Depth Charts and the District Office Depth Charts and the District Office

Depth Charts and the District Office

by Ray Ackerlund
Ray Ackerlund Ray Ackerlund President
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It’s the year of the backup.

The quality of play in the NFL has been marred by significant injuries to star players. Missed games have been piling up at such a rapid rate that few people even batted an eye at the irony when Luke McCown (he of Verizon backup commercial fame) was called on to step into a real-life starting role early in the 2015 season as a result of an injury to the Saints’ starter, Drew Brees.

This “next one up” culture is nothing new, of course, but it really got us thinking about the parallels between afflicted NFL teams and school district offices trying to deal with turnover (albeit without the physical pain of a concussion or a torn ACL).


Silos of Experts

Many districts lean heavily on an “all-star team” of people who are very good at what they do. These individuals know their processes inside and out, understand the inner workings of the technology they use, and spend their professional development days mastering their universes.

This is all well and good. These MVPs are to be applauded for all of the work they do to keep the organization up and running. The administrators who approve expensive training and professional development know it’s worth it because they can see the impact even the smallest efficiencies can have on the bottom line.

But what happens when one of these experts leaves?

Sooner or later, it’s going to happen. The world is smaller than ever before and high performers always have options. Some will leave for new opportunities, others will grow out of their roles and into new ones, and the luckiest will walk off into retirement.

It would be nice to have a succession plan in place and stick to it, but you can’t always count on enough advance notice to pull something like that off. Unfortunately, your resources are limited. You’re doing everything you can just to gain positive yardage, let alone prepare for the ramifications of a costly turnover.

In your district, as in the NFL, depth matters. But what can you do to develop those former second- and third-stringers so they’re prepared to step in when the time comes?


The Employee Disaster Recovery Plan

The term “disaster recovery” is used in technology circles to describe the business continuity processes that organizations have in place for critical IT infrastructure and programs. But what about the people who keep the district running – the ones who know how best to use that technology? Isn’t it time we started talking about a disaster recovery plan for them, too?

Enterprise technology, by its very nature, is massive. Complexity is a relative term, but with so many different pieces touching so many areas of your operations, there’s a lot to take in. The traditional training and development model looks something like this:
  1. Vendors provide training to key staff (on-site or web) during implementation. 
  2. Power users / IT staff serve as a resource for the rest of the employees, delivering internal training and troubleshooting.
  3. These same internal experts attend vendor conferences and/or webinar training to stay on top of all the tips, tricks, and enhancements.
  4. End users (teachers, office staff, accountants, etc...) implement the technology into their day-to-day processes with varying levels of comfort. Many use only a small fraction of what's available to them.
  5. Vendors are brought back in on a recurring basis to provide "refresher" training or handle large turnover situations.
  6. Technology experts leave. Over a period of time, organizations are left with few – if any – of the employees that were involved in the implementation process. 
  7. Confidence falters. New enhancements and updates go underutilized as the organization struggles to keep up with basic day-to-day processes.

But what if it didn't have to be that way? Imagine a world that looks something like this:
  1. Vendors provide direct training to key staff during implementation, along with a self-service training portal for end users and mastery level courses for power users. 
  2. All employees have access to just-in-time training resources when they're ready to learn a new process.
  3. Vendors invest in the customer experience with transparent updates, ongoing professional development, and knowledge tracking options for management teams.
  4. Cross-training and certifications make it easy for backup staff to step in when experienced employees go on vacation or leave the organization. 
  5. Confidence in day-to-day operations gives employees the opportunity to explore new features and efficiencies.

Employee Disaster Recovery Plan


A Change in Philosophy

As technology continues to shrink our world, it will be more important than ever for school districts to field a deeper lineup while empowering more employees to leverage the powerful tools at their disposal. To get to that point, some fundamental aspects of the purchasing process will need to change.

Traditionally, districts have evaluated proposals based on the amount – and cost – of initial training. This approach can cause significant problems right off the bat, as vendors try to compete for the lowest bid. There’s really no way of knowing until after a contract is signed whether you’ve been subjected to a lowball training estimate, or worse.

The practice of tacking on additional training during implementation is bad enough, but the long-term cost ramifications are even worse when you consider the hidden expense of recurring training for employees who weren’t set up for success to begin with.

In the education community, it’s becoming more apparent that direct instruction hampers retention rates and is actually one of the least effective methods of knowledge transfer. Instead of asking how much training will be provided and requiring x amount of on-site hours in an RFP or contract negotiation, organizations need to be looking at the delivery medium and ongoing professional development that’s included in a vendor’s offering.

Enterprise solution purchasing is about far more than just the software; it’s about finding out which technology firms are serious about a successful partnership and which are more interested in just winning your business.

The next time you’re watching a football game and you see a Pro Bowl player limping to the sideline, ask yourself how prepared you would be if one of your stars was suddenly out of action. How much confidence do you have in your employee disaster recovery plan?

To learn more about how Skyward can help you field a deeper lineup and prepare for the unexpected, contact us today. 


Ray Ackerlund Ray Ackerlund President
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