Empowering Your Staff

My niece was raised in an empowering environment. Her mother encouraged her to make effective decisions — so as she grew older she would be well equipped to succeed in life.

To create an empowering learning environment takes time — more time than it would to just do everything for the children — at least in the short run. It takes time to tell a child over and over how to tie his shoes. It takes time to ask a child a question and wait patiently for a response. But once the children start acquiring new skills and they’re able to handle a task on their own — time is freed up.

The same philosophy applies to creating an empowering working environment. Unfortunately most child care leaders I consult with and survey say they feel like they fix everything for their staff. Personal problems and professional conflicts. This creates anything but an empowering environment. Like an atmosphere filled with stress and frustration. And it often leaves child care leaders feeling as though their staff are not capable of making decisions.

Well, if you would like to learn the dynamics of empowering your team — keep reading. The benefits to be gained are tremendous.

Let’s first start with the definition of empowering. Webster’s Dictionary defines empowering as giving authority. Please note empowering is so much more. Empowering is a continuous journey where an organization provides its team with the skills to make effective decisions and to communicate constructively. An empowering environment is one where team members are motivated and inspired to reach new heights without being nagged or begged. Team members think, they resolve problems, they are confident in themselves and in their own abilities.

What characteristics does an organization that is not empowering possess? Destructive communication such as unresolved conflicts, gossip, and a lot of complaining. Employees appear to be unable of making effective decisions and they perform at a minimal level. In a child care environment this means that no one will look beyond their classroom and their own immediate needs. They expect their leaders to fix problems for them. Team members are unmotivated and may not have a lot of confidence.

How do leaders in the child care profession prevent their employees from being empowered? One of the most common things I experience in child care, are leaders who try to fix problems for their employees. It could be a personal issue or a professional one — but leaders want their staff to be happy and they often correlate their team’s happiness with fixing their problems. A problem may arise with a parent and staff may not be equipped with the skills to handle the situation. A leader will take care of the problem without involving the staff member.

Leaders can also prevent their teams from being empowered through making decisions for their staff. Decisions that staff can make on their own. For example, a leader may feel that a teacher’s room set up would be much more effective by a shelf being moved. So on a day when the teacher is off , the leader will go in and change the shelf without consulting the teacher. When we fix problems or make decisions for our staff they miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow — to acquire new skills.

So in an empowering environment what do leaders do when problems arise? Leaders in an empowering environment expect their team members to think, to challenge themselves to reach new heights. For example, let’s say there’s a problem with a parent. The teacher comes to the director and tells her about the problem. In an empowering environment the director will say: so how do you think we should handle this problem or let’s set up a time where we can discuss this further and brainstorm for solutions. Or if it’s a crisis situation and there’s no time for such discussion the director will involve the teacher as much as possible — perhaps he can sit in on the meeting or be briefed after the situation is resolved. It’s all about helping your employees to build skills and to think!

In a lot of organizations I survey I find staff are really left in the dark and are not required to think outside of their basic responsibilities. Staff may have a conflict with their team members and instead of finding ways to resolve it — they run to the director with hope that he will resolve the problem for them. And the director, frustrated with the situation and bogged down with a million other things to do, jumps right in.

How can an organization begin the process of empowering their team?

1. Define problems/issues that your staff must discuss with you. These problems/issues usually encompass the health and safety of the children. Including verbal and physical abuse. It may also include crisis situations with parents.

2. Define problems/issues that you expect your team to resolve. These problems/issues usually encompass conflicts with co-workers or non-crisis situations with parents.

3. Coach your team to resolve problems. If your staff does not possess the skills to resolve problems — coach them and help them build their skills. Ask them questions, brainstorm with them. Yes — this takes more time initially — but down the road it save you a lot of time. It will mean that you can take a day off and your staff will make effective decisions in your absence. If a staff member runs to you with a problem — expect them to also provide solutions for discussion.

A teacher asked: Why Do I need to change?

During our last Team Building Tuesday a question came up that I wanted to share with you just in case you missed our live conference call.

The question came from a child care leader who was met with resistance from a teacher who saw no reason to change or get more training.

Here is my response. Simply click > to begin playing.

Please leave your reply below and remember to join us next Tuesday for Team Building Tuesdays at http://www.LCforCC.com.

Julie

Inspire Parents To Follow Through

Leaders have shared their frustrations when dealing with parents who don’t follow through. Paper work is not completed, dry clothes are not brought in, or payments are late.

So what can you do?

1. Have the positive expectancy that people will follow through — be optimistic.

This is where it all begins. Just having the positive expectancy that people will follow through will be highly rewarding. First of all you’re not drenching yourself with negative expectations which usually only leads to negative results. And you’re opening up your creative channels, which allows you to take positive action and get positive results.

Once you have positive expectancy — you can implement a very powerful strategy that I call I look forward to. Let me explain how it works. One center I worked with was having a problem with late tuition payments. The Directors at this center did not like asking the parents for money or nagging them about their late payments. So I developed a memo that contained the following statement three times – I look forward to… This letter and this approach helped the Directors communicate positively and effectively with their parents. And yes this letter started with stating I look forward to and it ended with another reaffirming I look forward to and there was another one in the middle. The letter is filled with positive expectancy and it’s working great!

2. Communicate the importance of what you’re requesting with enthusiasm. This is an important step in getting people to follow through on your requests. If people aren’t aware of the importance of what you’re requesting from them, they will most likely procrastinate as long as they can. Even if they are aware of why their following through is so important, they may still procrastinate or simply forget. So communicate what you need in an enthusiastic way.

3. Positively acknowledge the correct behavior. During my keynote presentations and workshops I talk extensively about positively reinforcing our teams when they exhibit the behaviors we would like them to display more often. The same principles apply to parents or basically to anyone.

B.F. Skinner, the world-famous psychologist, proved through his experiments that an animal positively reinforced for good behavior will learn much more rapidly and retains what it learns far more effectively than an animal punished for bad behavior. Later studies have shown that the same applies to humans.

I challenge you to think about how you can positively reinforce those who follow through with the information you request. Some simple ideas may include providing candy or soda and chips when the requested information is received. Yes — I said this is simple but sometimes some of the simplest strategies (that only take a few minutes and a few cents) avail tremendous results.

Through using positive reinforcement, one director I worked with inspired parents to follow through on paper work that needed to be completed in a timely fashion.

The challenge was to get Spring paper work completed and returned in a timely fashion. She asked parents nicely – and there was no follow through. She posted notes up everywhere – and there was no follow through. She used “I statements” to express her frustration – and still no follow through.

But the situation was not hopeless – not yet anyways. She thought: “If positive reinforcement works with my team, it should also work with parents.” So instead of nagging and begging, she decided to positively acknowledge parents who followed through.

She created a bulletin board to publicly acknowledge all parents who met her deadline. Since it was nearing March, she created a clover board in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day. The board was located by the front door – so parents couldn’t miss it. It simply read “Thank You!” Then, as parents turned in the requested information before the deadline, their names were written on bright green clovers and posted up on the clover board for everyone to see. As names started accumulating – parents would stop, look, and read the names that were written on the clovers. Some parents noticed that their names weren’t on the board. This sparked their curiosity. They wanted a clover with their name on it! Parents began to ask the Director why only certain names were placed on the board. She told them why and shortly thereafter – she started getting completed paper work from all parents. What a great idea!

4. Put something in the envelope.
Another strategy to help increase follow through is to put something in the envelope — a fun token of your appreciation for their business. Perhaps a stress ball or a pen with your program’s name on it.

Another idea is to attach a piece of gum or another small incentive to the information you would like returned to you. One center that implemented this idea received twice as many completed forms back than normal. Also remember when mailing information, different sized envelopes and different color sheets of paper stand out more than regular mail and may yield a higher response rate.

Dazed and Confused

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to celebrate my sister, Salli’s, 39th Birthday.  Typically my family gets together for each one of our birthdays.  Since there are only 3 of us girls (I’m the middle one) it’s pretty manageable.

This year my sister coordinated the whole celebration by inviting us to go to Richardson’s Corn Maze in Spring Grove.  I’ve lived in this area for many years and have never been even though it’s world famous.  So I thought it would be a lot of fun and I was right.  It’s a great place to visit in the fall if you like sitting around a fire, drinking cider, watching the kids bury themselves in the “corn” box and working your way through a giant corn maze in the mud.  Oh I have to tell you this – as we were eating the world’s largest hamburgers that my brother-in-law cooked over the fire, it started to downpour leaving many people soaked.  Even though the rain only lasted a couple of minutes people quickly ran out of the farm and headed home.

IMAG0161

After the rain cleared I decided to give the corn maze a try.  As I walked in with my husband, son and niece I soon discovered that there were many ways you could get dazed and confused and end up wandering around for hours with no sense of where specifically you were.  I remember coming to the first fork in the maze and thinking: Which way do we go?  I wasn’t leading so thankfully I was not left to my own fruition. But I was walking behind every one else so if they moved too far ahead of me, I could have easily gotten lost.

I’m sharing this with you in this week’s tip because I know that there are members of your team who can easily get confused with the direction that they’re supposed to take or panic and run for shelter when the down pouring of issues to handle hits them hard.  Sometimes they may feel lost and need a little direction and sometimes – when they feel this way – they may not seek appropriate help from you and other members of your team.

One suggestion I have for you is to practice handling or role-playing difficult situations and putting into practice constructive actions so team members have a clear path to a successful outcome in any given situation.   This is such an important (and under utilized) success strategy.

Another option to consider is to have team members write down difficult situations that they’ve encountered throughout the month.  Then at your staff meeting talk about the different paths that can be taken and where each one of those paths leads.  Some paths are constructive, while others are destructive.  Team members may have taken some destructive paths and that’s okay to share.  It’s a great learning opportunity for your entire team.

When role-playing and discussing these situations be careful not to fall into negative gossip about parents or others who are not present.  Help keep your team’s focus on facts and solutions.  The outcome will be a team that proactively knows (without being dazed and confused) the right path to follow and what constructive actions will get them through their maze quickly and effectively.

IMAG0174

Please post your comments below.

A Simple Note of Thanks

I just received an email from a colleague of mine who shared the thanks that her and her husband share everyday on September 11th. She said that it’s a special day for them because he was one of the lucky people who made it out of the World Trade Center and they never want to forget how blessed they truly are.

I remember the day well. Sitting in my office thinking about my next leadership retreat when there it was on the TV. I’m sure you have the images etched in your mind just as vividly as I do.

I remember hearing the stories of bravery and teamwork and of people just doing whatever it took to help one another out. There was a story about a child care center whose teachers saved all the children inside by exiting quickly. It didn’t matter that they were wearing their paper slippers and had to walk over broken glass – they got the children out of there and to safety.

When I reflect on these stories I’m reminded of the miracles that happen in tragic situations and how today in spite of circumstances that are going on within your program or hardships that you’re facing, miracles will happen, people will go the extra mile and you will accomplish amazing things.

I continue to be inspired by those of you who I have met and those of you who are passionate about motivating and inspiring “the future.” Thank you for allowing me to walk along side of you as you accomplish some extraordinary feats.

Committed to your success,

Julie Bartkus

PS: PLEASE share your replies/comments/stories below.

Giving Your Staff Feedback: Sugar and Sandwiches

FeedbacksmallerThe ability to get and give feedback is a practice that can propel your organization to reach new heights. However, there are many ineffective methods that leaders implement when trying to get and give feedback.

Here are a couple for you to consider. It’s kind of funny that they both have to do with food – sugar and sandwiches!

I’ll share with you the ineffective method of sugar coating first. Many times, leaders with their big hearts say to themselves: “Oh, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so I won’t be as blunt as I should be” or “Today is not a good day to share that information because of the way she will react.” It’s important to understand that although your intent is good when you sugar coat feedback – - it is a dangerous style of communication, especially if there are behavioral issues that NEED to be addressed. When you sugar coat things, the employee gets the impression that everything is wonderful and dandy. And in the back of your mind you’re thinking, “Oh, my gosh! I wish they would change this. I wish they would do this differently. Why can’t they stop this?”

There are also potential legal issues that you have to be careful of. Imagine a situation where you have an employee who really needs to make behavioral changes. You provide them with feedback. You don’t quite want to tell it to them like it is, so you sugar coat it. That’s documented. Then later on, things get worse and worse and worse. You keep sugar coating until one day you just fire the person. There have been law suits filed against employers where there’s not proper documentation in place to show that this employee was exhibiting poor behaviors and then given the opportunity to make constructive change happen. So be very careful with the nature of your conversations and how you’re giving that feedback. Think twice before you sugar coat things. Also remember, when you sugar coat, you’re also cheating your employees out of the opportunity to make constructive change happen.

Now let’s move on to sandwiches. The other thing I’d like to caution you about when looking at giving feedback is the Sandwich Technique. Do you know what this is? The Sandwich Technique is a method of communication. You start off on a positive note, put the constructive stuff (negative feedback) in the middle and then finish on a positive note. On one of our audio programs at the Leadership Connection, Dr. Aubrey Daniels joined us. The issue was titled Positively Reinforcing Staff. He shared how the Sandwich Technique can really leave people feeling confused. They may walk away not really knowing if your message was positive or negative and unclear about the change you’re recommending. This means when the Sandwich Technique is used to provide feedback, the message that we need the person to hear isn’t heard.

Ease up on sugar and sandwiches and not only will you lose weight, you’ll also take a load off of your mind through communicating directly and giving your staff the feedback that they need to hear to make constructive change happen.

Best Advertising For Your Child Care Program

It’s true that word of mouth advertising is the best way to attract clientele and great staff to work in your child care program.

The unfortunate part is sometimes waiting for the positive word of mouth to spread can take awhile. And it still may not help you get the “expert” status you deserve.

Would you like a way to get the positive word of mouth out about you and your child care program in a big way?

http://www.leadershipconnectionforchildcare.com/public/471.cfm

If you want to increase your “expert status” and get the word out there about you and your child care program don’t miss out on the opportunity to be a guest on the Leadership Connection Radio Program. I am launching this radio program next month and our target audience will be the parents!!

I am sending you this exclusive invitation to be a guest on the program. Yes – -FREE AIRTIME. YES – - a promotional opportunity for you. This is something you can do right from the comfort of your home or office.

Here’s how to take advantage of this advertising opportunity for you and your program:

http://www.leadershipconnectionforchildcare.com/public/471.cfm

Here’s to your success,

Julie Bartkus

Leave Them Talking About Your Child Care Program

“Leave them talking” is a concept that I love to discuss because there are so many little, easy things you can do with your staff that will leave them feeling compelled to talk about it for days, weeks and sometimes for years to come. No joke – this can really happen!

These little things are things that inspire positive feelings and are so out of the ordinary it’s fun to talk about them. It’s a “must share” moment. The great thing is once you create these moments for your staff the positive talk about them will counteract or override the negative chit chat that may be circulating.

What are some things that you can do that would leave them talking?

Here’s a personal example that you can easily incorporate into your program. I got married just about a year ago. Tom and I wanted to do something that my niece Amber and our son Mason would remember for their entire lives as a celebration of them standing up for us at our wedding. So we decided to go to a famous restaurant known for their pies and order every single piece of pie on the menu.

Mason and Amber did not know we were going to do this so when the waiter asked what kind of pie we would like I responded with: “It’s tough to make a decision. I think we’ll have one of each. And four glasses of milk!”

Amber and Mason looked at me like I was crazy and the waiter needed me to repeat what I just said. Then he brought out all of the pieces of pie that his tray could hold. He set them on the table one by one and looked at me and said: “I guess I’ll go and get more pie.” We said great!

Mason was very quick to put the piece of chocolate cream pie in front of him and we all started sampling the different pieces.

Before we knew it the manager was at our table and several other waiters were peering in our direction. Additionally – the customers were watching us having a blast sampling all sorts of pie. Before the evening concluded we voted on our favorite pie and went back several times to order it. It was the apple cheesecake (okay not a pie – not technically anyway).

We sampled close to 30 pieces and created an experience that we’ll never forget and most likely never have again.

scan0001
There’s my niece, Amber. My son, Mason and amazing husband, Tom.

My challenge for you this week is to think about one idea that will leave them talking. Have fun!

Please share your comments below.