“He’s not going to change. He’s a hard-headed German.”

I remember a superintendent saying those words to me. We were talking about a principal.  The superintendent was getting pretty frustrated with the man and was ready to recommend the nonrenewal of his contract.   I looked over the written documentation in the file. There was one “needs improvement” but other than that, the principal had outstanding evaluations over multiple years.  We had no evidence that the principal had ever violated policy, stolen money, abused kids or acted unprofessionally.  He just had some communication problems.

I told the superintendent that it would be pretty risky to go for a nonrenewal.  We talked about other options, such as giving the man a written memo spelling out what needed to improve.   That’s when the superintendent uttered those words.  “We can do that,” he told me, “but he’s not going to change. He’s a hard-headed German.”

Let’s skip past the ethnic stereotype for now and just focus on the main concern.  The superintendent was saying that the written memo would not improve the situation and would only delay the inevitable.  Nevertheless, we worked together to craft a memo designed to get the man’s attention.

It worked.  The memo was blunt and direct, advising the principal that his one area of “needs improvement” was so important that the failure to improve could lead to a recommendation of nonrenewal a year later.  Not everyone would respond positively to that kind of kick in the pants, but this guy did.

I learned something from that experience. The main purpose of documenting employee performance is not to justify negative personnel decisions.  The main purpose is to improve employee performance.  In this case, that purpose was served. The hard-headed German was not so hard-headed after all.  Or maybe he was “hard-headed” and needed a two-by-four to the forehead, which is what the memo was.  In any event, it worked. A year later, the principal’s performance had significantly improved and the superintendent was happy.


File this one under: DOCUMENTATION

Tomorrow: some upcoming opportunities for you!