Learn how to design a strong foundation of clear values so your child care center culture naturally fosters continuous change to prevent it from becoming toxic or stagnant.
As child care center leaders, we strive to take our companies to the peak of success. A key component to this success is company culture. Similar to a mountain peak, company culture can entail steep roads, sloping sides, and sharp ridges. This less hospitable terrain tends to mean success doesn’t occur for everyone. The benefits however are as you venture higher and closer to the peak of greater more intense wins, you and your team are exposed to a new atmosphere, new scenery, and even new ways to be reenergized.
We often start on the journey to improving our cultures with the greatest of intention, but we experience resistence or we stumble, so we turn back to where we feel it is safe. These are times when the victim mentality is at its strongest among your team. With this toxic mentality, teams can focus more on reasons the change isn’t happening and how they are innocent or how they don’t have power to change the situation. Be encouraged however! When you are able to create a solid foundation to build upon, you will experience new levels of success only companies brave enough to scale something this intense can. You will employ no more victims, but achievers willing to be accountable to accepting that change rests on their shoulders and there is no excuse when it doesn’t happen, only the push to try harder.
So who wants to achieve peak success?
As we focus on the journey of reinventing the culture at our child care center, we will identify four steps that considers the entire employee experience, or “journey” from attraction thru retention. These four steps that will take us to the peak of success, allowing us to reach milestones other child care centers can only aspire to achieve include:
- Establishing a strong foundation
- Living the foundation you built
- Empowering to drive success
- Continuous collaboration and change
Let’s dive into each step up to the peak:
1. Establishing a Strong Foundation
“If you design it, they will come.” Company culture is one of the biggest success factors in becoming an employer of choice. Establishing or designing a strong foundation is the first step to attracting the talent you need to step up to the challenge of transforming your child care center. So what specifically does it entail to establish a strong foundation?
Accepting this journey to improve your culture, must first start with the top. We have all heard over and over that our leaders must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. In order for your culture to stick and withstand the hard times that will most definitely come your way as you journey to greater success, your leadership must 100% believe they are going to be the strength behind the movement.
Does your team feel this way?
- All leadership is on the same page and unified toward one vision
- Leadership is in agreement that culture is the foundation of achieving the peak of success
- If changes need to occur at the top level to even take one step up the mountain, we are ready to do what it takes
Define your culture, values, differentiators
You must be confident in knowing exactly who you are as a company. This is why laying the foundation is so important! Words and phrases, when constructed with passion and vision can be all that is needed to ignite a journey such as this.
Have you taken the time to consider the words that describe your child care center and your big purpose?
- Reevaluate your core values, what makes you unique and your vision
- Take time to ask yourself if your culture is made up of just words or do they describe clearly how you want to operate, make decisions, and how you will serve your employees, families, vendors, and community
Verbally and visually communicate your culture thru all platforms
To attract employees that are a perfect match for you culture, we must communicate it both verbally and visually. Don’t get stuck painting a picture of a job description or quality care.
Do you describe how you are better than the center down the street and what makes you different?
- Your online presence (social media, website, reviews) have pictures of your team actually demonstrating your core values. Culture is demonstrated through interactions with each other collaboratively, not just with the children
- The words that are shared on your website, marketing materials, and even on your walls clearly say who you are
Interview and screening process
The foundation of culture you defined is intermingled into your screening process. Applicants should not be pushed through the interview process out of desperation.
Are you careful to not let emotion dictate who you hire and why you hire?
- Ask questions in your employment ads that would draw candidates that fit your culture
- Screen applicants based on how well they align with the foundation you have established
- Consider also if they will be able to make the journey to the peak and are they capable of pulling others along with them when others struggle
- Make sure your team doesn’t take shortcuts in the process of hiring out of need for a warm qualified body in the classroom and hold them accountable to following the hiring process
2. Living the Foundation
“You designed it, now let’s live it.” Operating out of your company’s culture throughout all connections with employees builds trust and loyalty. There must be various ways you will perpetuate your culture to keep it alive. Here are some solid examples of how you can live the foundation you designed:
State of the company
As a leader in your company, providing regularly scheduled updates to the status of your continuous improvement is going to allow for encouragement to live the values. Employees will grab hold of your enthusiasm and ongoing dedication to reaching the peak.
Are you communicating how employees are to live the culture?
- Have monthly meetings as a way to communicate your values both from an ownership level and a management level
- Incorporate motivational videos and written content showing how to live it
The first few months of your new employee’s journey at your company must be filled with various culture enriched trainings, conversations, demonstrations, and clear expectations. The training and onboarding process is there to equip your new hires so they can make the journey to the peak with the rest of your team.
How are you equipping your new hires?
- Have a program that provides a clear explanation of your values and ways they can incorporate those values in their work
- Lay out expectations of what milestones should be achieved during the onboarding process, ensuring culture is a critical piece that is scattered throughout the program
- Define the consequences if expectations are not met
An important part of living the foundation you have laid is thru coaching. Coaching should come from peers and supervisors. We often coach on process and procedure, but often fail to coach on culture and the foundation we worked so hard to build.
Do you coach how to actually live the core values or vision in each of our jobs?
- Coaches train on how to help acclimate your new hires to the culture
- Leaders are given a budget to help coaches come up with creative ways to do this
Highlight demonstrations of culture
When you have opportunities to communicate successful demonstrations of your culture, seize it! Communicating real examples are the best way for employees to see themselves doing the same thing.
Does your team know how to highlight those moments when culture meets application?
- Monthly meetings must allow for time to highlight demonstrations of culture (Give one or two examples or spotlights of employees demonstrating your designed foundation)
- Come up with ways to incentivize your team to want to demonstrate this and/or capture it
- Ensure your team is using these demonstrations creatively to draw in more top talent
3. Empowering to Drive Success
“You designed it, you are living it, it’s now time to use it.” The measure of an employee’s engagement level to the company is critical to the success of the organization. Not only do engaged employees drive continued success of your company, but they are loyal and help build a reputation that generates ravings fans. How do you get employees engaged so the culture you worked so hard to create is used to its full potential?
An engaged employee is enthusiastic about their work and takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests. An organization that learns how to empower their team so they feel their workplace is a safe place to engage, will be a successful one.
Do you have engaged staff? Is it only a select few or a majority?
- Engagement should focus on different areas to keep them empowered and interested- categories include how to engage them in:
- Growth activities
- Creating experiences socially
- The little things that just make work a little better each day
- Consider ways to engage employees across the entire employment life cycle (new, long-term, exiting)
- Employees are encouraged to use their talents and share their ideas
To ensure you are doing things that are creating change, set various metrics to monitor such as turnover rates, retention rates, and even the number of recruitment and enrollment referrals your employees are giving each year.
Are you clear about what defines a “win” for your child care center?
- Create a benchmark to build from
- Have clear goals and communicate progress; adjust accordingly when you are not getting results
- Celebrate your wins to keep people encouraged
4. Continuous Collaboration and Change
“You designed it, you live it, you use it, now let’s keep it going” When you desire to keep the fire ignited around your center culture, all involved must continuously feel energized, inspired, and attached to the mission. This is often where companies fail. They want to fall back to old ways because there is comfort and safety in what is already known. The peak is filled with extreme highs but can easily get consumed with fear and a desire to retreat. All employees must collaboratively desire to keep the success going and to keep the culture healthy and not stagnant.
When you’re looking for new ways to improve, empower your employees to take action. Create an environment of collaboration where teams can come together and work at ways to further develop upon the foundation you built.
How do you step back and give your employees decision making authority?
- Inventory the talents of you employees and get them to volunteer the use of those talents
- Create a safe environment so employees want to collaborate and help each other be the best they can be
- Define an incentive program that praises employees who take action from being empowered
The only way we can continuously improve is if we are given thoughtful critique, and encouraged to be better than we already are. Performance management is critical to keeping your culture going and to ensuring employees don’t stray off the path to the peak.
During employee reviews, does your coaching focus on values & culture or just job duties?
- Employees should be rated on how well they carry out the company values
- Employees are coached on how they can utilize their skills to help further the culture
As new employees come aboard and as interests change, survey your staff to determine if their motivation and skills have adjusted. The team you have today may have completely different needs and desires only a year later.
What are your surveys telling you about your culture and how employees want to live it?
- Get to know your new staff and what they can bring to help keep you at the peak of success
- Ask your existing staff once a year what will help them retain momentum as your company continues on the journey of success
- Survey employees as they leave your organization so you can detect any areas that need fixing
- Adjust your strategies based on survey responses.
- Perception can often be stronger than reality, so listening closely to the employees and how they perceive the environment is going to keep you successfully on top
Changing culture in your workplace is highly searched on the internet. Everyone is looking for ways to help them achieve a turnaround in their culture and help with the obstacles they face on a daily basis. These four steps described above will help your team get to a place of success. It won’t happen overnight, however. When your journey is carefully traveled, beginning from the foundation up, you will have a tight unit to take your child care center to places you never thought equipped to go.
Design it, walk the walk, tap into your employees, and create a safe environment that empowers creativity and continuous improvement. That is how your child care center will achieve a culture that keeps you at the peak of success. Go lead your team on a journey which will achieve success strong enough to impact your employees, families, vendors and community. Let your culture catapult your child care center on a peak so high, the competition won’t be able to compete and families will not have an option but to see you as the top choice.
Caroline Jens Bio
Caroline Jens has a diverse background which includes over 25 years of finance and nearly 10 years in child care. During those years, Caroline worked as Executive Director for an independent, multi-location child care center. In 2016, Caroline started Child Care Biz Help, where she consults with child care centers across the nation to help them strategize on growing their business, retaining employees, recruitment, coaching, business operations and more (better known as the “Need Another You” program. Caroline is the author of two early childhood education leadership resources P.R.O.F.I.T.S. Childcare Success Formula & P.R.O.F.I.T.S. Teacher Workbook.