Can you relate to someone you worked with that you couldn’t imagine coming to work without them?
Back when I was an executive director of a school, I was tasked with growing the childcare center from one location to three over the course of three years. I knew it would be hard but I didn’t care, because I had the most amazing center director working with me. She was the perfect person to be by my side to help me complete this task with style. The plan we developed was for her to spearhead each new location as they open with someone who lives and breathes our culture.
But then, I’ll never forget, two months before our new center was about to open – she came into my office and closed the door. She slid that piece of paper across my desk with those dreaded words “Please accept my resignation.” I immediately couldn’t hear another word she was saying and I honestly couldn’t even think.
She left my office, I closed the door, and let’s be real here – I cried. Up to that point I always valued my leadership acumen – I thought I was a great boss - I thought I understood my people and their motives - what they needed to feel appreciated. Never in a million years did I expect this resignation.
That day – I felt overwhelmed, like a terrible boss, and I felt like I had no direction and that I wasn’t in tune to my team as much as I thought I was.
So I'm curious, as successful as you might be in your school, or how in-tune you feel with your staff, how many of you have, if you're REALLY honest, ever struggled with feeling less than 100% secure in your abilities as a leader?
Many of you may be dealing with those same icky feelings as we struggle to hire and retain our staff. As a matter of fact, if you were to close your eyes and consider what today’s newspaper headlines and stories would be in regards to the childcare industry, what would they say?
Perhaps in big, bold letters, it would say:
- We are hiring!
- Where are all the teachers?
- Quality candidates are needed!
- The childcare industry is desperate for anyone who wants to work!
It is these very headlines I want you to forget! I am going to challenge you to change today’s depressing, hopeless narrative. To feel renewal and energy rising up within you like never before!
Change Our Focus
So how do we change the narrative? Let’s change our focus to emphasize the workplace experience we desire for our teams, instead of focusing on desperation and fear.
This “workplace experience” is how you want your employees to feel every day they come to work. And overall what they can expect from the company as a whole. Then hold true to that vision by shining it so bright and loud that not only will our current teams fall in love with their workplace again but so we attract new quality candidates that feel connected to the souls of our companies.
The right workplace experience, when it’s cultivated correctly, will continuously grow and shine and those around you will get excited and rally behind it!
Here’s a real example of my old school’s workplace vision:
"Everyday is overflowing with laughter and the occasional chair race, dance off, or rubber chicken."
When you read this vision, what does that make you feel or see?
- Smiles on faces and people laughing so hard they are crying
- People laughing as they are getting pushed down hallways in their schools on chairs
- Employees dancing for fun, Strangely a rubber chicken appears often
- Most importantly, employees love coming to work
If I’m a prospective employee and I don’t care much about having fun at work or goofy things like rubber chickens, then I'm probably not going to apply to this company right? And that is ok - that is not the employee they are trying to connect with.
Consider your school - what is your desired workplace experience and is it clear about the type of employee you’re trying to hire that will help you cultivate that experience? Or is it cookie cutter like everyone else - “provide quality care that is safe, in a clean environment, where children learn. - is that statement inspiring? With this example, can you really narrow your focus with the people you want to hire around that? Or is it too broad and boring?
I challenge you to revisit the experience you want in your schools!
Push Back Against The Narrative
To attract the right people to help us cultivate your desired workplace experience, we must push back against what others are calling truths and:
- Transform our mindset
- Build connections and establish common ground
One common misconception is that people are only concerned about making more money. Yes, this can be the case at times but pay is still 3rd on the list of why people leave their work. Manager and culture, feeling isolated - those are the top ones. We have to transition ourselves from this idea that we have to pay more in order to get good employees. Instead, let’s start with our Mindset!
A great leader is going to get buy-in from their employees that they are in the right place. This kind of leader is going to be sending the right messages to not only their team but to potential candidates. In order to send the right messages to your team, YOU first must love your school. I know that sounds basic but we are seeing a lot of owners and directors who have checked out and no longer are passionate about their work anymore. If this is you, trust me, it’s coming across to prospects and to your staff.
This is why the first solution really starts with all of you listening. Fall back in love with what you do. Don’t let the wrong mindset send conflicting messages.
I’m sure we have all heard a lot about mindset, but to actually change it, and live a new narrative every day is not as easy as it sounds. My suggestion on where to start and where a mindset shift begins with remembering first why we do what we do. If we can remember our bigger purpose and then take that purpose and extend that into a clear DEFINED workplace experience that you want for your team - then you can start making progress.
When our minds are fixated on an inspiring workplace experience, when we remember who we want our schools to become, we are not only going to be able to rally our teams around that but that vision will be evident in every:
- Employment ads we write
- Every phone interview we conduct
- In the faces of our employees
- In our leaders as we give onsite interviews
- Even evident in the community
So yes, I believe pay matters but not as significant as many portray. As long as you're competitive with your pay structure. Don’t feel like you have to be the top paying school in the neighborhood - you just have to be the loudest and the proudest! AND your school has a determined mindset and workplace vision and is not afraid to share that story everywhere they go.
2. Connection and Common Ground
Secondly, let’s shift our focus to connecting instead of all the bells and whistles. When you are able to build an emotional connection to your story - this is how you lead with vulnerability and this is how you win with hiring!
What does this mean to have a connection?
- Sharing your story with your prospective new hire
- Finding out details of their life story (ask some of these types of questions:
- what groups they belong to,
- what has been the most inspirational moments in their life,
- what has been a pivotal decision they have made,
- what would make them the happiest at the end of the day).
- These kinds of questions should instigate answers that will tap into a candidate's life story.
Find common ground. Try everything you can do to connect on a personal level - a place where you have some commonalities.
My husband was in the army for many years. When he retired, he began working for a company where he could bring our dog, make his own hours, and ultimately, a position where he had a lot of freedom.
One day, while at work, a local company called him asking for him to come interview. Just to hear what they had to offer, he went and interviewed. He thought the company was interesting but not enough to make a move.
Two other people from that company tried getting him to come work there. He turned them all down until the owner called him and asked him to lunch. The owner shared a story of going to Baghdad in a Chinook (like a helicopter) to ensure his product was working correctly for the troops. Being a veteran who served in Iraq, my husband gained immediate respect for the owner and that COMMON GROUND that CONNECTION was all it took to make him switch careers. He immediately took the job.
Notice in that story, that pay wasn’t a factor. Flexibility wasn’t a factor. Our dog wasn’t even a factor. It was merely the respect built from that commonality that had him make the move.
When you are interviewing, keep in mind that connection and common ground factor. People want to be around other people who can energize and enhance their lives. They will in turn, then transform their energy back to you- CONNECT AT THIS LEVEL - get them to see your energy, your experience, and your ability to build relationships.
So overall, when attracting new candidates - it starts with our mindset, then using that mindset to create a high energy, impactful vision for your workplace experience, then cascading that vision into every aspect of your hiring process (ads, career page, social media, interviews, environment). Finally be competitive and thoughtful about pay, incentives, and benefits but place a higher emphasis on the connection you build during those first formative experiences with potential candidates.
Retain Them Once They Join The Team
Navigating retention in our schools has also become increasingly harder because we are not only competing with other industries but we are now having to learn to manage what I call “the post covid” employee. What is the post covid employee?
- They are sometimes anxious filled, easily stressed.
- They are often unable or don’t desire to work 40 hours a week.
- They can have different priorities (more family time, less materialism, desire for independence).
- They are easily demotivated so it’s important to know what causes them to stop engaging and obliterate it! (ie, feeling alone, feeling bullied, not using talents) - deeper list in the handout.
Let’s focus on one solution that will help us improve not only our schools' retention, but will also help us build stronger employers, more emotionally ready employees, along with a higher quality employees. Specifically, coaching.
We can transform our workplace simply by creating a coaching culture. I believe this is the number one way to get your employees to go from “I quit,” to “How could I ever quit on my boss?” Who wouldn’t love that right?
Our leaders, now more than ever, need to converse and coach differently than they even did two years ago. Training our leaders in coaching conversations is how our schools can navigate the needs of our employees and get them thinking differently.
When we learn how to have conversations on motivation, career, pay, resilience, short-term and long-term thinking, we can develop a workforce that is engaged, positive, and accountable. Most importantly, as we invest in coaching for our teams, they will invest themselves in their jobs.
Again it starts with us as leaders watching today. We have to become passionate about investing in our staff and helping them grow. When you place a high value on coaching and when you have a team that is responsive to coaching, you will create loyal employees that will want to work for you. Plus you won’t have these DEPENDENT-type environments where no one makes decisions but you. Coaching solves that.
“When I think of a past boss that I really valued and I went above and beyond to perform for - I think of Carla. She would spend hours upon hours with me showing me how to do things. Performance reviews, creating spreadsheets, talking through why the bank was considering doing various things, and making sure I understood the why.
She even went out of her way to make sure she kept a personal connection with me too. Always ask about my husband and son. Checking in on how my life was going. She was a true example of what it means to be a coach. Because of that, I would give her all I got.
As you can see by my example, the fact my boss was willing to coach me, and invest in me - I was loyal. Our relationship was built around her willingness to take time to make me a better employee, to make me better at my job, and to make me grow to obtain future promotions. I worked for her for 13 years and I cried immensely when I left.“
How do we build those same relationships with our team? I want to concentrate on the most impactful retention idea of them all… the one I feel has the biggest impact: Hiring coachable employees and using the right tools to coach them.
Invest in Coachable Employees
We need to hire and invest in coachable employees. For an employee to be coachable, they have to have the emotional readiness to take your feedback, grow, gain a new perspective, act, and create change. These types of “coachable” employees are the ones that create a workplace that is evolving, growing, innovating, and where communication is healthy.
Five qualities to look for in employees to see if they are coachable:
- They love and even value feedback - they thrive from it versus pushing against it.
- They have emotional readiness to receive instruction versus being distracted by life
- They are honest with themselves - they can look in the mirror and be honest about their performance and shortcomings versus the 85% of America that is fooling themselves.
- They surround themselves with people that challenge them versus “yes men.”
- They have great conversation skills with the ability, to be honest, clear, and demonstrate listening.
When you’re hiring, look for these qualities and formulate interview questions to see if the candidate has any of these.
The Right Coaching Tools
It’s one thing to have a passion for coaching, but it’s another to know how to do it. Oftentimes our leaders think they are coaching, but they are actually training. Training is about developing a specific skill with the purpose of improvement. Usually, training is designed and implemented for a group such as introducing a new process for dealing with children that have behavioral issues or the introduction of a new parent connection app. This would require training.
Whereas, coaching takes into account the specific performance of the individual being coached and then provides tailored direction. Coaching is about listening, suggesting, and working together on a plan that provides accountability and tailored direction. For instance, an employee that has a hard time collaborating with other teachers. You would coach them on how to build collaborative relationships. Another example would be an employee that is constantly pushing back against the leadership team. This would call for coaching on how to break down walls and open up to feedback or change.
The right words and plan can mean everything in the trajectory of an employee's work cycle with your school. Our coaching platform, Coach Help, works with your leaders to give them instant solutions specific to their needs, down to the exact questions, activities, and accountability actions for most coaching topics!
Overall, as we continue to invest in our employees through our time and coaching, we will build a loyal team that will stick by us in our schools.
The New Narrative
If you were to close your eyes now and envision the newspaper…what would the headline read for your school and the child care industry?
Would it have words like:
- Childcare renewed
- Breathing again
- Overflowing with quality staff
- New opportunities are here
I challenge each and every early childhood education professional to refocus, fall back in love with what they are doing, escape that fear, and change the narrative in your school. Let’s have the courage to “walk into our story and own it. Then, and only then, will we get to write the ending.” Brene Brown
Love this topic? Download our FREE People Factor Workbook which includes:
- Reflection activities
- Impactful Candidate Attraction Ideas
- Sample job ads
- How to coach an employee who wants to resign due to pay.
- And, so much more!