HR Professionals: A Primary Care Doctor for School District Organizational Health

This article was written by Adam Taylor. Adam is a Vice President here at K12 HR Solutions and manages our projects related to employee compensation and benefits and organizational effectiveness.

We are providing an organizational health assessment with this article. You can request this free resource using the link below.





Let’s face it. We live in a world that has become obsessed with healthy living and data that gives us feedback on fitness goals. Fitbits have replaced Seiko’s. Every smartphone has a fitness tracker app. Restaurants all have healthy, low-carb, low-fat options. More and more school districts offer enhanced wellness benefit offerings to promote and encourage healthy living. While these all might be trends in recent years, the primary care doctor (PCD) has been an integral part of society for nearly 200 years.

Every year, if not more often, people schedule appointments with their primary care doctor for a checkup. They check vitals, run tests, and track our medical history to look for patterns. When people get sick or injured, they are the first people to call. They diagnose, determine the problem, prescribe a treatment plan, administer care, and then we get better. Sometimes when we get really sick, they send us to a specialist.

Every reader has the experience of being a patient at some point and has come to expect a health care process that can identify sources of illness, prescribe viable solutions, and discuss symptoms that should be monitored to prevent future issues. Districts use accountants or leaders with fiscal backgrounds to identify and prevent financial illness, curriculum specialist to manage academic illness, but what about school district organizational issues?

Think about that for a moment and let it sink in…  Do you have someone in your school district acting as a “primary care doctor” for your school district organizational health and human resource needs?

There is an occupation called Industrial and Organizational Psychologist (I/O Psychologist) which are to a school district organizational health what a PCD is to a person’s health. I/O Psychologists are Human Resource professionals who specialize in measuring behaviors, knowledge, skills, personality factors, and many other issues related to the health of teachers and people in the workplace and developing practical, research based solutions to solve school district organizational health issues.  I/O Psychologists are akin to an organizational care doctor. They conduct job analyses, write job descriptions, develop recruiting and selection tools, leadership programs, monitor employee engagement and more. Long before “Data Analyst” jobs began emerging in workplace, I/O Psychologist were conducting advanced statistical and data analysis. When integrated into a school district they keep a pulse on how things are going with your people. They watch out for symptoms of illness. For example, they monitor turnover and teacher engagement scores, then develop pulse surveys or run focus groups to further diagnose the root cause of problems. After thorough analysis, they develop recommendations and programs to remedy the organizational malady. Just about any people problem that can rear its ugly head can be diagnosed and treated by these HR professionals.

You’re starting to see the value of these HR professionals, so now what?

It starts with structure. In order to be effective, districts need an HR business partner with a seat at the table, or at a minimum a phone call away. Experienced HR professionals need to work in partnership with district leadership and teachers.  Structure also means the district must identify the right data, or key performance indicators, in order to keep a constant pulse on how things are going. They also need to be a primary Point of Contact the district turns to when an organizational illness becomes evident.

Trust is the next obvious element of the relationship. The district has to trust that their HR professionals have the knowledge and skills to help.  Unfortunately, many schools don’t have an HR professional on staff and instead rely on shared decision making by school administrators.  As a result, a school district’s organizational health problems may present larger, unrealized challenges. In many cases symptoms may be evident or easily identified using the right tools, but too often school district administrators just don’t have the technical expertise and training needed to effectively address people problems.  Even worse is missing an opportunity to see when symptoms point to a much larger problem that is brewing and developing a preemptive plan to address the issue.

Next, the school district must commit to follow through with the advice they get from HR professionals.  Imagine for a moment you are ill. You go to the doctor and they determine you have a sinus infection. They prescribe an antibiotic and a steroid. You leave the office and drive right past the pharmacy on the way home because you are in a hurry and think it will probably go away with some over-the-counter meds you have used before.  A week later you get worse and end up in the emergency room.  Now you are spending considerably more money and the recovery time is likely much longer.

The same premise applies to school district organizational illnesses. When an HR professional develops a “therapy plan” to address organizational health concerns, you have to act on it. Trust their advice, and begin the treatment plan.  When problems are ignored or marginalized they often manifest into larger issues that have much larger hidden costs (like turnover), have a greater negative impact, and the recovery time for the district is much longer.

This leads to the last point- the school district has to be willing to make an investment in their own organizational health and preventative care. That means setting aside funding so that to act when an inevitable illnesses is identified.  For example, investing in effective employee selection processes, especially for district and building leadership.  The development of assessment centers and valid interview questions that are aligned to the district’s core values and objectives takes time, money and resources. However, the return on investment can be huge. Valid and reliable hiring processes can be extremely effective in identifying the best candidates to fill future school district administrator roles (while also combating perceptions of unfairness among those who were not hired).

In addition to leadership selection, if an organization doesn’t have an HR professional analyzing data related to employee engagement and turnover, they likely don’t know how sick the organization really is.

Think of employee surveys as an annual checkup with diagnostic lab work.  When a person goes to go to their primary care doctor and finds they have higher blood pressure than they have had the past several visits, it can be a sign of a more serious issue that needs immediate attention.  In the same way, effective analysis of employee climate surveys, exit surveys, and other forms of data can identify if issues are related to hiring, communication, poor employee development processes, or leadership perceptions.  

Like personal health, maintaining school district organizational health requires a financial commitment.  During times of budget constraints it can make it even more difficult to rationalize investing money in organizational health.  Understand though, these are short term preventative care costs. As the district begins the process of building a healthy foundation that is more resilient to setbacks, the ROI of having a healthier organization becomes evident with employees that are more engaged, satisfied, and focused on organizational outcomes, rather than the ailments that plague so many school districts.  

There are decades years of organizational research that show investing in organizational health is effective when executed as prescribed.  Quality Primary Care Doctors are a bedrock of a healthy and viable communities. If you haven’t already, it is time you integrate the help of HR professionals with backgrounds in organizational psychology into your school district to care for your teachers and employees.

You’ll all be healthier for it.




Take advantage of our free resources to assess your district’s organizational health.  We have provided a packet of surveys to measure factors that are essential to school district organizational health.