Frances Kweller: To create a fantastic work culture realize that people are not robots and should not be treated that way

People are not robots and should not be treated that way. Company productivity and profitability will surely decline if they don’t feel appreciated for the work they complete. If employees feel they aren’t being recognized for their hard work and efforts, they won’t have the incentive to produce high levels of work. As a part of […]

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People are not robots and should not be treated that way. Company productivity and profitability will surely decline if they don’t feel appreciated for the work they complete. If employees feel they aren’t being recognized for their hard work and efforts, they won’t have the incentive to produce high levels of work.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Frances Kweller, CEO of Kweller Prep Tutoring in NYC. Frances is a lawyer and education and testing standards expert. She founded Kweller Prep in 2000 while a college student at New York University (NYU). Her program was developed to offer accelerated educational opportunities to students within the same neighborhood in Forest Hills, Queens where she was raised. Throughout the years, Kweller Prep expanded across two locations in New York City, employs over fifty tutors, and published its own line of textbooks. Ms. Kweller graduated from the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University and from Hofstra University School of Law. She is a mother of two young girls, Jessica and Michelle, and looks forward to their participation in her prep program.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always been interested in helping kids get ahead in school. As the daughter of a school teacher and graduate from New York University Steinhardt School of Education, I have always had a passion for learning and education. My prep program is designed to help students accelerate in their studies, and we often teach kids materials above their current grade level.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the SAT tutors at Kweller Prep, Kristine E. Guillaume, became the first African-American female ever to lead Harvard University’s newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. Born and raised in Queens and working as a tutor at Kweller Prep, Kristine went from a local genius SAT tutor to reaching national and international acclaim. Her bio was featured in the New York Times and CNN. It was very exciting for me to see one of my former employees achieve this level of success.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This past year, Kweller Prep launched a line of prep books on Amazon. Offering these materials makes test prep more affordable and easier to access to the masses. I was beyond excited to see that Walmart, a national chain, picked up our line of prep books, further reducing the cost for their customers. The ability to purchase Kweller Prep’s customized books online, will make them more accessible to more students.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

People spend so much time at work, and oftentimes, it doesn’t feel like “home” in any way. The workplace can be a rigid, cold environment leading to employees feeling disconnected and discontent.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

People are not robots and should not be treated that way. Company productivity and profitability will surely decline if they don’t feel appreciated for the work they complete. If employees feel they aren’t being recognized for their hard work and efforts, they won’t have the incentive to produce high levels of work.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

1. Celebrate your staff’s birthdays. At Kweller Prep, we often purchase a cake whenever a staff members comes into work the week of their birthday. We sing “”Happy Birthday” as a team and light blue candles, the color theme for the business. We make everyone feel like family.

2. Celebrate industry milestones with staff. Three times a year, Kweller Prep hosts a dinner to celebrate the completion of each semester. Sharing a meal to mark the end of each semester brings the whole team together to share in our accomplishments.

3. Host a holiday party celebrating the New Year. It’s important to recognize employees throughout the year but especially during the holidays. As director, I go around to each and every tutor and tell them one thing about them that I’m thankful for.

4. Create a break room. Kweller Prep has a pantry at each location where we provide staff and students with free snacks and refreshments. Allowing for a (free) short snack break can go a long way with employees and increase productivity.

5. Celebrate staff accomplishments. It’s important to celebrate staff accomplishments and milestones. I send a company-wide email once a month highlighting a particular employee’s accomplishments called “Feature tutor”. It always makes people smile and the employees appreciate knowing that I am grateful for the work they’ve done. It makes for a better work environment and give the employees a reason to work hard.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Nowadays more and more employers are hiring millenials, and they are brighter than ever before. My experience with my millennial staff is that they are multitalented and can work anywhere but they choose to work at Kweller Prep because they enjoy the culture so much. Employers should recognize that unhappy employees will simply leave. Gone are the days employees stick around for ten or twenty years. One of the reasons why Kweller Prep has such a high employee retention rate is because we create a “home-like” environment. Employers need to adapt a more holistic approach and care about the emotional and mental health of their staff.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I’m a micro-manager, which is an effective leadership style for the work I do. I need to be involved in each one of my student’s progress as if they are my own children. I want them all to find success so I give each one advice that I know will work for them, specifically. It’s also very important to me that my staff of 74 tutors can contact me at anytime. I give them full access to my email, cell, phone, and social media. Although Kweller Prep has become a large company, I have personally met with every single tutor and support staff who works here. I do not delegate communication to an assistant or other third party. I find that my micromanagement style is very effective within today’s millennial workforce. My tutors respond right away with instant messaging.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The managers of Kweller Prep Queens and Manhattan, Ben Davidov and Satiya Singh, were both students in this program years ago, They know the company from all facets, inside and out. They are both personally invested in the company’s success and truly love working here. Kweller Prep would never be where it is today without their outstanding managerial skills. .

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

At Kweller Prep, we serve over 1,000 families a year. Many of them are the first ones in their families to enter a top college or Ivy League University and that makes me feel good.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Success is not an accident” I dedicated countless hours to building Kweller Prep to what it is today, lost sleep and wore one dozen different hats of responsibility. What many see now is the result of years of hard work and effort. It didn’t just get there by accident.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As a woman-owned business and married mother of two girls, ages 2 and 3, I take great pride in leading by example and showing young girls they can strive to run a business and have a family of their own. I was often told that a woman cannot have it all, and that simply is not true. There is no need for a woman in today’s day and age to sacrifice her career to achieve personal happiness and vice versa. If anything, running a business has made me a better wife and mother. I’ve learned to let little things go, in my personal and professional life and focus on the big picture. I want girls to know that they can have it all.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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