NAIS Jobs-to-Be-Done Research: What are Boards Searching for When They Hire an Independent School Leader?


Cover of Research Report PDFIndependent school boards of trustees are responsible for ensuring that the institution fulfills its mission and uses its resources wisely. Identifying, recruiting, hiring, supporting, and evaluating a strong and effective school leader are some of the most important tasks trustees take on to achieve this goal.

How can your board determine what type of leader your school needs now and for the future? How can you make certain the whole board is aligned? How can you attract the candidate who will help your school reach its goals?

NAIS conducted research to study what boards of trustees are looking for when they search for a new head of school. Using the Jobs-to-Be-Done methodology, NAIS uncovered three Jobs—a combination of context, motivations, and desired outcomes—that trustees are hoping to fulfill in the head search. The following report presents findings from the study and shares tips to help you find the right leader for your school.

Executive Summary

The Jobs-to-Be-Done (JTBD) research methodology is based on the theory that consumers do not purchase a product or service for the sake of it, but rather they “hire” or “fire” a product or service to fulfill a particular need, or a Job to Be Done.

Boards’ needs can also be seen through this lens. Boards need to hire a leader to oversee the operation of their schools, but a particular school’s context and the goals of the board can vary greatly. Consider the needs of a new school that must hire a founding faculty and persuade families to trust in the vision of the school, compared to a well-established school that needs to raise major gifts to renovate the campus and update the curriculum to ensure that students succeed in highly competitive universities. Both schools need to hire a new head, but they are not looking for the same candidate.

Too often, boards don’t have a clear sense of what it is they want or need, and this lack of clarity can lead them to create position descriptions that are too broad and don’t attract the right candidates. This can also lead to challenges for the new head of school. Without a clear sense of what the school needs, the head, the board, and the school suffer.

Jobs-to-Be-Done research seeks to uncover the context and the desired outcomes (functional, social, and emotional) people are seeking when they make a certain decision. In our research with boards who had just hired new heads of school, we investigated what their actions revealed about the decisions they made, as these often differed from what they said they valued. We also looked into the tradeoffs they were willing to make to achieve their goals.

These factors were then analyzed and clustered together to identify similarities across different schools. These groupings became the Jobs to Be Done presented in this report. Each Job is an archetype that explains common desires and motivations for schools in similar circumstances that can help boards and prospective heads clarify their own search processes. This report also presents recommendations and next steps for board members and prospective head of school candidates.

This research project included interviews with current and former board chairs who led search committees for a new head of school, putting them in the best position to speak to the decision-making process of the committee. Interviewees came from different backgrounds, different parts of the country, and different types of schools.

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