Monday, March 30, 2015

Centre Karma

Yesterday was a good day. One month on from taking the reins at my latest centre (which for the purpose of this piece, I'll call centre A)  and now I feel like I've got a better feel for communicating, controlling and accomplishing. This is the same place that three years ago filled me with dread to go to because things were so negative: Any push had push back; Any difference was contested. It was something from a centre culture and intermingled the legacy of things gone by.

Things are so much easier in centre B, which I moved back to manage in September last year. It was my first centre as a teacher in China - generally a happy office, out-there kinda people; systems were never perfect but heart made up the difference. When I returned almost all the people had changed (they weren't strangers because I kept a connection with it) - yet the feeling remained quite similar. Centre A had the same phenomenon: in a centre staff of over 40 people, only 4 had remained but the mood was the same. Even though teachers were placed randomly, centre A seemed to be constantly dealt British teachers.

Centre culture is rather interesting: Just like we change all the atoms and cells of our body every seven years (apparently), centres have particular habits, attitudes and beliefs that are transmitted unconsciously. My own take on this is that there are influencers and events that create these. Centre A for example started with a series of different managers coming and going. Even when stable (when I first arrived), you got the feeling that people were waiting for the next person to come in. Whether by karma or just common misfortune, it had another run of four different education managers in the last 10 months, of which I'm the fourth. In that way, the culture can be quite adaptive, for people to get through and keep themselves moving forward despite the environment.

But centre culture can be a selfish, conservative thing. It doesn't like change. It can be antagonistic to cooperation and commitment. And then the next question how can you change centre culture. You can't just tell people to change their beliefs and attitudes. Leadership, both by the manager and people who can sway by word or example, is the only way to coax things into the direction that is beneficial to achieving the goals of the whole.

Changing topic slightly, I'm usually proud of my ability to retain staff. But I'm secretly happy I'm losing one of the teachers from centre A and in a way I think I've learned from my mistakes. The simple truth is that you don't want to retain everyone; not everyone is good long term for the company. In the past, I've been assertive with expectations but keen not to escalate discipline formally. Formal discipline with written warnings etc. are difficult to do while not affecting motivation, trust and morale. I've had teachers in the past who did things that were not acceptable that I didn't write up because I didn't want it staining the atmosphere and straining the relationship. Maybe I just lacked the confidence to pull it off in an objective yet sympathetic way before.

The teacher I'm losing I heard about when they arrived last year. Her manager came to visit me and my broken knee and mentioned her issue, a common archetype among our staff: Decent teacher, likes helping and chatting with students, too casual though, disregards administration and manager feedback, poor organisation, lacks punctuality. It's a dilemma to teaching managers because students like these teachers; the core business is keeping students happy. And they view work in China differently to the managers: "I'm here to teach and have a good time."

The key of course is that they have the right consistent expectations from the start, and she had had three different managers. Pretty much from day one with me in the centre, I stated to the whole staff my expectations, then did friendly reminders to her when she slipped (which didn't take long, regrettably). And then we went to an action plan shortly after when nothing changed. Then when she failed that two weeks later, I gave a verbal warning, saying that the next step would be to write it up and explained the discipline procedure. The infractions she was doing were small but the mistake is not following through on what she said she was going to do and do the work that all team members were obliged to do. After one month with me, she said she didn't want to renew her contract. We do have a decent rapport although I'm sure she doesn't like me as a manager - too stressful, I'd presume although she'd never tell me. But she was a stress-point for me too. Management life is too stressful to have people cause needless anxiety and stress and I'm glad she made the decision she did. Incidentally, she did everything in her action plan for a whole week - the first time I'd seen it.

I'm happy that I found my confidence in these situations and I've started to be more realistic and direct in situations like this.

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