The Resilient Contributors: Maintaining Momentum During (another) Disruption

Coworkers Climb

The ability to persist in challenging times is not simply described by work ethic, but rather by a commitment to shared goals and a team orientation. The persistent among us make every task easier for the rest of us.

For the third spring semester in a row, Texas public schools have been thrown into complete disarray. Does anyone even remember the proms, banquets, and graduation ceremonies of 2019? Since then, we have progressed through abnormal, new normal, almost back to normal, and new new normal at dizzying speed. Central office staff, including superintendents, are substitute teaching, driving busses, administering covid tests, serving breakfast and every task in between. You name it; they’ve done it.

The one thing school administrators don’t do? Quit. A dedicated cadre of finance and operations professionals have kept the system functioning; thriving at times, just getting by at others, but always finding a way to forge ahead during disruption and uncertainty.

As Omicron fades into the distance (please…), what are some of the traits that you have identified in your team members that will add value down the line? As a business leader, you must always be aware of stress and burn-out among your team members. To keep the enterprise moving forward, here are some characteristics that build resilience and maintain morale.

Engagement: Policy makers, both elected and appointed officials, address problems with money. There’s nothing wrong with that; state and federal assistance targets resources where they are most needed. That’s the easy job. The hard job falls on school districts: planning, hiring, implementing, executing…then accounting, attesting, reporting, and satisfying audit requirements years beyond the funding. Attacking ESSER requires deep engagement from business officials who may not have a lot left to give.

Your team members who are the most willing to delve into the minutiae, learn the details, and create systems are invaluable. These individuals climb learning curves, apply that knowledge, communicate what they have learned and make the organization more capable of handling the next challenge.

Discernment: School districts are constantly rebuilding programs and systems that have fallen apart during the past three years. Here is a partial list: finding students who never returned to school, standing up health and safety protocols as students and staff return to physical locations, solving staffing shortages during the great resignation, revamping curriculum and instruction to combat learning loss, restoring normalcy to the social and extracurricular life of school communities, and doing all of this and more under intense public pressure.

When exhausted and overworked staff are responsible for multiple priorities, you create a high probability for errors. The discerning team members are your defense. They are the ones who will assess a situation and chart a path forward. They are also adept at systems thinking: how does this project fit into the broader goals of what we are trying to accomplish? Finally, they are the most likely members of your team to root out the unintended consequence. If someone on your team starts a sentence with “hmmm, that’s odd” what comes next is probably important.

Curiosity: Unyielding, constant, and unforgiving work assignments can render curiosity obsolete. After all, curiosity is inefficient; it leads us down paths that are not productive. We don’t have time for such digressions. We have work to do. Curiosity will kill our cat, so to speak.

But curiosity in the workplace proves vitally important. Typically, the most curious of your teammates correlate with the most enthusiastic. We could all use a little enthusiasm right now, but beyond morale, curiosity also has a business purpose. Every discussion needs a participant who will break away from group think. Fresh perspectives bring value to any decision-making process, even when they do not change the course of action. Curiosity is even more important retroactively. The curious will look back at past performance and search for the root causes of both success and failure. As an aside, curious people make very good internal auditors. These people will sometimes drive you crazy. Be patient. The insights of the curious can make everyone better.

Persistence: Former education commissioner Dr. Shirley Neeley repeated one mantra above all others: don’t ever let them steal your joy. Through most of the last two years, this advice was easier said than done! And yet, in countless cases, folks in the school business have forged ahead, moving beyond frustration and burnout to accomplish a wide array of objectives, many related to tasks that didn’t exist in their job descriptions before 2020 (this was a banner year for “other duties as assigned”).

The ability to persist in challenging times is not simply described by work ethic, but rather by a commitment to shared goals and a team orientation. The persistent employ their skills for reasons beyond meeting their own responsibilities. In the emotional intelligence framework, persistence aligns with intrinsic motivation. The work itself and the associated challenges, satisfaction, and joy of a job well-done wins the day. When you find persistence in your organization, celebrate it. The persistent among us make every task easier for the rest of us.

Putting it all together

Engagement, discernment, curiosity, and persistence are not only traits to be valued, but also to be developed through incentives, evaluation, and professional development. If you can identify and incentivize these traits, then the next step is to actively recruit for them, ensuring success for your future teams.

Hang in there. This, too, shall pass.

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