Tutor Recruitment is Important. Tutor Retention is Critical.

There is a unique and profound stress that comes from hearing your tutor has missed an assignment.  This can be worse if the assignment was missed and the tutor has become unresponsive. What essentially follows is a conversation with the parents during which a tutoring company owner is placed in the unenviable position of trying to determine how much to explain, defend, or concede in order to make it right for the client.

Like most emergent situations in business, tutor no-shows should be anticipated and plans to avoid them crafted well in advance. This is what I would qualify as a predictable crisis situation:  a crisis that will occur in some form each year due to the nature of the business.  Knowing of a predictable crisis should lead one to contingency planning.  This planning demonstrates a certain level of understanding that can separate one from the competition.

And this leads us to another predictable and avoidable challenge: Tutor Recruitment. On a macro-level, tutoring and test prep companies are faced each year with a cyclical talent drain. Basically, tutors leave and most leave around the same time.  Acknowledging this tutor life cycle is an important precursor for shifting the human resource paradigm from ad hoc to deliberate.

Here are some things I learned as I grew more deliberate and informed about managing and retaining great tutors:

1. Acknowledge that the tutor is not only more important than the owner/administrator, the tutor is the brand of the company and the most lasting impression to the client.

2. Have a robust retention plan to keep the best talent on board. Think of this in terms of “years” not months.

3. To that end, create a system of positive feedback based on observations given at regular intervals. This means forms and employee files–basically a real process.

4. Embrace a merit based reward system, be principled, and stick to the system. The system and its contribution to the overall mission should supersede individual achievement. This means one should plan to lose iconic tutors after a certain period of time.

5. If your profit margin is larger than expected, consider investing the surplus in the direction of the following year’s review process or incentive program. Remember, the system is more important than the individual and planning is more important than random rewards.

6. Keep the model transparent, regular and predictable, and avoid cancelling reviews & observations. Nothing says “you are less important than X” like rescheduling feedback to an employee.

7. Make an effort to understand the true needs of your tutors. Often this has to do with the little things: protecting their off time, noting the number of miles they commute, or assuring they are not assigned to subjects in which they lack expertise.

These steps are preliminary to a full cultural shift and yet even these steps are likely to have a discernible impact which may reduce the number of tutor no show occurrences. Try #7 alone if nothing else.

At any rate, the benefit of retaining and developing one’s personnel cannot be overstated and it is quantifiable.   Understanding and planning for the tutor life cycle is certainly an important part of this mindset. Delivering the HR platform in a transparent way comes next. Timing, leadership language, and consistency should round out the process.