Masterclass Recap: Figure Eights & Management by Walking Around

HINGE was thrilled to host more than 175 attendees during our most recent THRIVE Masterclass, “Figure Eights: A Guide to Management by Walking Around,” on Tuesday, September 18th.

Following this year’s series focus on creative solutions to leadership and staffing, HINGE Operations & Staffing Consultant Kathe Petchel joined HINGE Founder Kathy Ligon to discuss how childcare businesses can look to other industries and mimic some of their more successful methodologies.  

“We have so many challenges in our industry and I keep thinking ‘We can’t be the only ones!’” - Kathe Petchel

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But before Kathe dove into her content, she had some recommended reading for our webinar attendees: Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. We love all of Kathe’s book recommendations and this read is no exception! Covering topics from ‘Mastering Growth’ to ‘Mastering Organizational Alignment and Focus,’ this book covers the fundamentals of business from top to bottom. Previous recommendations from Kathe have included Traction by Gina Wickman, Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly and The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White.

But let’s get back to what we can learn from other industries. Having looked at a variety of business sectors, Kathe noticed a number of similarities between childcare and the restaurant industry. So, what all did she find that these two have in common? Well, a lot actually…

  • Risk of bad reviews

  • Risk of employee errors (allergic reactions, choking hazards, etc.)

  • Risk of theft (cash, food, paper products, etc.)

  • Risk of overworked staff (long hours, high stress levels, etc.)

  • Risk of wage and hour claims

  • Identity breaches

  • Food born illnesses, contaminations and viruses

  • Intense competition

  • Accidents (burns, cuts, falls, etc.)

  • Judgments based on cleanliness and design

  • Insurance

And the main similarity between the restaurant and childcare industry? HIGH TURNOVER. Thought the restaurant industry has it much worse than use with 73 to 150% turnover compared to our industry high of 30-40 percent.

However, having strong training and systems in place is a proven tactic to reduce turnover and is the cornerstone of a consistent and successful restaurant or business. And one of these systems is the Figure Eight model.

What’s great about the Figure Eight model is that it is easy to explain and teach to your directors and managers as well as easy to follow and form into a habit. As mentioned in another one of Kathe’s favorite reads The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it takes 21 days to develop a habit—meaning this new model can be taught and implemented within your business effectively in less than one month!

For restaurant managers executing the Figure Eight, their walkthroughs are done twice a day and by two different individuals—one in the morning and one in the evening. They start in the parking lot, head to the front door and waiting area, check the hostess station and server areas, make sure the bathrooms are clean, review the dining room layout and tables and even examine the areas unseen by many of their customers including the kitchen prep area, freezer, refrigerator, dishwasher, office, storage, break area and outdoor dumpster. The point of these walkthroughs is to make corrections immediately and record any errors so that the responsible party can be re-trained or cross-trained to correct their action or inaction for the future. This responsiveness is key to helping them develop the habit!

This walkthrough can easily be mirrored for your childcare businesses. Again, starting outside with your mailbox and signage, walking through your parking lot and evaluating your school’s curb appeal, moving through your entryway and assessing your flower pots, garden beds and doors, entering the lobby area and making sure everything is in its rightful place (your sign-in sheet, parent boards & staff boards are free of clutter) and even considering your smaller areas like the coffee station and branded promo items.

When conducting your walk-through, the devil is in the details. Look up, look down, look all around for anything that might seem out of place. Make sure your public bathrooms are stocked with enough toilet paper, paper towels and hand soap. Ensure your kitchen is clean and all appliances are working properly. Inspect your laundry rooms, storage areas, hallways, nooks and crannies. Your most important areas to review are of course your classrooms. They should be tour-ready at all times. But don’t ignore the small stuff like lighting, cots, nap mats, books and toys. And your outdoor spaces and child play equipment should look well taken care of and safe with solid fencing in place, mulch or other safe material laid evenly and surfaces kept clean.

Use your five senses to help you better inspect all areas of your school. Are the door handles sticky? Does the laundry room smell moldy? Are there dirty dishes in the kitchen sink?

Create a checklist and get very specific with the areas and objects you want inspected during the daily walkthrough. A great way to make sure you have all of your bases covered is to divide your Figure 8 walkthrough checklist into five categories: Licensing & Safety, Curriculum and Program, General Facility Check, Support Areas and Exterior and Classrooms.

When introducing this new model to your directors and managers, Kathe has a few tips to help you implement your walkthroughs as efficiently as possible:

  • Find out what areas most interest your staff. You may be surprised which of your staff like to clean and organize. These are the staff you want implementing your daily Figure 8s. Train and cross-train them on observing and documenting these walkthroughs.

  • Use your five senses and make corrections immediately, if possible (i.e. replace light bulbs, insert plug covers, spray air freshener, etc.). Licensing and safety corrections should always be tackled first. And for those things can’t be corrected immediately, create a list and act to fix them as soon as possible.

  • Take photos of specific problem areas so that your handyman can act more quickly to get things fixed.

Another industry Kathe noticed was similar to the early childhood education industry is, of course, public schools. Public schools have to keep large groups of teachers and staff well-informed on the ins and outs of the day, and, having worked in the public school system herself, Kathe has taken a few tips and tricks from this industry and implemented them in her own childcare business. Specifically, the morning announcements.

At Kathe’s childcare businesses, her directors have a morning message printed by 9 am to accommodate their 9:30am tour slots.  Then, they make sure staff have read and initialed the document by mid-morning, so they know everyone is well-informed of the day ahead. You can of course send your morning message out digitally, but we believe face-to-face time is key to ensuring your staff have absorbed and understand this daily memo.

When creating your school’s morning message, make it your own. Kathe’s schools messages always includes: the date, a positive greeting, kudos, news of the day, staff news and congratulations, schedule and schedule changes, licensing or policy reminders, notes on children, hiring or enrollment needs, tours for the day and week, upcoming events, training opportunities, and meetings and related notes. 

For fun, you can hide amusing messages and opportunities inside morning message like, “First person to tell me what time our parent open house starts on Monday gets a surprise!” or “Anyone to correctly name all five core values is excused from tonight’s meeting!”

The essential elements of delivering the morning message include…

  • having a director walk around at a designated time with the message, clipboard and pen so staff can initial.

  • making sure the message is scannable and can be quickly absorbed by staff—highlight sections to emphasize key points and use bullet points to break up information.

  • having other staff members cover classrooms for 2-3 minutes so teachers can focus on the morning message without distractions.

The morning message is not a time to chat. It is a quick information update and should be treated that way. If your director is unable to walk around because they’re tied up with something else in the morning (not ideal), have your staff pass around two copies of the morning message attached to clipboards with pens to be passed around in a systematic manner and initialed. And if a staff member ask questions later in the day that were answered in the morning message, have your directors refer them to the morning message, which should be kept in a binder for your staff to reference as needed. 

For more information and helpful insights regarding the Figure Eights method and executing effective management by walking around, watch the entire recorded THRIVE Masterclass here.

Meredith Martin