A Marathon at a Sprinter’s Pace: Improving Retention in a Turnaround Environment Through Manager Development
AbstractAcross all sectors, attracting and retaining talent is a pressing challenge. At the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a non-profit working to transform 18 of Los Angeles Unified School District’s highest-need schools, the challenge of retention held particular relevance. The pace and urgency of work with high-need schools made turnover both understandable and damaging. An 18.3 percent average turnover rate from 2012-2016 created gaps in institutional knowledge and capacity – turnover meant an exponential increase in intensity for remaining team members. The Partnership identified manager skill as a lever for retention, and tasked me in my residency to create the Leadership Development Series. The Series’ goals focused on adaptive leadership skills, self-reflection, and coaching. The structure included 11 whole-group trainings, a peer coaching system, and an observation cycle of manager practice in check-ins. While the Series had positive impacts on overall staff satisfaction ratings and planned tenure, it is unclear if that impact came from changes in manager practice.
Using the Ganz Leadership Practices framework, this paper argues that the Series succeeded because of strong shared relationships and structures, namely in initial relationship-building and peer coaching. However, the Series missed a foundational step in building a shared narrative about the drivers of retention and the management skills needed to improve retention, particularly the value of adaptive leadership skills like self-reflection and self-awareness, which can appear to run counter to the high-urgency work the Partnership undertakes at schools. Without this shared narrative, the ties between the Series and the ultimate goal of retention became abstract, resulting in a valuable professional development experience, but an unclear path to impact on retention goals.
This capstone recommends that the Partnership create a more fertile ground for a focus on adaptive leadership skills, including engaging schools to create a common understanding of strong management, creating low-risk learning environments to build a culture of self-reflection, and including team retention as a performance goal for managers. For the sector, there are lessons to be learned about the value of creating a coherent narrative for a retention strategy and setting metrics aligned to those narratives.
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