The Prize To Retain Expertise Became The Price

Recently, I caught up with a teacher I know in a primary school.  She was one of 8 teachers recently handpicked to be trained as a mentor for other English Language teachers in primary schools. It was a one-year programme she had to attend for which she had to be assigned to the headquarters (HQ) after which she would return to the schools to mentor other teachers.  It was a golden opportunity.  The “problem” was she was a talented and dedicated teacher in her primary school.

For the last 7 years, she was running the SEED programme (Strategies for Effective and Engaged Programme in English Language) and it was so successful, the teaching staff of other schools often came to learn from her. She was firm with her students and respected by their parents. She was influential with her peers and highly regarded by the principal. She was instrumental in raising the profile of this already very high profile school. Hence, the principal would not let her go.

Several meetings were held to try and persuade her to stay. Tactics included warning her of the stress of working at HQ, setting her up for a guilt trip about how much flexibility she had been given in her job and how she had been helped in her recent promotion, making her feel important and highly prized that there was no one capable of taking over her responsibilities and when all that failed, trying for a compromise for her to spend 2 days at HQ and 3 days at the school every week. An agreement was reached among him, HQ and her that she would wait one year. Two weeks later, HQ calls and say they need her to come in in June. She tells the principal and he feels betrayed. The principal when contacted by HQ that she is not interested in the position at the moment, which of course was not true. She only agreed to wait if HQ could wait.

The “tussle” between HQ and the school for her resulted in the principal being given a slap on the hand by the Head of Placement for how he was obstructing her career development. In his bid to uphold the profile of the school by holding her back, he revealed the inadequacies of the school (and himself) to do it without her. It seems like a plan, backfired.

While I avoided sharing the details of the dialogue that occurred, it was quite appalling and yet somewhat amusing to hear of how far one would go to retain expertise. What if she suddenly had to leave eg. for health reasons or family circumstances? Would he then be able to ask her to wait one year? Is there no successor or alternative plan? Are you in an organization now where it is just one person that seems to be holding things together? What are you doing about it? This one looks like a KM opportunity unrecognised.

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