Alternate approaches to managing a school’s people

When I meet with leaders across various schools and industries, I sometimes find that the language we use to discuss Human Resources (HR) blinds us to what we are actually talking about … people. Your people.

As you launched into the year, did you spend any time considering your HR function from this perspective? Are you aware of the trends and the forecasts for attracting, developing and retaining high calibre staff? Are you ready to face the challenges and opportunities on the horizon?

I’d like to start by pulling back and talking more broadly about an undeniable trend. That trend is the rise and rise of a ‘purpose-led’ approach in the way organisations engage with all stakeholders, both internally and externally. Increasingly, it is being proven that those organisations which adopt a purpose-led approach easily outperform their peers (in any sector) on all measures for their school or business. What is particularly interesting about this new approach is that it aligns with a strong emphasis on ‘people strategy’ and ensuring that people are at the heart of decision-making. With this in mind, I’d like to outline an alternative approach to how you manage your school’s HR … your people.

The education sector typically counts staffing costs as one of the primary contributors to the overall annual budget each and every year. Yes, things like spending on property development and infrastructure often gain the limelight at budget time however, measured over the long-term, the people element of the budget is a primary cost base for any educational institution. It can therefore be surprising to sometimes come across small back office functions titled ‘Human Resources’ or ‘Payroll’ and find that they are powering what is arguably the largest component of any school budget.

I touched on the concept of intangible capital in the Term 2, 2019 edition of SMJ (The game changer: how to fire up your marketing head), but to quickly recap — if harnessed correctly, this is an organisation’s unfair advantage across corporate strategy, brand strategy and people strategy. In the education sector, there is still a huge opportunity for schools to create a sustained advantage over their peer group through a focus on these aspects of intangible capital. Your people strategy and the evolution of how HR is viewed in your school in particular can make a big difference. The HR team can often be sidelined or pigeonholed, as there is a perception they cannot play a strategic role in supporting the teaching leadership team with people related issues. I would beg to differ on this, having seen forward thinking HR professionals make significant differences to school environments across both teaching and non-teaching staff.

While we are still in the early days of the year, every school Head has the opportunity to evaluate where their HR function is sitting on the spectrum that runs from ‘back office support team’ to ‘forward thinking business partner’. A good place to start is often an independent review and objective assessment of your HR team and their interactions across the school. This can frequently lead to simple outcomes that can make a significant difference around how a school manages talent from end to end — attraction, development and retention.

Where there is a forecast pointing to a candidate shortage for both the best teaching and non-teaching talent, that could be the year to consider an alternative approach. Align this with the strategic purpose of your school and you will create a competitive advantage which all stakeholders will see clearly. A first step could be as simple as renaming this critical function as your ‘People and Culture team’ rather than ‘Human Resources’. Want to know more? Feel free to reach out to me.  

Simon Meyer is the CEO of Compono Talent Solutions, uniquely combining a bespoke approach to people strategy with talent optimisation. Simon sits on Advisory Boards for the National Basketball League (NBL), UTS’ Advanced MBA Program, Task and LifeChanger.

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