Saturday, February 28, 2009

Manage, Motivate and Retain Great Staff

Have you ever wondered what is takes to create a dynamic,motivated, high-functioning child care team? If you've answered yes, you are not alone. My office receives emails from all over the world from child care leaders who are on a mission; a mission to figure out the key elements in managing, motivating, and retaining great staff. Some of the leaders I've consulted with have spent their entire professional career trying to figure out the answer to this question. Some admit to giving up because the challenges involved in creating a dynamic, motivated team are exhausting.

The wonderful news is that there is a specific plan of action that you can implement immediately to help you manage, motivate, and retain great staff. This plan of action is not a quick fix, but rather a long-term solution to the motivational challenges child care leaders face (including the four case scenarios presented at the beginning of this article). Before I share with you this transformational plan of action, let me ask you:

If you could motivate your staff to do 5 things this year, whatwould they be? Would you like your staff to function as a dynamic team? Would you like your staff to communicate more constructively with each other, their leaders and the parents? Would you like your staff to refrain from destructive communication such as gossip? Would you like your staff to come to work full of energy and excitement about the lives that they're about to impact? Would you like your staff to resolve conflicts and issues on their own? Would you like your staff to value the contribution each individual staff member can make in accomplishing new team goals? Rest assured,whatever it is that you would like to accomplish, the following5-step plan of action will help you.

Let's begin this journey in learning what it takes to manage,motivate and retain great staff with step 1 of your motivational plan of action. The 5 steps I'm sharing this week are the foundation of my Leadership Retreats.

Step 1: Possess a strong, positive belief in your team. This is acritically important first step. Without a positive belief, thereis no hope, without hope there is no vision of the greatness you can accomplish within your program. When a program lacks a vision, it also lacks motivation.

As crucial as this step is, it can be one of the toughest toimplement. Why? Well, it all boils down to the thoughts you, the leader, think and the actions you take as an end result. So it starts with you and what you truly believe about your team. That's right -- what you believe and what you feel - not just what you say to appease others.

Do you possess a strong, positive belief in your team? When Iconsult with leaders about the changes they would like to see happening in their working and learning environments some have stated: "Good luck in working with my staff -- they're just really not capable of accomplishing much." I've also heard worse comments than this, but I think you get the idea.

It may be a true perception that one's team is simply not capable of accomplishing much, it's still not the thought or the vision that a leader who would like to create a motivated, dynamic, high-functioning team should hang on to. A leader must create a vision beyond present circumstances and help team members aspire to it. And if current team members are not on board and don't share your vision, it may be time to seek employees who do.

To help you develop your vision, imagine for a moment that your staff functions as a dynamic team. Imagine that everyone is a team player. Imagine that each employee is motivated. What does that mean to you personally and professionally? Many leaders share with me that if their staff was more motivated and functioned as a team, their stress levels would be reduced. The parents and children would be happier. Positive word of mouth advertising would spread far and fast. Your program will be the program where parents want to send their children and where top-notch child care professionalswant to work. You will have more time and funds available to invest in what you value most. You and your staff will experience less burnout.

Visualize this several times each day. Visualize that you and your team have more energy as the workday ends and visualize everyone returning to work with smiles on their faces. It's a great start.

Step 2: Create an environment where direct and open communication is a priority.

During leadership retreats we spend hours talking about this step because it's such an important element in creating a positive, productive and dynamic environment for working and learning. With each organization I work with, I find that when direct and open communication does not exist, gossip and other destructive communication patterns persist.

There are three main components from a leadership perspective in creating an environment where direct and open communication is a priority. They include getting direct and open communication, giving direct and open communication, and facilitating direct and open communication among staff.

As crucial as each of these three components are, there are communication barriers present in many child care programs preventing leaders from getting it, giving it, and facilitating it. It's very important to realize that when communication barriers are present they most often lead to turnover and unmotivated staff. Thus an important step in managing, motivating and retaining great staff is to identify what communication barriers are present in your working and learning environment and then put a workable plan of action in place to break them down.

Step 3: Challenge your team.

Help your staff understand your vision, your program's mission statement and how their efforts contribute to the big picture. Many times staff members simply focus on their immediate responsibilities as opposed to a broad-spectrum view of what they can accomplish within your program and in the child care profession. When this happens staff may be reluctant to do more than their fair share of the work. They may feel unimportant and undervalued.

A major element of this step is to help your staff understand their role in making the big picture happen through extending their focus beyond their immediate responsibilities. Help them focus daily on how: their successes will make a positive impact on the lives of the children, the parents, the community and your child care program.

Another important element is to coach your staff to set and achieve new goals; goals that will help them truly become a top-notch child care professional.

Before we move on to step 4, it's important to understand that the steps presented in this plan of action are cumulative, beginning with step 1. The common mistake many leaders make in implementing their plan of action is to implement step 4 or step 5 before implementing step 1 and step 2. To achieve optimal results from implementing this plan of action, it's important to implement the steps in order 1 through 5. Steps 1 and 2 are the toughest, yet the most important.

Step 4: Appreciate your staff.

Most child care leaders are very good at offering gifts to express their appreciation to their staff. However, please be aware that there are staff appreciation pitfalls that must be avoided to make your staff appreciation efforts effective. Staff appreciation pitfalls include routine appreciation, general appreciation, and undeserved appreciation. Additionally, if you have not put into practice steps 1 and 2, your appreciation efforts can be very ineffective.

When your staff appreciation methods are ineffective and pitfalls are present, you may hear staff complain about the type of cake they got for their birthday and how another co-worker got something better than they did. One leader shared with me how she purchased beautiful gifts for each staff person. Unfortunately, all she got in return were complaints.

Step 5: Make working for your program fun.

Find ways to make the mundane, stressful tasks fun. Incorporate fun into your staff meetings. Use music to transition from the end of the day craziness to an energizing, informative staff meeting. Incorporate a humorous attitude in your dealings with staff and parents. Of course this doesn't mean make fun of others but lighten up a bit.

When you're ready to implement this step, facilitate a fun team building activity with your staff. The objective is to list all the tasks that are mundane or stressful and then brainstorm with your staff on how to make them more fun.

Make a point in ending the day by helping each staff member leave with a smile. Here's what one teacher told me how she ends her day with a smile. "One of the things that keeps me motivated to stay in the teaching profession is all the humorous moments I encounter through the day. When my workday comes to an end, I reflect on all the funny stuff. Then I laugh and end my day with a huge smile on my face and I bring home a smile and share my humorous moments with my family so they can all end their day with a smile."

Wow! What a great thing -- to end the day with a smile. Not utter exhaustion and stress limits pushed to the max, but a smile to relish in and share with our loved ones. Smiles and laughter - two things that children naturally share and pass on to others. And boy, don't you love it when they do!

In addition to the 5 steps presented in this article, there are two important elements that go hand in hand with each step. They are coaching and modeling. It's important to view yourself as your team's coach. Often leaders in the child care profession can easily be mistaken for another stressed out member of the staff. You have to rise above personal issues and focus on facts, benefits, and solutions in order to help your team accomplish great things.

Modeling the behaviors that you would like your team to display on a daily basis is just as important. If you're constantly showing up late for work and meetings, don't be surprised if your team follows suit. Undoubtedly, you set the protocol for how your staff behaves.

Implement this step-by-step plan of action, model the behaviors you would like your team to display and coach your team to accomplish great things and your child care program will be the program with a motivated, dynamic, high-functioning team.

Ref: Julie Bartkus

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