When I first became an owner of several Early Childcare and Education schools, I noticed there was no core company leadership. The staff culture of each school was dictated by the level of confidence exuded from the Director. Unfortunately, this model was not (and still is not) sustainable. Depending on a Director's mood, the entire structure could have easily been broken.
There are a lot of constituents within the ECE world; from administrators, state licensors, teachers, and parents. All with different values and ideas of how your school should be run. It was easy to see why staff culture and leadership had been lacking.
Through parent surveys, conversations with licensors, and exercises with teachers and the administration - we began to find commonalities within each group and each individual as to what they valued. Finding a way to unite these different groups with a common thread was pivotal. It allowed us to solidify and implement our values throughout.
In each school, we had our values drawn on the walls. We blended them into the recruiting and onboarding process and used them as performance evaluators. With a clear set of values in place, we started to see changes from my staff. There was less conflict, turnover decreased, and their ability to communicate with each other increased.
I cannot stress enough that your values are your schools’ foundation. To ensure it's a strong one, follow the 8 elements below that will help you as an ECE owner/operator build an amazing staff culture in your schools.
When you bring individuals into your environment, make sure they have a clear and concise set of expectations. Educate them on your values during the onboarding process and have a strong scheduling plan. Lots of issues tend to arise when staff members aren’t all on the same page with scheduling. An informed individual will tend to feel more welcomed to your school and will be more likely to participate with the rest of your staff.
Most people will expect benefits like healthcare, PTO, holidays, etc… You set yourself apart when you start to offer additional benefits. Things like free swag, time off on birthdays, and childcare are added job perks that show your staff you appreciate and value the work they are doing and you want them to enjoy where they work.
The objective here is to foster an environment that challenges your staff to reach a little further than where they feel comfortable. Start to give them opportunities to grow in their role and develop themselves professionally. Then, tie that into the development of the school as a whole. It’s important to make it known that with more power, comes more responsibility. Let your staff make decisions and choices, but hold them accountable when something goes wrong so they can learn and fix it for next time.
Create a program that truly highlights the specialties of your staff. Something like employee of the month can start to lose value if it’s something everyone gets at one point. The recognition needs to be authentic and individualized.
Respect is something that needs to be earned. Not only do staff members need to earn your respect, but you as the owner need to also work to earn the respect of your staff members. If you have a team that does not respect you, they won’t respect your values and your staff culture will crumble.
When we talk about rewards, typically, the first thing people think of is money. However, if money is the only worth you can bring to the table, that’s not always a good enough reason for staff to stay. However, if you start using qualitative rewards rather than quantitative ones, you may see some positive results.
Begin rewarding staff by asking for advice, asking them to join you at professional events, and giving them additional responsibilities that move them to a higher role. They will see the value in staying.
Most of the time, staff will want to know there are opportunities for growth within your organization. Schools can seem very flat: Assistant Teachers, Teachers, Assistant Directors, and Directors. There is no reason you cannot create multiple layers of roles for promotion.
Having an opportunity for a career and upward mobility is critical for long-term retention. Consider adding roles like Program Manager, Senior Program Manager, Regional Coordinator, and Executive Director. Combine each role with measurable expectations so your staff is continually coinciding with your school values.
To develop culture there are two different ways to lead. You can manipulate or you can inspire. That’s the difference between management and leadership. Management seeks to control. Leaders want to inspire.
Consider the value of asking for your team to help solve an issue rather than mandating that they solve it a certain way. If you want to recruit and retain top staff, truly think about changing your playing field to a world of team engagement with a coaching leadership style. You may find yourselves with a winning score time after time!
Culture is like trust. It takes a long time to develop and only a moment to lose. You can’t outsource your culture, you have to work at it constantly.
Visit Inspire Care 360's blog for more insight on building a strong workplace culture, how to hire and retain staff, and how to build an ECE business that lasts.
FOUNDER/CEO | INSPIRE! CARE 360 Anthony A. D’Agostino is the Founder and CEO of Inspire! Care 360. IC360 offers its Premier Partner members advisement, tools and support to Engage Staff, build Brand Identity, focuses on Time and Cost Efficiencies to support your production of an Amazing Culture for an exceedingly low membership investment. D’Agostino has also owned and operated Inspire! Learning and Childcare and Inspire! Crayon Campus locations in Western NY for close to 10 years.