By Deana Paradis, Louisville Collegiate School
Independent schools’ hiring policies generally stipulate that search committees consider a pool of both internal and external candidates. “Internal recruitment efforts to find candidates should occur concurrently with external efforts,” advised Linda Johnson in “The NAIS Independent School Guide to Hiring,” which explains schools should post positions internally as well as externally. This is good policy, but successful hiring begins prior to posting a position. Proactive administrative leaders continually prepare for future change, part of which is prioritizing the development and advancement of internal talent.
Succession planning is often the focus of discussion surrounding the head of school position, and for good reason. Data show that internal hires for headships are typically more successful. “Over a 10-year period, 35% of CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) member schools that recruited and hired externally did not offer those heads a second contract,” said Doug Lyons, who was CAIS executive director at the time of the 2017 study cited in an Independent School magazine article. “During the same decade, all 18 of its schools that hired internal candidates signed those heads on for another term,” he explained.
Advantages of implementing an effective succession plan and hiring internally include the new leader’s institutional knowledge and institutional continuity, shorter onboarding time, awareness of the work environment, lower search cost, and increased employee engagement, according to a 2015 article in the Society for Human Resources Management’s HR Magazine. Faculty and staff who have held various roles within a school and worked in multiple departments foster a deeper understanding of the institution and may be more committed to its success and to a longer-term career with the institution.
Independent schools should consider succession planning and internal promotion opportunities for a range of leadership positions, including the business officer, and develop clear policies and communication to ensure a transparent process. Oftentimes, school communities will lose a high performing employee due to a perceived lack of future advancement opportunities or a failure on the school’s part to invest clearly in professional development.
How might a school provide more opportunity at their current school?
Schools must remain forward thinking and prepare for both planned and unplanned leadership changes. Both when a position opening is foreseen and when it is not, internal candidates should be consistently and intentionally engaged in the process.
Opportunities for promotion and succession planning are inherently more prevalent in large organizations due to the number of positions available for advancement, and perhaps also organizational culture. Recognizing this, independent schools would do well to support the development and career path of talented faculty and staff. For example, the career goal of a less experienced, high performing faculty member may be to become a division head. This may mean changing schools at some point. The school is more likely to retain this faculty member for a longer period of his or her career trajectory if it provides meaningful coaching, mentoring and succession planning. Listening, having open and honest conversations, and actively coaching faculty and staff can help leadership assess which employees may benefit from more opportunities and build a leadership pipeline .
Devoting time and resources to formal succession planning also provides school leaders the opportunity to develop more impactful and intentional diversity, equity and inclusion strategies in retention and hiring of faculty and staff. For independent school educators of color, “the second most-cited reason for departure was a lack of professional advancement or growth opportunities,” according to research presented in the winter 2021 issue of Independent Magazine. “Formalized succession planning and sponsorship programs, too, can help increase the presence of underrepresented leaders,” stated McKinsey & Company in a 2020 report, “Understanding Organizational Barriers to a More Inclusive Workplace.” An inclusive workplace is one in which we demonstrate every employee is valued, through active discussion and listening. Purposefully conducted succession planning can be a powerful strategy for signaling that a school values its employees and seeks to cultivate an inclusive environment.
A school’s culture may affect how internal candidates view career mobility and professional development within the organization. An internal promotion or appointment may present a challenge to the school’s culture, when a formal search is not held or when one employee is selected over another for promotion. The head of school and other administrative leaders should manage the process with sensitivity and clear communication, and ensure the organization’s employment handbook includes language that supports a faculty or staff appointment. It is important to consult the school’s legal counsel for advice pertaining to employment law, including state specific considerations.
Effective succession planning involves the head of school and other members of the leadership team coming together to identify potential talent, assess learning needs and career goals, determine qualifications and areas for professional development. This work, undertaken deliberately and intentionally, underpins a school’s succession plan and retention efforts. Internal professional development may involve mentoring, goal setting, and expanding roles and responsibilities to increase capabilities and skills. Candidates can also gain formal training educational opportunities outside the school, and civic and community leadership involvement can help develop necessary skills. Succession plans should be dynamic and evaluated frequently. While a school’s board of trustees is not involved in hiring decisions outside of the head of school role, the head should inform trustees of plans involving leadership positions as appropriate.
A succession planning, mentorship-based approach to the development and retention of our schools’ talented faculty and staff should be thoughtfully considered by school leadership. If we want to demonstrate a commitment to our future leaders, clear communication, meaningful action and purposeful listening are vital components that can positively impact an independent school community.
Strategies: Training Ground
Mission & Motivation: A Foundation of Trust
Leads on the Business Leader: The School CFO Search
A Visible Difference: Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Faculty and Staff
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