The pressures were real not only because of my work load, my lack of credibility, but because I came into an environment where the turnover rate was 45% and very toxic. How was I going to pull this off…?
As executive director, I was tasked with growing our childcare center from one location to three over the course of five years. At that time, I also managed 15 commercial real estate entities for the same owner as another part of my job. So, I guess you could say my workload was complex and intense. On top of that, my background was in business/finance, so I had to gain credibility as a leader in child care with my team.
The pressures were real, not only because of my workload and need to earn credibility, but because I came into a toxic environment where the turnover rate was 45%. How was I going to pull this off?
I want to share a pivotal point in my life at this childcare center and honestly, a turning point for the company.
I stopped by the center for our weekly team meeting. As usual, my Director and Curriculum specialist were there getting ready to meet. Scrambling to accomplish my to-do list items, I was stressed thinking about it all. Like many others, this day had been filled great intentions but now felt out of my control. Here I had to spend two hours in this meeting, which would bring with it more to-do list tasks.
More frustrating still, it was only Monday, and I had vowed this week would be different. I’d felt I was in a good mental space – how couldn’t you be when you ate tacos over the weekend? That weekend in particular, I did a lot of catch-up work and had time to plan some objectives for the week. I was ready to go.
But, man… work life, mixed with the trials of your personal life, can really suck the joy and positivity right out of you. All those “plans” were now gone and replaced with:
- Pressures from the owner
- No team to help meet those pressures: we were down eight teachers and our hiring crisis was full throttle
- Plus, I’m going to be real, if that’s OK? My husband was traveling a lot at the time, and he had just told me he was going to have to leave me on my own again in two days
It was a recipe for…well – definitely not joy!
But then, I’ll never forget… This teacher in the office was handing out baby shower invites. I’ve seen her at meetings and walking in the hallways, but never had a whole lot of conversation. Today, for some reason, she caught my eye. I was able to capture this single moment to be observant, not bogged down by everything else. I stopped, looked at her invites, and started asking some questions like:
- Did you make those?
- Do you do this often?
- What other things do you make?
That moment of recognizing talent in someone allowed joy to rise in me, completely washing away all those feelings I was having two seconds ago. I was ignited to do what I could to help her use those talents.
After the meeting, I contacted Justina to ask if she had a portfolio of other items she made. We met in a secret location (the laundry room at our center – because it was the only private space with a door). Justina had an envelope filled with samples.
I proceeded to pull out items, one by one, and I was blown away by her talents. She had been nervous to show me her work, but I was excited because I knew something much more awaited in her future.
I must have looked at 35 different things that day. What she didn’t know was that I went back to my office and recommended she become our marketing coordinator. I knew we would need a person to take charge of our marketing plan to grow from one to three centers.
Who else would I want alongside me but someone who loves child care, who’s been in the classroom, and who is so passionate about what they do?
Two weeks later, she was promoted to our marketing director. She went from teaching in the twos classroom to managing marketing projects not just for the daycare but also for several of the owner’s other companies.
Fast forward a little – Justina helped us do some much as we continued our growth path:
- Re-brand our center
- Build a new website
- Open and fill our second location
The day I left that center to start my own business, I could walk away knowing I had been able to mentor and grow some really great people along the way like Justina.
So, I'm curious, as successful as you might be at your centers, how many of you have, if you're REALLY honest, ever missed opportunities to change people’s lives because you failed to take that moment to be observant?
When you make people feel special, they will follow you to the ends of the earth. They will go to battle with you, fight wars for you. I can prove that because Justina has not only come to work for me again in my company, Child Care Biz Help, but she has become an instrumental partner in our growth over the last two years.
That day, when I took my blinders off and saw what Justina had to offer, was not only a pivotal point in my life, but in hers and for my company as well. She is honestly the reason so many of our clients love to work with us.
We can all find happiness – because it comes from things (like ice cream, a roller coaster ride, a new car) – but learning to find joy is a very different story. Joy is something we get when we give back to others, when we see them succeed (like I did with Justina). When joy is at the center of all we do, the length of our to-do list no longer affects us so much. Joy is priceless.
Running the race
We can strengthen five specific areas in our work lives, areas we have control over, to ensure we don’t miss those moments that might create joy in others, in ourselves and in our team.
If you picture the never-ending track we travel every day with our teams, let’s plant flags at several stopping points along the way.
Before we get into those five areas, let's talk about a couple factors that may influence your race.
You always have an audience watching
Notice the audience. The race may change, but no matter what, there are people watching you. They are the ones impacted on a day to day basis by the things we do as leaders. On our journey, we are constantly being viewed, judged, and having high expectations placed upon us. Those watching us are either going to get inspired by what they see, or they are going to be crushed and unmotivated.
They don’t necessarily even need you to win the race to be happy; they just want to know you lead fairly, with all your strength, with the right end goal in mind.
At the center of everything must start with joy
Joy begins understanding purpose. this is a superior feeling that comes from not receiving things, but joy is when we give happiness to others. Like that day I saw talents in Justina. It was that joy that fueled me to continue building that childcare center. It was the joy knowing Justina may not have been confident enough in herself to ever come to me to be the marketing director… but because I didn’t let me to do list own me, she is now my partner.
To figure out your purpose is something that takes a bit of time and that is not set in stone: it may grow and change with you “as your beliefs evolve, your skills develop, and your audience grows.”
If I were to define my purpose. Simply put its…TO SERVE OTHERS, but more specifically if we dive deeper to what that really means, I define serving others as my clients, by company, and my team.
When I can serve those three things - I can impact...their spouses, their children, their brothers and sisters, their parents, their neighbors, and who knows who. If I serve someone and they leave at the end of the day happy, they may not only bring that happiness back home, but they make take that to Target, to the gas station, out at the restaurant getting tacos. Having my purpose to serve others allows me to have a ripple effect of joy that I may not personally see but I know is happening.
Hijacks are awaiting to disrupt your joy
Be careful, however – there are so many things that will try to waylay you from fulfilling your purpose every day, especially in child care. As we walk through our doors morning after morning, we are often overwhelmed, exhausted, short-staffed, on edge, and I would bet most of us have considered a career change from time to time.
Some of our biggest hijackers are:
- Negative people
- Overwhelming # of things on our plate
- Coworkers, parents, our home life, and often just ourselves.
When we recognize a hijack coming, we need to be flexible, able to swerve a little. We need to convince ourselves we are the right person for the job, that we do have what it takes to tackle this race. And if we need the support of others to block the negativity or give us that extra push, then we should never be afraid to ask someone for help. Oftentimes we are our own biggest hijackers.
Now that we understand some factors that might influence our race, let's dive into five specific areas in our work lives, areas we have control over, to ensure we don’t miss those moments that might create joy in others, in ourselves and in our team.
1. Equip your child care center (preparation)
Someone who’s going to run a race trains, preparing physically and mentally, and then they make sure they have the right shoes and gear. gear. That way when they cross the starting line, they know they have done everything in their power to win. Planning may not be the most enjoyable part of managing projects, but it is the most vital component for reducing risk and failure rates. When we plan and equip, we avoid a considerable amount of stress during project execution.
Equipping happens before we start the race to ensure we kick off it off right! It’s the prep work that needs to happen: gathering resources we need, recognizing the “why” behind what we intend to do, ensuring we and our team have the right mindset.
Ways to equip include:
- Setting a timeline
- Training if there’s a gap in skills that needs to be lessened
- Holding a meeting to explain the “why” behind a program you want to implement and get people psyched about how the outcome will impact them
- Listing and getting the materials you need to pull the project off
- Preparing financial resources
Who’s experienced a project kickoff where that wasn’t organized? How did that make you feel?
- It can stress you out
- Demotivate you
- Confuse you
- Anger you
I have personally witnessed childcare center owners implement a new software program or a new procedure without thinking the whole project though. What does that do to everyone involved? They get stressed, they feel overwhelmed, their relationships at work and at home can suffer because of it, and ultimately the kids are probably going to feel it too. I’ll never understand why people don’t spend more time on this critical step.
How was I going to be able to make it through any major project or attain any goal if I didn’t have a unified team?
So, we created a culture statement that was designed just for us internally.
I gathered my leaders and several other top performers, and we came up with key words that defined the culture we wanted. It wasn’t the culture we had that day, but the one we were hoping to become. From there, we wrote this internal statement. We shared it with the rest of the staff and then constantly reinforced it. That one action we took as a center created a culture that unified us until the day I left.
Maybe writing a statement with your center’s leaders to align and unify your team might be part of your prep and equipping?
No matter what the temperature is on your culture, you have to build a team around you that supports you, challenges you to be your best, and thrives on your energy. Before any major project, your team selection is just as critical. Know their talents and strengths and plan around those assets.
As we all know, it’s the team we run with that makes all the difference. Build yourself that strong team with the right skills, attitude, and values, and you will be able to accomplish anything. A team environment promotes an atmosphere that fosters friendship and loyalty. These close-knit relationships motivate employees in parallel and align them to work harder, cooperate, and support one another.
I was really blessed to have not only Justina, but a whole group of staff who were in alignment with me and our internal vision and all worked collectively to achieve big goals. They were also comfortable being very honest with me (which is an important quality to have from your team).
We weren’t always like that, however. We had to work at becoming a cohesive team. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we had a turnover rate of 45% when I started at our center. The culture was toxic – there was no evidence of teamwork.
How was I going to be able to make it through any major project or obtain any goal if I didn’t have a team that was unified?
So, we created an internal culture statement that was designed just for us internally.
I gathered my leaders and a couple other top performers and we came up with key words that defined the culture we wanted. It wasn’t the culture we had today but the one we were hoping to become. From that, we wrote this statement. We kicked off this internal culture vision statement to the rest of the staff and then constantly reinforced it. That was the one action we took on as a center, to create that culture together, that unified us until the day I left.
Maybe writing a statement with the leaders you work with to help align and unify your team might be part of your prep and strengthening in step 1?
But no matter what the temperature is on your culture, you have to build a team around you that supports you, challenges you to be your best, and thrives on your energy. Before any major project your team selection is just as critical. Know the talents of your team, get to know their strengths and plan around those assets.
The next area we need to make sure is strong in order to protect our joy and help us run a good race is communication. We all know communication is necessary to execute any task or project well. This might include:
- Providing clear expectations
- Having meetings to discuss roles
- Communicating metrics
- Giving regular status reports on the project
I always started staff meetings by giving my team an update on our financial situation, goals we had set, and plans we had for the future. Even before that, I encouraged them by praising individuals who I saw living our vision.
When I offered this transparent communication, it toned down gossip created a positive thread of joy people could grab hold of, plus it got people excited to help live the vision. If we don’t share enough with our team, what are they going to align themselves with?
Before any project starts, one of the most important things you can do is define what success looks like.
- Achieve a certain atmosphere
- # of people attending an open house
- # children enrolled
- Certain # of reviews
- A positive experience where people have fun
- A training where teachers walk away learning three new things
Whatever the project or task, when we are intentional with how we communicate, that prevents hijacking. It can keep the excitement going and reduce confusion-related stress. Strengthen your approach to how you and others communicate, and you’ll be able to execute your purpose and experience joy.
4. Execute your plans
The fifth area to strengthen is our ability to execute. Really this is about coordinating people with resources, getting them going and keeping them fired up during the process.
As we execute projects in our centers, we should make sure to do a couple of key things:
- Be open and flexible – we may think a project will go one way, but as we start it, things change. We have to be flexible to adjust ourselves and our team as these changes come.
- Next, make sure to listen to your team. Often, when they have a different perspective, they may see an option we do not. Also listen to their needs. At times those around you may need help or reassurance. Show that you hear them and provide everything necessary for success.
- Your team’s joy can be stolen by feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed. As we work at achieving goals, attacking projects, and honestly, just getting through our week, we must consider the well-being of ourselves and our team. As you’re executing your project, know when to do health checks, cool off, or just rest.
5. Celebration at all times
The fifth and final area is one of my favorites: remembering to celebrate and be in the moment.
Even though I was a really fun manager – or so I thought – my team was always telling me to slow down and be in the moment because right from the start of every project, I would concentrate on the finish line and miss out on all the in-between necessities. Not only would I get to the finish line too fast in my head, when we crossed it in real life I’d skip the celebration and start right on the next project.
If we are going to keep joy in the center of the race, we have to not only enjoy the journey, but help our team to do the same.
- Be intentional about appreciating your team – you can do this by showing appreciation as you see hard work or loyalty.
- Laugh – the best way to cut out the stress of all we do, and a great way to be in the moment, is to laugh with our team.
- When you achieve milestones, hit goals, or finish a project, celebrate. Celebration can be expressed in so many different ways. Have fun with it.
- We built a new website and had a launch party.
- We had a secret mission experience to announce our new location.
- We set up an outdoor classroom in our playground with all these different experiences for the kids. We took a ton of pictures of ourselves having a good time while working hard to complete the playground. I made sure to write personal thank you cards to my team, and we had a reveal day for our families so they could participate in the celebration.
Use celebration as a tool to keep your team fired up and unified, and your staff will want to continue working on projects with you in the future.
When you wake up to face each day, don’t risk facing it without ensuring joy is at the center of all you do. Protect yourself and your team from hijackers by strengthening key components of how you lead and how you start each project. Always come back to joy.
From our team to yours: GO LOVE WHAT YOU DO!