impact their billable hours, and they are already over-booked. In addition, they have to achieve industry and product certifications, which take time and money. Others say we don’t have the people to administer such a robust program. I do not totally agree that we couldn’t apply some of the disciplines of teaching and become more efficient as systems integrators.
Jane asked me what would happen if an engineer, consultant or project manager (even a salesperson) had to show a daily plan with what they planned to achieve each day. I imagined for a minute how many things might be on the plan that employees are doing and not billing for. I imagined having such a plan with a priority next to each task and at the top of the priority for Friday was submitting billable hours and expenses. What if there was a daily plan and the employee was out sick and I could immediately reschedule the work or reassign it in minutes instead of hours? What if I had data that was able to measure the achievement level for the individual or team and make changes to prevent burnout, unbalanced workloads and missed outcomes? All of these scenarios seemed to make a lot of sense to me.
Jane has been teaching for 20 years and she is very passionate about her profession like most of our staff. However, the discipline in her role has no forgiveness for her years of tenure. Her daily preparation and the ongoing assessments are as regular as that of a teacher with five years.
I have noticed that in the business we sometime let the time of service, titles and pay grades reduce the discipline of our focus on growth and adherence to developing new best practices. I think that as leaders our commitment to discipline of thought and action is more important than an individual we lead, based on the masses of people we impact. We need to invest in doing consistent informal and formal assessments of our teams. We need to be open to other leaders’ insight and them helping to keep us honest in our own efforts to grow and be successful in our roles.
My lesson from Jane reiterated for me some back-to-basic principles about managing a workforce and staying true to a consistent level of rigor and discipline. Here are few check boxes for you to consider in your managing of talent, the most valuable resource you have.
- Create a detailed job description with objectives that align with the business.
- Create two success metrics that tie to the role and company goals.
- Create a professional development plan centered on growth of the person.
- Conduct consistent monthly one-on-one sessions between the leader and direct reports.
- Require a brief daily plan to be submitted by employees at the start of each day and have leaders review it.
- Require an employee to participate in a company project outside of their role.
- Promote and encourage volunteerism in your community — it unites people.
- Measure employee loyalty and strive to be a “best places to work” company.
I thought my lesson was done for the night, but my wife had to ask me one more question. What would the experience be like if you were on the “Undercover Boss” TV show and no one knew who you were in your business?
Those great teachers are always pushing us to think in new ways. So what would your answer be? Share it and some of your other ideas for creating a high-performing workforce with me on LinkedIn.