Communicate Early and Often: One simple (and often overlooked) strategy for retaining your high-performers

It’s the holiday season! In a few short weeks many of you will head out on vacation and reconvene in the new year with renewed spirit. Before you go, take care that you have completed the most important task: tell your high performers you want them to stay.

In our experience working with leaders across the country, we know that retaining high performing staff is the most important and most rewarding goal to get right. Indeed, this is top of mind for many of our partners who are looking for new and innovative strategies to retain their staff amidst an increasingly competitive talent environment. And, while we love innovation, we know that so many organizations miss the easy stuff: telling high performers early and often that you want them to stay. Like any relationship, communication is key. 

So why do this before you leave for break? 

Well, because waiting until end-of-year evaluations is simply too late. High performing organizations are recruiting teachers for the next school year in January and February — some are doing so now. By April or May, there is a likely chance that your high performing teacher will have a job offer or two. 

I tell my high performers they’re doing a great job. Isn’t that enough?

If you offer your staff feedback consistently — great! More often than not we hear from leaders that they give feedback and recognition in passing and, because staff are doing a great job, the rest is implied. Leaving this to chance, or to implication, is dangerous, leaving teachers and leaders in a place of uncertainty. Instead, tell your staff frequently and explicitly that you want them to return for the following year.

As you prepare to have this conversations, there are a few things to consider:

Who will you prioritize retaining?

  • While we encourage you to have discussions with every staff member about where they stand and what their plans are for the following year, we strongly recommend prioritizing outreach to your high-performers, your Irreplaceables. Coined by TNTP, Irreplaceables are those teachers who would be impossible to replace. Schedule conversations with them over the next two weeks, before winter break and before the recruitment season begins in January.

How should you structure the conversation? 

  • Set the stage. This can be during a standing 1:1 check in or a time explicitly set aside for a career discussion. Make sure the teacher/staff member knows ahead of time that the discussion will focus on their future at your organization.
  • Acknowledge their value to your organization. Everyone wants to feel their performance and overall contributions to the school are acknowledged and valued. (e.g. “You are one of our highest performing teachers at the school and you were critical in establishing a successful parent engagement program this year. We are so lucky to have you.”)
  • Be Explicit and Direct. There is no sense in beating around the bush. If you know that you want someone to stay, say as much, and then provide them the opportunity to commit or share any concerns that would prevent them from returning (e.g. “We would love for you to join us next year. What would we need to do to make that happen?”)

What are you willing to do to keep them? Be sure to follow up and follow through.

  • Consider what your staff are saying will keep them and what you’re able and willing to do to meet those desires. Common responses include Professional Development, Career Advancement Opportunities, Leadership Roles, Compensation Increase, etc.

Finally, we hope that you will finish reading this blog and start scheduling 1:1 check-ins with your high performers before the holiday break. If the next few weeks are already hectic, consider scheduling them for early January, but let teachers know now what the purpose of the meeting is for so that they know what to expect. Remember: Communication is key! If you want your staff to say, let them know.  During the holiday season, what greater gift can you offer the school community than the retention of an Irreplaceable teacher?