Teachers are customers and they deserve good service

This business approach to retaining school staff focuses on interpersonal skills

Bill Lowe

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How do the best leaders in the toughest businesses retain staff? Experts in the field of marketing, Rosalind Masterson and David Pickton have authored textbooks on the subject and tell us it's all about internal marketing.

They claim that internal marketing has the purpose of addressing the needs and concerns of colleagues caused by:

  • Lack of information about any changes
  • Not having the skills or know-how to implement the changes
  • Having knowledge and know-how but not the willpower
  • Different vested interests

Here are four of the main points:

1. Adapt relationships with staff

Masterson and Pickton suggest that we cannot satisfy customers by simply providing a good technical service (e.g., the success of the surgery or the tastiness of the food served in the restaurant). We can read this as having good exam results. They make it clear that the customer judges overall quality not just on technical but also functional quality (e.g., whether the surgeon showed concern and inspired confidence or whether the waiter was friendly and polite).

There is a clear message in this for staff relations. Leaders need to treat their colleagues with a high level of functional quality. They have to master interpersonal skills with staff.

A strong internal marketing strategy will mean that all a school’s employees will be treated as internal customers. They must be convinced of their school’s vision and worth just as efficiently as we try to get that message across to all the other stakeholders.

2. Concentrate on information and development

Worthwhile internal marketing is based on the idea that employees’ attitudes toward an institution are based on their entire experience. But how should school leaders go about fine-tuning this? 

  • Provide comprehensive and ongoing training programs for employees at every level.
  • Allow top performers to provide feedback on issues concerning the organization.
  • Use newsletters, wikis and message boards to spread information and reinforce organizational culture.
  • Provide access to information as frequently as is possible.
  • Create performance-based incentives.
  • Tailor your internal marketing messages to each department, key stage and age phase. Messages to teachers might be different to messages aimed at IT support staff.
  • Highlight success.
  • Encourage collaboration and cooperation between different departments.

3. Adapt to staff, don’t expect staff to adapt to you

HR professionals suggest that when an organization wants to implement a new strategy or change program, it needs to align employees’ attitudes and behaviors to correspond with the vision. Not force or impose.

This does not fit the “our way or no way” attitude evident in some schools. The approach has payoffs. High levels of employee satisfaction will lead to improved retention rates, reduced absenteeism and wider acceptance of any change program. This needs to be the aim of all school leaders.

4. Treat teachers as customers, too

Teachers are expected to treat pupils with respect. This should be extended to their parents. There is evidence that respect is not always conveyed to teachers and support staff. Good HR practice states that you must treat your employees as you would your customers. School leaders should ask themselves if they are doing this.

Bill Lowe is a senior lecturer at Newman University in Birmingham and a former principal.



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Bill Lowe

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