Sunday, February 1, 2015

Falling Stars

In my preliminary research into recruitment and the talent wars, I have been thinking about the mobility of talented teachers moving from one international school to another, and an article I read today about this was by Claudio Fernández-Aráo, a global expert on talent and leadership as well as being a cattle farmer in South America.   He described how he buys young calves, fattens them on his grass and then sell them on a year later when they have put on weight.  However he noticed that the calves that came from poor dry-land farms did better at putting on weight than the ones he bought from the better farms, which at first puzzled him.  However he came to see that if he could find the calves that survived in hostile environments, the moment he got them to the good grass on his farm, they would blossom.  His argument is that this applies to human talent as well.

So I started to think about how this can fit to the recruitment of international teachers.  Schools often scramble to recruit teachers from the top-tier schools - but is this always a wise decision?  Boris Groysberg in his book Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance concludes that luring star performers away from competitors can be problematic - change can lead to an immediate and lasting decline in performance especially when earlier excellence depended on resources, organizational cultures, networks and colleagues.  Once these are removed, these "stars" turn out to be more like meteors, and burn out as they fall to earth.  This immediately struck a chord with me.  Several years ago I moved from a top-tier school to one that was "developing".  It was the hardest transition I ever made, even though it was to one of the most beautiful and efficient countries in the world.  Within weeks the lack of resources and inability of those in charge to appreciate the need for change caused a similar burn out, and yet I noticed that other teachers who arrived with me and who had come, not from good international schools but out of the state schools of the USA and UK, seemed to do OK - in fact they are still there today.  However for me, like the calves in Patagonia, once I moved again to more fertile land, my star started to burn brightly once more.  Groysberg writes that when a top performer moves to a weaker firm, performance is likely to decrease; if the person moves to a stronger firm, he or she will keep shining.  This has quite a lot of ramifications for recruiting - especially if you are not a top-tier school.  Perhaps it's counterproductive to try to recruit teachers from outstanding schools;  perhaps a better strategy would be to find the true stars who have managed to thrive at weaker schools?  I'm interested to hear other's thoughts on this and whether your experiences are in line with these findings.

Claudio Fernández-Aráo's book It's Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best was published last year.

Photo Credit: katieharbath via Compfight cc

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