August 2015

HR departments, by any name, drive district (and student) success

In the 1970s and 1980s, the term Personnel Department morphed to be known as the Human Resources department. In theory, this term was meant to be “friendlier” and a better reflection of the department’s role. These days we are seeing another evolution of titles, with companies such as Google referring to their HR leader as vice president of People Operations, and Walmart calling its department the Global People Division.
 
No matter what you might call it, HR departments in schools are a hidden driver of a school district’s success. They directly impact the recruitment, hiring, and retention of qualified teachers and campus leaders.
 
To learn more about what motivates and drives HR departments in the K-12 public education system, Emily Douglas McNab and Allison Wert shared the results of a survey they conducted for AASPA’s 2015 Best Practices and Perspectives magazine. The survey led to nearly 700 responses from HR professionals about their work experiences, background, and motivation.
 
One interesting highlight the study uncovered was that the majority—74 percent—of HR leaders in education began their career as teachers and worked their way up through the ranks. However, only 40 percent of HR staff, including HR leaders, spent time at the campus level.
 
While it may seem as a potential disconnect, this diversity is a positive thing for district HR departments. By working as a team and sharing knowledge, HR staff can implement best practices in HR as well as keep the focus on what is best for students. An HR leader with campus experience can help ensure that decisions are made that will benefit students. However, they should also listen and learn from those HR professionals that have HR experience outside of education.
 
Another insight showed that though many public and private organizations are looking at creative names for their HR departments, school districts seem to prefer to stay with the status quo. Nearly 84 percent of respondents in the survey stated that they have no desire to change the name of their department.
 
The study also sought to uncover what motivates HR leaders and staff in public education. Interestingly, only 17 percent of HR professionals responded that their primary motivator is to impact students. The number one response, given by 65 percent of HR professionals, was that employee growth is the primary motivator.
 
As you might expect, former teachers and campus administrators now in the HR office responded differently: Forty-three percent of former teachers and 56 percent of former campus leaders listed student impact as their primary motivator.
 
Student impact was the leading factor that drives HR decision making, with budget being a close second.
 
HR departments in education are in a unique situation in that while they are tasked with serving the campus staff, teachers, and administrators, they must remain cognizant of the impact they ultimately have on the student. HR leaders would be well served to include student impact as a main priority or goal for the department.
 
Human resources, talent management, people operations. It turns out that for a school district, what the department is called is considerably less important than the work of those who support the teachers, leaders, and ultimately the students in a school district.