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PCEI practices a culture of focus on Teachers for a satisfied student community

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CSAT360 is pleased to publish its interview with Ms. Asiya Shervani, Chief Peoples Officer, People Combine Educational Initiatives!

 

Briefly tell us about your employee focus and how critical is it to your Organization’s Customer Satisfaction rating

People Combine Educational Initiatives is a 23 year old education company. We own and manage coaching schools, K-12 schools as well as play schools which are located all over India. Our employees are mainly teachers and  school administrators. We all know that happy employees are more productive and although this is true for every employee in every industry, it is especially true for teachers.  If we are insensitive to the social-emotional needs of our teachers, they will not be able to take care of the social-emotional needs of their students. A teacher who does not feel supported will not be able to support students. For us  it’s not only about top/bottom line, its about building resilient and strong children. In the education sector, employee satisfaction and engagement assumes a much deeper meaning. Therefore employee focus is absolutely critical for us and we understand that very well. Our end customers are students and we cannot risk leaving them at the hands of unproductive, disillusioned adults. So employee engagement and employee focus is a top priority for us.

Who exactly are the ‘customers’ in an education set up and what are the customer focused roles in an education-focused organization?

I would like to say that students are our customers and the whole purpose of our existence is to serve them and help them become equipped with the 21st century skills. However we know that parents (of students) are the real customer, as they are the ones who are the decision makers. Another growing customer for us is grandparents. More and more working parents are delegating their parental responsibilities to their parents.

Teachers are customer facing, as they interact with both students as well as parents/grandparents. We often wonder whether the word ‘customer’ is appropriate to use in the educational setting. In a way, parents are our customers and in a sense we are ‘in customer service’. However there are differences when we compare with a commercial/corporate enterprise. Unlike customer service in a hotel/restaurant or a BPO, in education the involvement is deeper and broader and the relationship management is more complex. A child studies in a school for several years and therefore the customer engagement (with both parent and child) lasts over a long term period. There are similarities too and the educations sector is learning from commercial enterprises. We have picked up best practices and in our schools, you will find admission counsellors often using very corporate vocabulary like ‘conversion of walk-ins to admissions’ or increasing ‘channels or sales’ or ‘ATL/BTL marketing’. Our admission counsellors also go through customer service training in which they learn how to greet customers, understand their aspirations and learn how to talk about  ‘unique selling point’ of the school or the curriculum. They even talk about ‘return on investment’. These concepts and frameworks have been helpful and in a way helped professionalize the way we work.

How do you ensure a culture of customer orientation among employees, at the time of recruitment and while on job?

We constantly talk to our teachers about how they need to partner with parents, students and their peers to build systems, lessons and cultures which lead to enhanced learning outcomes for students. We talk about how having deep, trust-based relationships with parents will enhance the experience for everyone. We have built systems and processes to support these key relationships. For example, every month our class teachers invite the parent of one of their students for lunch at the school canteen and they engage with each other informally. Such interactions build trust and regard for each other and later if a difficult topic (like the students slipping grades/unruly behavior) have to be discussed, the conversation starts from a place of trust and caring, rather than hostility or blame. Our industry is a lot about emotion, relationship and trust and we have to constantly think of ways of building those without being unnatural or mechanical or doing it like a checkbox exercise. It’s a skill that a seasoned teacher acquires over a period of time.

How are you dealing with situations where customer expectations are not met?

This is a great question. Our teachers obviously expect the parents (of their students) to be reasonable, patient and respectful. On the other hand, parents expect the teachers to be something which they have in mind as their construct of an ideal teacher. Affluent parents are extremely ambitious for their children and very demanding. So everyone has expectations and not always will they be able to meet the other person’s expectations. What we have to understand is how to have put aside our emotional baggage and stereotypical notions about people and focus on how we can align and calibrate expectations. At one level we coach and support our teachers and at another level we also work towards aligning parents and helping them reassess their expectations in the light of whether they can/should be met or what their role as a customer/parent would be to help meet those ‘shared’ goals or expectations.  Although we insist that the customer be respected and listened to at all time, we do not prescribe that the ‘customer is king’ or ‘customer is always right’. You cannot always, and in fact you should not always, say ‘yes’ to a customer. If a parent is making an unreasonable demand (for example fudging grades), then the parent has to be checked/reminded of the code of ethics.

What are some of the new initiatives you are working on to ensure employee productivity?

All our employee engagement initiatives are research and evidence –based. We rely on data and credible studies to inform our policies and practices. We know that a large number of new teachers leave within their first year. We also know that it takes about 5 years to hone your skills as a teacher and become a seasoned teacher. Armed with this insight, we have launched policies which enable and motivate teachers to commit to at least 5 years of uninterrupted practice. We are perhaps the only education organization in India that offers a muti-year incentive for our teachers.  Teachers get very attractive incentives on completing 1, 3 and 5 years. We are already seeing benefits of such long range thinking.

We have also done a lot of research on teacher effectiveness. Teachers learn best, not through classroom training, but through participation in  informal learning/sharing- based forums. We have created many such platforms for our teachers.

Employee productivity is about understanding what your employees need for them to contribute their best. Other than policy and processes, one has to work diligently on the work environment. Our employees should feel safe, valued and respected. Employees should also feel that they are learning and growing as human beings, not only as professionals. We are educating our senior leaders to be very mindful of how they come across and what kind of impact their behavior may have on another employee, stakeholder or customer. How safe does an employee who comes from a marginalized background feel in your organization. Do women feel comfortable in male-dominated teams? Do men feel comfortable in women- dominated teams? Are we open to people who have a work style or communication style which is different from our own? What kind of support do we provide to women who have come back to work after maternity leave? How do we care for an employee who has recently lost a parent or sibling to a dreadful illness. How respectfully do we part with people.  It’s these nuances that we have pay attention to, not just the typical metrics and surface aspects. And that is why I feel we have to redesign many workplace practices. We would fail if we just copy-pasted from the corporate world, without applying insight and practices based on research.

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