Don’t Be Like Starbucks

StarbucksI was recently traveling for work and woke up far earlier than usual – I think it was the novelty of not having small children intermittently chirping on the baby monitor and waking me up all night.

So I packed up my work, headed to the nearest Starbucks, and settled down with my latte in an unobtrusive corner to hang out until daylight arrived.

I was right near the counter, and I saw a lot of regulars coming in over the course of the next few hours. Apparently some change had been made to the store layout the previous night, after closing (which was completely lost on me, of course, as I’d never been to that particular Starbucks before).

One by one, the regulars came in and gave their orders to the barista. Many of them also mentioned something to the effect of, “So you guys made some changes here, I see!” or “Hey, Gene – new layout looks good.”

And every single time, the barista visibly winced and said, “It was news to me – I didn’t know we were doing this until I came in this morning and it was a done deal. I’m the store manager…you think they would have told me.”

It was clearly a sore spot – and why shouldn’t it be? This man was, as far as I could tell, a longtime employee (and store manager) who had both pride and a sense of ownership in his work – exactly what you want from your employees. He comes in one morning to find everything in his store rearranged, with no notice, and it feels like a slap in the face.

I don’t think the slight was deliberate – it was probably more a case of someone thinking, “Well, this won’t directly affect anything Gene does, so we don’t need to worry about looping him in” (if in fact Gene was considered at all). But it stung nonetheless.

Whenever you make changes at your center, be they large or small, be sure to consider the feelings of your staff. Overcommunication is far better than no communication – especially if you want your team members to feel highly invested in what they do. And, trust me, you do.

Click here for your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.

A Staffing Tip That Could Save Your Business

poor child care staffing decisions can lead you to court

It’s no secret that you’re in a high-turnover industry. Lots of young professionals pass through the world of child care along the path to higher degrees, and some people just aren’t cut out to work with young children.

When an employee isn’t up to snuff, you often know it pretty quickly – and may decide to cut ties with that person almost immediately. When that happens (unless the employee is truly abusive or dangerous), you may be tempted to just pretend that everything is going fine until you have a replacement lined up, at which point you’ll go ahead and terminate.


Here’s the thing: Oftentimes everyone in a center will know someone is on his or her way out; many of them may have already complained about this person’s performance to you. But none of that matters if you don’t discipline the person directly.

If a supervisor doesn’t talk to the employee about his or her performance issues, the employee may legitimately complain that “I thought everything was going fine! Nobody ever said anything to me.”

And if that happens, you’ve set the stage for the employee thinking that maybe the termination was actually triggered by an illegal consideration (the employee’s race, for example, or religion) rather than legitimate performance-based concerns. And it’s going to be hard to convince a jury otherwise if that employee ultimately decides to sue you.

So address performance concerns head-on, and document them – in writing! – in the employee’s file. It could save your business.

Click here for your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.

It’s Time To Get Specific

Ken and Barbie marry.JPGWhen you were a little girl (guys, bear with me for a moment), did you ever play the game with your girlfriends where you envisioned your ideal grown-up life?

…and I would marry a tall man named Bradley with light brown hair and dark blue eyes, and we’d have three kids – twin boys, Max and Michael, and a girl named Emma – and we’d all live in a big white house on the ocean and go play outside on the beach every day with our golden retriever, Sandy.

I certainly remember playing it from time to time, though I confess my dreamy fantasies (both past and current) tend to run more along the lines of discovering the perfect fudgy-yet-cakey brownie and eating happily ever after.

Life has a way of turning out differently than we expect, to say the least – did anyone out there actually marry Bradley and move to the big white house on the beach? If so, do tell! – but you should never underestimate the importance of getting specific when there’s something you want.

Here are a few examples to illustrate my point:

Example A: Enrollments

  • Okay: I’d like some more nice families in my program…
  • Better: I’d like to enroll three new families by the end of the year – each of which has an annual household income of over $80,000, is pleasant to deal with, stays very involved with our program, pays on time, and is well-connected in our community to help bring in even more similar families.

Example B: Hiring

  • Okay: We need a new teacher in the preschool room…
  • Better: I’m looking to hire a preschool teacher who has a real passion for working with 4- and 5-year-olds, has at least three years of classroom experience, and is looking for a long-term professional home.

Example C: Staff Performance Issues

  • Okay: I wish Donna were more on top of things… 
  • Better: Donna, I need you to get here at least 15 minutes before you’re expected to be in the classroom, have your room and materials all set up when the first kids arrive, and give every family a cheerful, personal greeting when they enter.

Do you see the difference? In all three examples, the first statement is nothing more than a vague wish, while the second is a crystal-clear vision of your ideal outcome.

You may not always get your ideal outcome – but you’re much, much likelier to get it if you know exactly what you want.

When you do this exercise, don’t get all hung up on all the reasons it simply couldn’t work (“But a teacher like that would never want to work here!” “But all of the really good families in our area have been snapped up by the center across town!”). Just get clear on your own ideal scenario – what you’d truly want, in your perfect world – and go from there.

You will be shocked at how much this helps you both clarify, and achieve, your biggest goals. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, whether that target is a spouse who’s perfect for you or your dream of a fully enrolled, wildly successful program.

(Case in point: In addition to a great husband, I’m happy to report that I did find what I think is the nearly perfect brownie recipe – just add half a teaspoon of kosher salt. Brilliant.)

Click here for your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.

From the Mailbag: Making Time for Staff Management

mailboxHere’s one submitted by Gina:

One of the areas we struggle with is the inability for childcare center managers to focus on staff management, amidst the looming needs of licensing, tuition and other administrative things. We have tried many things – I was wondering if you would speak to the need for effective time management and intentional management of staff as a priority.

Great question, Gina! I think it’s one many centers struggle with.

The answer is actually hidden within the question itself: In order for something (anything, really) to get done, you need to make it a priority:

1. Train staff on its importance: Especially in a fast-paced environment like a childcare center or preschool, it can be hard to find time to look up and catch your breath. And your teachers may feel (quite reasonably) that if they do all the day-to-day stuff, and do it well, they are doing everything they need to do. During your new-teacher orientation and in regular ongoing training, emphasize the importance of staff development and retention.

2. Carve out time in the schedule: I often read about Silicon Valley companies that give employees massive blocks of time to work on nothing but side projects and develop new ideas for the company. Obviously, in a childcare setting, taking a whole week off to brainstorm simply isn’t feasible!

However, one dedicated hour a week is certainly doable, and/or maybe one whole day twice a year when the center staff gets together to do some big-picture planning and staff-development exercises. (And, yes, you need to pay people for this time – but if you do it well, it will pay for itself many times over.) Schedule this time into the calendar and don’t let anything intrude upon it.

3. Keep staff looped in: Most of us yearn to feel part of something important – something bigger than ourselves. There is a temptation to keep staff in the dark on anything “they don’t really need to know about,” but the fact is they should know about as much as possible regarding your overall mission, your enrollment numbers, staff vacancies, leadership opportunities, and so on. The more engaged and involved they are in visualizing the big picture, the more invested they will be in making it happen.

4. Conduct regular performance appraisals: Twice a year is optimal, but go with any schedule that works. People get so hung up on doing these perfectly that they don’t do them at all, but this is a mistake. The very fact that you make time for performance appraisals is crucial to your staff’s morale and development. And don’t make the common mistake of “saving” something (good or bad) to discuss at the performance appraisal – regular feedback is key. Nothing that’s raised at the performance appraisal should come as a surprise to the employee.

5. Look for volunteers: Especially if you have a small center, there may not be a lot of room for upward mobility. But there’s probably something every teacher is really good at, enjoys doing, and would welcome the chance to do more of at work. Whether it’s spearheading your social media efforts, creating a beautiful photo montage for your front entrance, or starting a mentoring program, there are a variety of ways your teachers can contribute and get more involved at your center.

6. Don’t let things slide: Many child care professionals are kind, nonconfrontational people who would rather cut off one of their own arms than hurt someone’s feelings! When it comes to effective people management, however, the head-in-the-sand approach is one of the worst things you can do. Don’t let things fester at your center – discipline as needed and terminate when necessary. If you do this consistently from the top down, your entire center will be stronger and more effectively managed.

Check out Time Mastery for Child Care Professionals, an online, self-paced course I created specifically for folks like you – gain an hour a day or your money back!

From the Mailbag: Where Are All the Teachers?

mailboxToday we’ve got a great question from a reader that will resonate with many of you:

I was wondering if you could advise on WHERE to find qualified childcare teachers!!!!!  We’ve really struggled with this over the years and can’t seem to find a good resource to use that generates qualified leads.  We’ve tried local colleges, Facebook posts on local community pages, Craigslist, Indeed, bulletin boards in local shops, word of mouth/friends/family (including our existing teachers doing this)… It just doesn’t seem to provide good, qualified leads!  HELP!  I need a head hunter!   -C.S.

Make no mistake, this is a huge problem in early ed – and it sounds like our reader has done a great job covering all her bases (including both online and offline sources, as well as good old-fashioned word of mouth).

While there’s unfortunately no easy solution that will work for every center – especially if you’re in a small geographic area – there are a few things you can do to up your odds:

1. Always be hiring. Don’t wait until you have an opening to start looking. Always, always be on the lookout for great talent.

2. Be open about the fact that you’re always looking for great talent. Now, this is a little like dating – you definitely don’t want to come across as desperate – but you do want to let qualified folks know you’d love to hear from them anytime. This could be as simple as a short note on your website: “Here at Fun Kids USA, we are always looking for fantastic new members to join our teaching team! If you’d like to learn more, call or send an email to…”

You could also repeat that message in your staff and parent handbooks – you might even include a few staff testimonials about why they love working there, just as you do with parents. The more clearly you can get across why you’re a great employer, the more interest you’ll generate.

3. Figure out what’s in it for them. I always tell schools that have trouble finding good teachers to clean their own house first. In other words, look around and honestly assess whether you run the type of center a great teacher would love to teach at. If not, you need to get that sorted out first. You may be hoping one or two good teachers will help you raise the bar, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way – you need to raise the bar first.

4. Present your benefits effectively. If you can honestly say you run a great center, the next question is whether you are conveying this well to applicants and would-be applicants. Do you know what makes you special and different? Do you run interesting ads that do a good job of demonstrating this, including all the special perks of working at your center? (Some possible examples: Paid time off, continuing ed opportunities, tight-knit staff with low turnover rate, early ed library for teachers’ use, pizza lunches once a month, etc.)

It’s particularly effective if you can show prospective teachers that you are offering them a richly rewarding career opportunity – rather than simply a way to fill a few years while they figure out what they really want to do.

5. Don’t be boring! This is a biggie – I’ve seen some wonderful centers run ads that are about as exciting as an invitation to the National Watching-Paint-Dry Convention. If you don’t come across well on paper, you won’t attract the folks you’re looking for. An offbeat, irreverent ad may well turn off some people – which is just fine, as it will attract like magic the folks you do want.

6. Consider online ads. You know those little ads that turn up as part of your results when you run a search online? They are a fantastic way to narrowly target people in a certain geographic area who are searching for a few specific terms you specify (e.g., “childcare jobs in Iowa City” or “ECE teaching positions Seacoast NH”). When people click on your ad, they go to a specific page on your website – maybe your “Careers” page or a specific job posting. Best of all, you pay only when someone clicks on your ad, which keeps costs down.

Google AdWords is pretty user-friendly, and they offer free phone support. If you want more detailed training, I always recommend Perry Marshall’s resources (no affiliation; he just really knows his stuff).

7. Leverage the power of referrals. When you consider how much a great teacher is worth to your center, even a hefty referral bonus is a bargain. Click here for more details.

8. Remember: It’s not about the money. A lot of child care centers worry about the fact that they can’t offer even fantastic teachers a whole lot of money. While you certainly want to be competitive with what other centers in your area are offering – and if you can even go a little higher, that’s great – the good news is that nobody goes into early childhood education for the money! As such, money is not going to be the determining factor in the talent you’re able to attract. Focus on what you can and do offer your valued staff, and the money will largely take care of itself.

Thanks again for your question, C.S. – good luck and happy hiring!

Click here for your copy of our exclusive free report, 17 Secrets to Finding – and Keeping – Great Teachers.