In conversations with my network of consulting peers, I’ve thrown a question around recently about your favorite project. I’ve heard some reports of projects that yielded healthy checks from notable philanthropists, and I’ve heard of the consultant’s own personal growth in learning new things. I’ve had some great projects over the last two years – I get to work with people I love on problems that matter – but one of my favorites has been working with a Midwestern district with 30,000 students to overhaul their teacher screening and hiring.

The problem was that the way they hired teachers was too late and too bureaucratic, which attracted the persistent, not the best, nor those who matched the diversity of the student body. This district hadn’t really adapted the process in ten years, and it was very compliance-oriented. None of that matched who the district was today, or who they wanted to attract.

The story of our process improvements was thorough and effective – they’re hiring better teachers by any measure you want to use — but that’s not where the story was for me.

This project is close to my heart because we helped the HR team transform the way they approach their work of attracting and hiring great people for their district’s students. More importantly, we evolved how this group of 7 analysts thought about their work. We talked with them about what traits really matter for the district’s teachers. We helped them get in touch with their customers – principals – and understand their needs, school by school. We asked them about what measures mattered most, and how they could track and communicate these things efficiently. Instead of being process coordinators, they became owners.

The team also evolved. Instead of a team that had individual relationships with their supervisor, they became interdependent. They engaged with one another, questioning, advocating, and suggesting how they could make the process better for students and adults. This team supported one another in mapping work collaboratively and focusing on the outcomes that mattered most. They started making proposals to their supervisor about how to organize their work, and they redesigned the department’s structure to capitalize on their strengths and to hire for what they needed more of.

We were there to improve a process sustainability. Done. That didn’t fill my bucket alone, though. What made it stick for me was to improve the work lives of the people who make it happen every day. They’re good Midwestern folks who love cheese, spicy salsa, and good soft cookies, so it was comfortable and fun on that level, too. I’m proud to have been a part of a project where the team grew so much in so short a time, all in service of making things better for students who need it.