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!

What’s In Your Bucket?

summer bucket listWhen my daughter, Lorelei, finished kindergarten last spring, her wonderful teacher gave every child in the class a sand pail filled with some summer-themed toys. The kids also each had a “Summer Bucket List.”

Here’s what was on Lorelei’s, with her original spellings intact:

1. go to the Bech

2. reed reed reed

3. storeland

4. campgund low

5. swiming

How’d she do? We did get to the beach a few times as a family, with hopefully a few more visits in store before the warm weather ends. She did “read read read” a fair amount. She did lots and lots of swimming at Camp Gundalow (the local YMCA camp) – and if all goes well, she and I will get to Storyland, a local nursery-rhyme-themed amusement park, tomorrow.

Not too shabby for my sweet 6-year-old.

Now, when you’re 6, you have limited control over your own time and goals, but I do think it helped all of us to see Lorelei’s list on a regular basis (it’s been posted on the bulletin board over her desk since she brought it home).

As grown-ups, it’s even more important for us to have firm goals for our lives – and write them down. It’s very hard to work towards something if we’re not quite sure what we’re aiming for.

And don’t be afraid to aim big. As the great Chicago ad man Leo Burnett once said, “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one – but you won’t come up with a handful of mud, either.”

With fall and the start of the new school year just around the corner, take a few minutes to write down some key goals for your business. Come next spring, you may be pleasantly surprised, as Lorelei was, to find you’ve done pretty darn well on your list.

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!

Are You Too Nice?

too niceWhen I ask child care professionals what’s holding them back in their work, I always get interesting replies. Here’s a recent one:

I’m too nice as a boss and to parents…or I do too much.

I bet this sounds familiar to a lot of you. In general, people who go into the field of early ed are extremely generous, giving, caring folks. You give and give and give. And sometimes, that’s a problem.

Do any of the following situations ring a bell?

– You feel bad for your teacher with the temperamental car, so you let her repeated absences and tardiness slide…leaving you short-staffed when she’s out.

– You want to be understanding with that family who’s having trouble paying their tuition…leaving you short on payroll three weeks running.

– You put off disciplining that nice but flighty assistant…leaving you to explain to a pair of irate parents how she managed to leave the gate open and let their toddler escape.

– You are the first one in and the last one out every single workday (plus weekends)…leaving you burned-out, exhausted, and fighting a perma-cold you just can’t shake.

Kindness and generosity are great things – in moderation. When you bend over backwards to help everyone else, you are the one who gets left behind. And that’s not good for your health, your mental well-being, or your business. When you have nothing left in your tank, you have nothing left to give.

So be very wary of “giving until it hurts.” Give as much as you can only without putting your own well-being and priorities in jeopardy.

Drawing this line in the sand doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you sane (and successful).

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!

Do You Run Bad Meetings?

do you run bad meetings?

I have always fervently believed that the best meeting is no meeting at all. Sometimes – very occasionally – meetings are truly necessary, but most of the time they are huge time-wasters for everyone involved.

And, worse still, meetings are the very worst kind of time-waster in that they involve multiple people and give the participants the illusion of “doing work.”

But meetings almost never involve the type of work that truly matters at your child care center (namely, generating new leads, improving the experience for your current kids and parents, increasing revenue, or hammering out systems that save you real time and/or money).

The next time you’re tempted to schedule a meeting, keep the following 8 guidelines in mind:

1. Be mindful of the real time expenditure. If you schedule a one-hour meeting for eight people, you are devoting eight total hours of your center’s time to it – an entire business day. What you’re planning to cover may in fact be worth it – but it may not.

2. Watch out for “but it’s what we’ve always done!” thinking. Just because you’ve always had, say, a one-hour weekly staff meeting doesn’t mean you need to continue to do so.

Is there a solid reason, other than tradition, to continue having it? Would a group email serve just as well? Or could you have the meeting just once a month –  or even once every other month – instead of once a week? Is it possible that maybe the meeting doesn’t need to happen at all?

3. Limit the number of participants. In general, there are just a few key people who truly need to be at any given meeting; the other attendees are there on an FYI basis. If someone can be adequately filled in after the fact, do that instead and let them off the meeting hook.

4. Beware of meeting creep. Meetings, like almost everything else in life, will expand to fill the time allotted. If you schedule a one-hour meeting, it will invariably take an hour and then some. Try cutting it down to half an hour – and get ruthless about both starting and ending on time. You’ll be surprised how much you can fit in when you’re watching the clock.

5. Have a clear, written agenda – and stick to it. It’s amazing how many meetings are scheduled “just because,” with no clear sense of what they’re meant to convey or accomplish. The person calling the meeting should also be in charge of providing a written agenda to all participants in advance, and making sure that people don’t get off topic.

6. Establish next steps. The last few minutes of any meeting should be devoted to clarifying next steps:

“So, Janie, we’ve agreed that you will talk to Billy’s parents about your concerns before the end of next week. Emma, you’re going to write up a job ad for our new custodian and have it on my desk for review by Tuesday morning at 9. And, Sam, you’ll start pricing out supplies for the holiday project and email Abby your recommendations by tomorrow. Anybody have any questions?”

7.  Ditch the minutes. Unless you’re required to keep minutes of a given meeting for legal or other reasons, don’t bother. Hold individual participants accountable for writing down the parts of the meeting that directly affect them.

8. Remember that meetings are not bonding time. There’s always a temptation to hold meetings for the purpose of “touching base” or creating a sense of group cohesion. But meetings are simply not the best vehicle for this. Have an occasional staff dinner or fun weekend activity offsite (make these optional, or paid time if they’re mandatory) if you want people to bond; just don’t frame it under the guise of a meeting. Your staff will thank you for it.

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!

Are You Making Time for Deep Work?

Deep WorkI just read a fantastic book I wanted to tell you about: Deep Work by Cal Newport. Newport is a very busy guy – an assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, author of five books, and a parent of two small children – but he clearly manages to get a lot of valuable work done.

He has coined the term “deep work,” which he defines as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

This sort of work has always been valuable, Newport argues, but particularly so in our current world – precisely because it’s so darn rare. “The few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive,” he says.

I think Newport is spot-on about this. It can be easy to forget that the core of our life’s work should not consist of answering emails, or rearranging piles of paper, or posting amusing anecdotes on Facebook.

We’re drawn to these activities, of course, because they are easier than the difficult, limit-stretching work of building our businesses…creating innovative new programs and offerings…figuring out how to leverage our unique talents to the fullest…and giving the gift of our time and attention to only those few things and people that truly warrant it.

But those types of activities are the ones – arguably the only ones – that make a real difference to the quality of our lives and our work. And Newport provides some practical, real-life strategies for getting into the habit of going deep.

As a thank-you to you, my dear readers, I’m giving away a brand-new copy of Deep Work to one lucky person this week! Just leave a comment on this post sometime before Saturday, May 14, at 6:00 pm Eastern U.S. time, stating why you’d like to read the book. I will select a winner at random after that time.

(Note that I have not received any compensation for this post/giveaway and am in no way affiliated with the book’s author – just think it’s an excellent read. Good luck!)

Update: As each of my kids wanted to pick a winner’s name from the bowl, I decided to give away two copies of the book. Our winners are Harold and Lynita – congrats to them and thanks to everyone who entered!

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!