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What employee experience can learn from the world of teaching

Employer brands can learn so much from the world of teaching when it comes to employee experience. I was delighted to read this article in the Times Educational Supplement by my good friend Daniel Schindler. Reflecting on 33 years as a teacher, Dan used the words ‘craft, not career.’ That word craft is beautiful. It conjures up both images of something made and something being made: the act and the outcome. The joy is both in the art of doing and the end product.

He and I exchanged a quick WhatsApp after I’d read the article. “You do realise that you’re supporting – albeit with far richer imagery – a principle laid down by another Dan, Daniel Pink,” I asked. Mastery is one of three pillars that Dan Pink espouses as sitting at the heart of any truly engaged employee. Alongside, autonomy and purpose, it unlocks that sense of self-worth and drive that lurks inside us all – too often not seeing the light of day.

Dan (Schindler that is) had seen that. In fact, the work of Pink can be found inside and running through Dan’s book, IN SEARCH: Reimagining What It Means To Be A Teacher. Alongside theories from other practitioners and laced with his own insights, Dan asks a simple yet powerful question, ‘Why Teach?’ I think the same question can asked when thinking of life after education: ‘Why Work’ or ‘Why Lead?’. This book, what it asks and what it explores, could as easily be a manual for leadership at or love of work.

In his book, Dan posits that the deepest, most immersive educational experience is to take a group of students from Year 7 to Year 11 on a journey where they search for and explore who they are. He looks at how the teacher has a role to help them grow in certainty by helping them understand the uncertainties that exist in the world around us. How refreshing such an approach would be for HR functions worldwide.

What if those HR functions were to see their mission as helping employees explore the honest uncertainties that exist in the world around us and to help them truly grow? What if they were less interested in calibrating and scoring; more interested in inspiring and being honest e.g. you need to be planning your next move to a company that is not ours; stay fresh; keep exploring and growing. What if that was the normal employer brand?

In his commentary on the book, educationalist Peter Hyman remarks on how Dan’s view of mastering his craft crosses over between public and private, school and life. It was ever so for many of us, but in a post-COVID world we have an opportunity to recognise that truism. True engagement with a role, with what I do and why I do it, does not start at 9.00am in the morning and finish at 6.00pm in the evening. That is a job. A craft is something one enjoys doing; it is something we live to do. It’s potent and powerful. How employers take the straitjacket of time and remuneration off people is the huge challenge and opportunity.

Today, we have an opportunity to create a way of working that can unleash the potential inside people, but only if we are prepared to imagine and do things differently. I’m not naïve enough to think that there can be a world without some need for structure and order within it. Aircraft need to take off on time; consultants need to plan in surgery; but within those roles creating freedom and space to explore and innovate, and removing the unnecessary structures that hold us in has to be a goal for progressive employers.

Boris would have us all return to normal as fast as possible. That shows a lack of vision and a lack of ambition to seize the opportunity for change that this crisis has afforded us.

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