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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Weak Corporate Culture and Reputation Management in Small-Medium Private School Institutions

By Rumbidzai Chakanza-Mamvura:

What is promised versus what is delivered!!! Every parent is lured to pay huge fees to a private school because of its lesson delivery teacher:student ratio of 1:15-20, quality education and lucrative resolutions advertised. Whilst this seems to be very attractive, most private schools are failing to walk the talk.

This is evidence of a weak Corporate culture, which then affects performance and productivity of any organisation, leading to its reputation being tarnished. Several other factors that can lead to the reputation being tarnished include, an inequitable salary structure, poor working and living conditions, a negative mass media image, incompetent suppliers and products and services that have low quality, among others. The type of leadership to lead the vision is certainly key and part of organisational culture.

Lately, the number of private schools operating on small premises has been increasing, with some just in it for profit making, while others lack the requisite qualifications in terms of skills and expertise suitable for running private schools. The sad thing is that despite such shortcomings, they all want to offer educational services, but overlooking strategic matters necessary for growth and sustainability and that gives a wrong image to stakeholders. Advertisements are even misleading, despite the notion that the private school learner, or even the public school learner for that matter, is not supposed to be treated as just a statistic, because behind that learner, there are parents who have aspirations, who want to see their child succeed. Of course, service delivery is not always one hundred per cent, and granted, it will fall short, but the difference between the lead experiences and the marketing promises, should be small.

Some schools do not hold general meetings before increasing school fees or other costs such as transport charges. In some instances, school authorities have even banned WhatsApp groups, because they have realised that, all antagonism comes from such groups. Others go on to muzzle the group members and disallow any parent to make comments, restricting the function of the group, to a one-way communication channel, where authorities only send announcements to the parents, but do not receive information useful in making them better service providers. Nevertheless, it is always better to have authentic feedback, even if it is unpleasant. Emotions build up at times, but some grievances are very genuine.

Staff keep changing, leading to continuous introduction of new operators whom the parents and learners have to deal with all the time. This is usually a result of low salaries or salaries not paid on time. Changing teachers every term surely demotivates learners. Some drivers who ferry learners have been reported to be stubborn and reckless. Many parents argue that the safety of their children on the roads, should be the organisation’s top priority. One private school owner said, “In most cases, even when the parents are in the wrong, like how most parents will be owing the school in transport arrears, it is hard not to give them the perfect service they expect and they will always complain like that. This issue remains the school’s problem in the parent’s eyes.” Talk about paying US$50-$100 per month for transport for each learner to be ferried to and from school. Most people can attest to seeing learners packed like sardines in commuter omnibuses “pakadoma” kugarisana pamakumbo” “ku kuboot”, etc. They fight, they cry, they get to school tired and even at home, you can witness low morale in the learners. No value for money indeed! Other parents complain of drivers who drop kids at home and never check or wait for the guardian or parent to ensure the learner is safely indoors, especially infants. Truth be said, back in the days, teachers of infant classes were mature teachers who had patience and cared in ensuring even those deemed slow learners, quickly caught up in learning. Nowadays, the age group that is mainly being employed in these private schools has to learn a lot from those teachers we called “ana gogo” because most are rude to the parents and learners, they are just teaching for a living, and not out of passion. “Ana gogo” may not be tech savvy, but they surely had it all figured out. We still need such a mixture of the old and young for effective lesson delivery.

Another increasingly worrying issue is lack of sporting facilities. Private schools promise to hire venues for sport, but they never bother taking learners for various sporting activities. Learners still need such activities as noted in the education curriculum. It is healthy and builds a sense of belonging as well as creating room for sport superstars to be born.

Steps that management can take to ensure reputation management is embedded with the culture of the institution

Private schools need to do continuous staff training and embrace innovation and technology. Management has to involve staff in strategy formulation, to allow for more ideas and to give them a sense of belonging and ownership, which will allow them to adhere to the principles and ethics of the organisation. Authorities must have an open ear and apply Bottom-Up two-way communication! Salaries must come on promised dates, as higher employee’s gratification lowers thoughts of immediate departure. Communicate the challenges with staff or borrow loans to pay salaries.

Competitive human capital attracts investments as service delivery is guaranteed to produce reputable results. Offering internships under the guidance of well experienced and reputable teachers, will help interns learn as they prepare to advance their careers. Rewarding success encourages adherence to the culture of the institution with each person receiving recognition. Recognition is not for top performers only, teachers with the best disciplined learners, smartest class or who are most punctual can also be rewarded. Forge connections between team members to encourage collaboration and involvement in teambuilding activities. Establish close interactive relationships with external stakeholders.
Research for product improvement and surviving globalisation by looking at innovative ways to keep advancing all the time. Mass and social media can also destroy reputation when customers put in negative reviews on your social media pages. Try engage with audiences respectfully and apologise whenever there is need, being guided by a communication specialist. Offer perks like health insurance, employee discounts of up to 50% on school fees for their children. Value learner safety by ensuring that a register is marked by the teacher on duty and driver when the learner leaves school and gets home to the designated guardian or parent. Ethical communication is vital by having alignment between the advertising message and what is going to be felt on the ground because the authenticity of communication is validated by that. Innovation oriented schools have channels for feedback from parents through google forms they give out per term. One Principal confirmed that it is very effective, in the sense that 98% will be progressive, but there will be a 2% that will be very aggressive. Positive sentiments then help them keep performing better and negative ones will challenge them to improve.

Corporate culture shapes the way the organisation behaves both internally and externally. The employee is a major stakeholder whom, when not treated well, can pass negative emotions about the business to the customer who is also a major player in the success of the business. These two need to be treated fairly. Happy customers are loyal and lure others to the business through positive word of mouth.

Investors are also attracted to an organisation that practices what it preaches and has financial stability to guarantee returns on investment. Effectively and strategically communicating your corporate culture, then guides all stakeholders to engage successfully and growth for the business occurs due to the positive reputation of its identity and image.

Rumbidzai Chakanza is a Strategic Communications Consultant and Broadcaster. She can be reached by email at ruechakanza@gmail.com

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