Intentional Cultures for Student AND Employee Engagement

by Richard Sinclair


Serious school accountability in NC is almost twenty years old? Has employee engagement, so tied to student engagement and performance overall, increased significantly as a result of these almost 20 years? Are we going the right direction? Are you?


How engaged are you and your team/department/school(s)? Student engagement, as we know well in education, is highly linked to performance. Google recently started sponsoring employee engagement work in schools based on a proven model well known to ambitious organizations outside of schools. The model is based at the core in the common understanding that Leaders drive Values… drive Behaviors… drive Culture… drive Performance. Results.


Google is well known as one the highest performing organizations in the world. They are also the most enviable organization to work for in the country, and it is very challenging to gain employment with them. Employee engagement is their bottom line and they aim to be the best at it. You have to be the right fit from the start! Zappos, a similar minded organization, pays new employees (who managed to make it through their selection gauntlet) $2000 to leave within the first 90 days, if it turned out not to be a good fit. In these ambitious organizations people are at the center. The values and behaviors of a new hire have to be a fit beyond the expected competencies or the organization is at risk of underperforming or worse, declining. Alternatively, the world-wide rate (Gallup) for almost 3 million employees surveyed is 30% engaged, which is the same rate for US teachers. Google, while still relatively young, dominates employee engagement. Employee engagement also doesn’t mean satisfaction or happiness. It refers to “the level of emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”


A 30% engagement rate in a grade, department, or a school means 70% of the group are disengaged, including actively looking for another job.


One highly respected leader in the field of performance management often hears from organizational leaders struggling with performance problems that do not believe it is related to culture (values/behaviors). In their minds, culture is simply not a factor in performance, so they ignore it. “So how’s that working for you?” she’ll ask. Once she has them consider their latest results from employee satisfaction surveys, customer feedback, turnover, discipline, and financial (enrollment) results, they often reconsider their answer. “Not very well,” it turns out. Our values and behaviors are actively attracting families or driving them away. The best people are either knocking down our door or running for the exit. Our employees are either innovative and productive or just getting through the day.


The challenge for those of us who deeply care about our work and our grade/department and/or school’s performance is to assess our current values and behaviors. What results are we getting and why, considering our values and behaviors. It is hard to move unless we know where we currently stand.


Serious accountability in NC schools is almost twenty years old, and it is not going away. Low achievement and high employee turn-over rates are also not going away, unless WE as shared leaders in our schools make sure that employee engagement is as important as student engagement. Not to mention the importance of customer satisfaction in this increasing age of choice. Below are the questions from the Gallup 12 Employee Engagement Survey. They are worth a look, if not an extended reflection, and later, hopefully, a shared conversation on the path to becoming a highly engaged leader/teacher, team/department, and/or school. Imagine too if we changed the questions slightly, to fit a student. The student and employee engagement surveys could make for complementary data points, instead of relatively sacrificing or ignoring the latter. Highly engaged organizations outscore their competitors from 47-202%.


Leaders drive Values… drive Behaviors… drive Culture… drives Performance.


Rich is a five time Principal/Director (K-12; 2 charters), turn-around specialist, and is personally endorsed by former Secretary of Education finalist Sen. Michael Bennet and Founder of Jet Blue, Built on ValuesTM, and PeopleInk, Ann Rhoades. For more information on the “core strategy” referenced above or to inquire regarding available services, email Rich at Local charter school organizational development consultant and turn-around specialist.


The following twelve questions allow us to gain a pulse of employee engagement. Also, we may use the results of our surveys to develop better strategies related to recruitment, retention, and development. The twelve questions are:


1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?

5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission/purpose of my school make me feel my job is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?


An “active engagement” score has been consistently tied to superior performance – 30% of employees nationwide, including teachers. Organizations with engaged employees outperform others by 47% to 202%. (Watson-Wyatt Research)]


*How likely is it that you would recommend this school to a friend or colleague?


Unlikely 0-10 LIKELY