All across our country, school systems are scrambling to re-invent education. Our school, district and state-level leaders are working to ensure that their families and students are safe. School staff is hustling to make sure that their students have their basic needs met, while simultaneously inventing systems for distance learning. Committed school leaders and teachers, as usual, are laser-focused on supporting families and preserving learning. But who is focused on the grown-ups? Who is orienting themselves towards this whole new way of working?
Remote work and distance learning have thrown a huge curveball at the talent/HR world and, besides ensuring safety and learning, arguably the next most important thing for school systems is to figure how to support and manage a remote workforce (particularly one that has happened in person up until now!). Talent leaders and management teams across the education sector are working to figure things out within their organizations in just a matter of days. It’s enough to make your head spin. I don’t know about you but when a crisis like this happens I can sometimes be guilty of putting my head down like a running back and charging through the problems. I did this during 9/11 and during Hurricane Sandy. This time it’s different, the event is not happening in a day, a week, its looks like it will last months. Putting your head down and charging through might work for a while but this needs to be a heads-up and collaborative effort.
I have the great fortune to be the facilitator for a New York City-based Chief Talent Officer cohort called the “CTO Braintrust”. It’s is a small group of six talent heads from various CMO’s in NYC founded two years ago by Hendy Avenue Consulting with the belief that effective leaders need professional communities of trusted colleagues, where they can learn and grow together. The group functions as a collaborative cohort to share best practices and problem-solve on topics like DE&I, compensation, succession planning, leadership development, performance evaluation, and more. Up until a few weeks ago we met about once a month. Our cohort members have valued a space to collaborate with others wrestling with similar challenges and the group has become a tight-knit community and a trusted soundboard.
Since schools across NYC closed, the CTO cohort has relied on each other more than ever. The group has been coming together weekly and emailing almost daily to support each other in solving the myriad challenges that are facing schools and networks right now. We have been tackling all sorts of questions of various shapes and sizes:
- “What are best practices for remote management?”
- “What will we do about annual reviews if schools stay closed? Can we evaluate remote instruction?”
- “How can we support employee well being in the time of a crisis as they attend to the needs of kids and families?”
- “How can we adjust our policies around sick days to give grace to our employees when they or a family member fall ill to the virus?”
- “How do we interview and hire remotely?”
- “How does the closure impact our performance management?”
- “How are we now thinking about our budgets and compensation?”
- “Can you really just cancel spring break?”
There are thousands of other questions that we are tackling and every time it feels like it is just too much to handle, all I do is remind myself that I am going to be able to reach out to this talented and supportive group of people for help. Some folks have been “lifting up” the beauty within this crisis and sharing the strength of the human spirit and I couldn’t think of a better group to highlight than the CTO Braintrust that all at one time is supporting their network of schools, supporting their own friends and families and supporting each other. There really is something about working together to help endure a crisis. Teamwork makes the dream work, but it also helps get us through nightmares.