Why Grown-Ups Need Predictability, Too

baker baker cookie makerBaker, Baker, Cookie Maker has become something of a modern classic in our homeBy a conservative estimate, I have read it to my 2-year-old son, Nicholas, approximately 8,497 times over the past six months (give or take).

As we all know, young children crave the familiar and the routine.

It’s why we do circle time at the same time every day. It’s why dinner routinely precedes tubbies. It’s why my preschool-age daughter always asks to take a peek at “the muscle room” on our way out of the local YMCA.

What you may not realize is that grown-ups need predictability, too. Author Michael Gerber provides a great example of this in his book, The E-Myth Revisited (which, incidentally, is a worthwhile read, especially if you’re a center owner; the “E” stands for “entrepreneur”).

Gerber discusses his experience with a new barber. On the first visit, the barber washed Gerber’s hair before cutting it (explaining that this made the cutting easier), used scissors rather than electric shears, and had an assistant continually refreshing Gerber’s coffee.

On the second visit, it was the same barber, but a completely different experience: Shears and scissors were both used, there was a single cup of coffee that was never refreshed, and Gerber’s hair was not washed at all.

On the third visit with the same barber, the rules of the game had changed yet again (hair washed after cutting; scissors only; no coffee, but an offer of wine).

Although the finished haircuts were excellent every single time, Gerber never went back to the barber again: “There was absolutely no consistency to the experience…What the barber did was to give me a delightful experience and then take it away. What you do in your [business] model is not nearly as important as doing what you do the same way, each and every time.”

There is a lot of truth in this.

If your tuition statements sometimes get delivered on Tuesday, and sometimes Monday, and sometimes not at all…if the center’s office is sometimes open at 6:30 am, and sometimes 6:45 am, but always (usually) by 7:00 am…if teachers are sometimes praised and sometimes disciplined for seemingly identical behavior…all of these sorts of things make people feel unsettled and uneasy.

And the more of them there are, the more even small discrepancies start to feel like big, unnerving ones. Note that this is true even if you’re trying to do something positive – a teacher appreciation program that is suddenly dropped with no explanation, for example, or a suggestion box that appears and disappears seemingly at random.

People start to wonder if the center’s leadership has a firm grip on things, since everything feels so willy-nilly. And uneasy people, both parents and staff, often choose to remove themselves from the situation and find another place that feels more comfortable.

This, of course, is not at all what you want. While there is plenty of room for flexibility and innovation in your child care business, you need fixed routines and processes so that you provide a consistent experience – which is both professional and reassuring – all the time. The more you can internalize this at your center, the better.

An added bonus to this is that your center, over the course of establishing and documenting set ways of doing things, develops some institutional memory. People will always come and go (even key people like center owners and directors), but a strong center maintains its identity regardless.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try to convince Nicholas that maybe we should read a different book today – not instead of Baker, Baker, Cookie Maker, mind you, but something to supplement it. (I’ve heard great things about My, My, LOTS of Pies!)

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