Q&A: Onboarding, Part One

Following June's THRIVE Masterclass, when we discussed the beginning stages of onboarding new hires, we received a ton of positive feedback and lots of great questions. The questions were so great, in fact, that we thought we'd share them!

What is the best trait to look for in a staff trainer?
Ideally, your school will have several trainers including age-group specialists and administration trainers. Look for staff already successful in these areas, as well as people you may have your eye on to grow and develop. The best trait to look for? Coachability! They should be patient and understand learning styles of adults which, like children, can vary. The trainer should also be able to flex to the trainees’ style (auditory, visual, hands-on or a combination). They should be strong learners, developers and communicators because we want to intentionally develop our teams. Teaching our teachers is as important as teaching our children and nurturing our families.

Should there be one person, like the owner, who focuses on staff development and management? Or should we delegate aspects of staff appreciation to other staff?
Get out of your own way when growing your teams. We only succeed (and grow our bottom line by adding classrooms and new schools), if we leverage our strengths and aim to put each and every staff member in their work “sweet spot.” By delegating projects to the right staff members, we increase their job satisfaction and help them grow. I think every staff member should have one or two things they are particularly strong in and feel good about in terms contribution. That said, clarity of vision from the owner or director is a key as is having a written process for training and onboarding systems. Also, don’t overlook new team members. Give them opportunities to contribute early on and you will get buy in from them.

Do you have a formula for tracking turnover? And should I track this annually?
Divide your number of W-2s by your number of employee positions. The average turnover in our industry is 30-percent, but this can be much higher depending upon your unemployment rate, minimum wage and the way in which you successfully retain staff. It is also driven by local demographics. For instance, if you live in a transient area with military bases or large companies that are leaving your area, you may have a harder time. You’ll want to calculate your turnover annually, but you’ll want to track your trends as often as each payroll. Create a simple spreadsheet with basic information such as name, location, full or part time, start date, pay rate and termination date and reason. You can be much more detailed on this but I suggest you keep it simple. Your goal is to look for the trends!

Is there a time frame for releasing staff bios to parents? It seems to take at least 90 days to know if a staff member is a good fit. Won't it look bad to parents to be constantly posting new bios?Parents can be sensitive about turnover so being as transparent as possible is important. Letting parents know the steps you are taking to bring in good hires as well as educating them on some of the challenges in our industry will help with the trust factor. An official staff bio and photo on the website can wait for 60-90 days, or until you’re sure. However, communicating quickly when you’ve made a new hire is best. It's better to over-communicate with parents about who is in the classrooms with their children. In a situation where you have a new staff member you hope will work out, introduce them as such: “We welcome Mr. Jonathon to the Zebra room and can’t wait for you to get to know him! His degree is from X and he has x, y, and z experience. You’ll see him daily (schedule). Mr. Jonathan will have a Meet the Teacher Milk and Cookies Party on (date/time) and looks forward to meeting all the Zebra Mamas and Papas. Please take time to meet him and to let him (and us) know how he’s doing! We appreciate your kindness in advance.” This way, you are actively asking for feedback and letting parents know their responsibility is to help Mr. Jonathan and to communicate with you if there are training needs.

In the past, I’ve tried to set up a leadership team with my mentor teachers. It turned out to be a situation of entitlement. How do you create buy in without over-inflating?
Growing careers can set off competitive spirits especially when you have several staff with similar strengths. Do a 'Strengths Finder' or similar assessment on them and be sure each are working in their area of strength as well as identifying an area of growth. This goes back to having Career Ladders for every staff member starting as soon as they complete their 90-day probation. Your team can benefit by having other leaders besides mentor teachers. Why not widen their circle to Curriculum Development, Sales and Marketing, or Customer Care? Excellent mentors are also well-versed in communicating your school’s strengths and may be strong candidates to blog or add content pages to your website. Bottom line on this one is the trust factor within the team. We all want to grow our program and our own strengths as well as celebrate colleagues growth and successes. Maybe spending a little time on fine-tuning your Core Values and your 3-5 year company plan would help. We love working on projects like this through HINGE's THRIVE Consulting service!

Do you think it’s best to hire a management role from within or outside?
Hiring from within seems to be a safe bet: you know the person and their work ethic and they know your program goals and culture. The question here is whether they can successfully transition into the management position and keep clear professional boundaries with former staff, many of whom they may now manage. Also, they may have a learning curve, for instance when a teacher becomes a marketing director. Both are personality-plus positions but the marketing position requires actual sales skills as well as a significant amount of technical ability in terms of CRM, writing drip campaigns and adhering to a linear process versus the creativity often permitted in classrooms. In this situation, a good interview process is essential as well as very specific training to make the transition smooth. And of course, when someone who is already on your team wants to grow, we want to encourage, not discourage.

Meredith Martin