Want to Learn How to Run a Business?
Look at the public school system and do the exact opposite
If you want information on our failing school system in America, I really don’t need to provide it here. The stats are everywhere.
But I’ll give you a reminder, just in case you have been exploring Mars for the last fifteen years or so.
Take research mentioned in Dominic Rushe’s article in The Guardian entitled “The US spends more on education than other countries. Why is it falling behind?” He cites facts from the National Center on Education and the Economy which report that “the average student in Singapore is 3.5 years ahead of her U.S. counterpoint in maths, 1.5 years ahead in reading and 2.5 in science.” He also adds that “children in countries as diverse as Canada, China, Estonia, Germany, Finland, Netherland, New Zealand, and Singapore consistently outrank their U.S. counterparts on the basics of education.”
There are simply too many reasons on which to speculate.
But I can tell you one thing. And I know what I’m talking about. Because I’m a teacher and have been for over twenty years.
Part of it is the way the system treats its workers. Its teachers.
So, if you are starting a new business or wanting to improve the business you currently have, study how the schools treat their teachers and do the exact opposite for your employees.
Let me explain by giving you some simple tips that will astronomically change the productivity and success of your venture.
Pay for Effort
For most of my career, I probably put in over 15 extra unpaid hours a week doing things to ensure the success of my students. I spent hours researching best educational practices, writing valuable feedback to my students on how they could improve their weaknesses in reading and writing, and designing and creating engaging and provocative lesson plans that would encourage my students to think creatively and analytically while at the same time having fun.
I did it out of my own sense of integrity and respect for my job.
But times are tough, and even the most dedicated worker will reach a breaking point if he or she feels his or her work is unnoticed or unrewarded.
For example, teachers are paid by years served. So technically, I am getting paid the same amount working these long hours as another teacher who throws out worksheets [which he will glance at only one more time to scribble a thoughtless 100 or checkmark] and scrolls social media as his kids sit and do the same.
Workers need rewards. Sure, compliments and flattery about their work effort will work in the beginning, but dedication and excellence deserve to be financially rewarded. And if they are not, one of two things will happen. The worker will quit and move to where he is compensated for his excellence, or he will join his lesser motivated workers who do the bare minimum.
You know the phrase. “You get what you pay for.” Well, nowhere is that truer than when you are paying for human beings.
Pay for Ingenuity
There are some teachers who are dedicated and effective because they work hard to carry out their instructional responsibilities, make necessary phone calls and complete required tasks in a timely and proficient manner. These teachers are quite valuable because they give a backbone to the checks and balances of the system. They “grease the wheels” and keep daily systems and procedures running. And they should be paid well for their loyalty and commitment to a job well done.
Then there are those other teachers. I’ll call them “top guns” for their connection to the movie with the same name. They are the “Mavericks” of the educational system. They may not always be timely. They may not be your best “worker bee” in the classroom, but they have the brainpower other teachers don’t. They have the ideas that can turn a functioning and orderly classroom into a class that skyrockets students’ learning and success. They think “outside the box” and have creative and innovative ideas and strategies that can propel learning at the speed of light: new initiatives, new areas of development, new approaches to stale practices. Teachers such as this can not only dramatically improve achievement at the school level but if their ideas are shared, they can propel the whole school community to heights of success never dreamed of.
For example, to increase literacy at my school, I came up with a plan to incorporate reading at the athletic level. Coaches would require athletes to read a motivational book on sports achievement or skill. I would design the curriculum for this initiative, making sure that it created highly thoughtful readers who began to see the use of books to forward their own personal goals in sports. A fabulous idea if I do say so myself, one that if implemented countywide, could propel both scholastic and athletic achievement.
My reward as a teacher if I chose to complete this task? Nada.
So, I dabble with the idea on and off, postponing its development, focusing instead on making money off my creative talents in writing. Most likely, if I am honest, it will never happen.
This is the same tragic situation created when businesses fail to reward their own “Mavericks.”
In business, work ethic deserves to be rewarded, but so does human potential.
Similar to my examples above in the educational system, there are some workers who will benefit your company simply because they are diligent and responsible and seek to carry out their duties to the best of their ability.
Then there are other workers who are not just excellent “doers” but excellent “thinkers” and “strategists.”
Identify them. Then pay them well to share their talents.
Give them a task that they can sink their teeth into. You could ask them to brainstorm solutions for an area of your business that is weak or get them to use their creativity to formulate a plan of attack for important matters such flagging profits, ineffective advertising, or a client’s special needs. Rewarding them for their special abilities ensures that all their great ideas will be pushed to fruition.
But if you do not recognize and monetarily reward their advanced abilities, be sure that they will leave your company for someone who will provide financial incentives or that they will keep their good ideas to themselves.
Who suffers? You. And your business.
Provide the Necessary Resources
Currently, the county budget has not been finalized for my school, so when I asked for an ink cartridge for my printer, there were none available, and none could be ordered until the budget passed. So, here I am, unable to print the daily documents and readings that I need to teach my students.
Oh, sure, I beg nearby teachers to make me a copy or two. I even bought my own printer to school to use, but I’ll be darned if I am going to continue to pay for resources out of my own pocket. My pay is too low to continue such practices.
Teachers such as I often supplement a minimally funded classroom with money from their own pockets, but again, all teachers have a breaking point. If the school will not provide financial support for the items and materials that best increase learning and engagement, then teachers go to “plan B,” which usually involves sacrificing good ideas for mediocre instruction with the supplies that are available to them.
The same with your business. Provide your workers with the materials they need to do their job well. Things such as low-quality internet, insufficient working conditions, and lack of easy accessibility to daily items needed create a waste of time and productivity.
For example, if ten workers have to print to only one copier, think of the time wasted for said worker to get up, walk to the printer in another room, and get his or her copy. More than likely, he or she will also meet other co-workers, also waiting for their copies, and there you have the likelihood of another ten to fifteen minutes wasted in small-talk. Add those minutes up over the course of the week and the damage done to productivity is quite horrifying for any business owner to think about.
Divide and Conquer-Create Experts
Teachers are the ultimate multi-taskers and oftentimes excellence is sacrificed to be able to juggle all the responsibilities that are demanded of us.
There are times when students are working, when I know I need to go around the room and aid, correct, and re-focus students, but instead I remain in my seat, filling out paperwork, discipline sheets, or other medical forms.
If only teachers could focus on the bread and butter of their job — instruction — the results would be so much better for our students.
The same is true with businesses.
Give your workers an area of expertise and allow them to focus solely on that area. This allows them a singular objective and ensures that all their time at the workplace is devoted to honing and improving that particular aspect of the business. The improvements could be amazing and progress achieved at a much faster rate.
For example, you are craving a steak. Which restaurant do you go to? A commercial restaurant that serves a little of everything or a steak-house, whose sole job is to deliver mouth-watering steaks?
Use Time to Your Advantage
Time is truly the most valuable commodity any institution has. School included. Which is why so many teachers are protesting the inordinate amount of testing required for students. As a teacher of a major school accountability course, I have to give two benchmarks a semester. Each benchmark takes about three days for the student to complete. That alone is six days gone. The final exam, twenty percent of the student’s overall grade, requires a review period of at least a week — that is another five days that could be spent learning wasted. Eleven days where new ideas and new insights could be gained. Progress furthered. Skills and information mastered.
The same is true with business. Weed out the unnecessary time drains in your business. Meetings that could be emails, procedures that could be streamlined, and unnecessary paperwork that could be eliminated all add up to increased worker time to do the things that really matter and help your business increase output and financial success.
The Bottom Line
I love my job. And I love my school. But the truth is the truth. And if some of these stated strategies were implemented in the public school system, I believe those ugly statistics listed at the beginning of this article would change.
Running a business is expensive. But the initial investment of putting in money and time to ensure future success will pay off triple-fold in the future. Quality workers, necessary supplies, and strategic planning is not an option, as our school system seems to think, it is a necessity. And business owners would do well to learn from this system’s tragic mistakes.