4 Actions You Can Take to Start Improving the Culture in Your Preschool Right Away

Creating a positive company culture is a vital must-do for child care business owners if they want to keep their doors open for years ahead. Having a strong company culture within your school will help to reduce employee turnover rates, increase the quality of care the children receive, boost the bottom line, provide you with the revenue to grow and expand, and make work more fun for everyone. If you’re thinking that you need to start working on improving your company culture, here are the first four proven-to-work key action steps that you should take at the beginning of your journey towards creating a collaborative culture. For more ideas on how you can improve the culture in your school, grab a copy of my book Relationship Roadmap: Real-World Strategies for Building a Positive, Collaborative Culture in Your Preschool!

Step #1: Live Your Vision & Values

You must have a clear vision of where you want to take your company. As the leader of your school, it should be your goal to know and communicate your why in a way that inspires your team to get behind your vision. This vision must be woven into every aspect of your business. You should feel so passionate about it that there is no other way you could possibly operate.

“A leader is a person with a magnet in his heart and a compass in his head.” – Vance Havner 

Crafting a passionate, but concise, vision statement will help others understand your vision with crystal clarity. It is a tool that will help you communicate to others what your company is all about and where you are headed. You will then use your vision statement as a point of reference when crafting policies, developing your services, and making a myriad of other business decisions. It, along with the core values that stem from it, will serve as a compass keeping you and your team on course.

Your core values, which you and your team will hopefully agree on together, should be posted somewhere in the school where they are visible to staff, children, and parents. This keeps them central to decision making, explanations, and day-to-day issues.

Step #2: Improve Communication

Communication patterns are the single most important factor contributing to the type of workplace culture you cultivate at your school. Make it a goal to create and maintain a positive and collaborative culture among your team by paying close attention to the communication patterns and gaps in your environment. 

As the leader, you set the tone for how your team communicates. When you are perceived as gossipy, mean, unapproachable, avoidant, hostile, or negative, your team will model what they see you doing in the way they interact with coworkers and clients. On the other hand, if they witness you encouraging, understanding, respectful, responsible, friendly and/or positive interactions, that is the type of behavior you will see from them more often. Therefore, it is important that child care leaders make it a goal to establish, model, and maintain healthy, direct, and open communication in the workplace. People will rise or fall to the bar you set for them.

This is much easier said than done. Often everyday triggers can set off toxic communication patterns that you’ve been stuck in your whole life, and these habits will not be easily broken. But some of the biggest staff demotivators have to do with communication issues. Making a decision to deal with these toxic behavior patterns in yourself and reenergizing the communication at your school will have a long-lasting impact on culture and enrollment. It’s difficult but necessary to do the work now!

Perhaps the most significant communication issue in schools, but also the easiest to correct, is a situation where your staff feel like they’re not getting the information they need to do their jobs well. These communication gaps can cause all kinds of problems in the workplace. Making direct and open communication a priority in your school, even about little things like lunch menus, can make a huge difference in your school culture. 

Step #3: Build Relationships

I’m not sure who said it first, but I’ve seen this quote everywhere recently: “A bad manager can take good staff and destroy them, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.” This is so true. You, as the boss, have the power to encourage and motivate your employees, or to do the complete opposite. 

In any relationship, whether a professional working one or an intimate personal one, there must be an emotional element. If feelings of connection and care are absent between the two parties, the relationship will die. Just like with any successful personal relationship, you must continually work at your work relationships. People are not robots. Your staff members need to feel like you care about them, or they will be less likely to care very much about you or the work they do for your company. 

You can’t expect to stay married if you cease all relationship-building activities because you now have an official commitment and don’t need to worry about it. In the same way, you can’t expect to keep employees if you never do anything to show interest in them, demonstrate care for them, express trust in their abilities, or recognize them for their accomplishments. You can’t just hire people, tell them to do their job, and then ignore them. This causes employees to feel like replaceable numbers rather than valuable assets to your company.

As the leader, make it your goal to provide a safe environment for these relationships to be cultivated. You need to be approachable and positive. If your staff are afraid of you or feel like an inconvenience to you, that can only hurt your relationship. You need to make efforts to interact with your team, take an interest in them personally, and bring fun into the workplace when you can. Remember, nurturing emotional connections with your team is key to reaching your goal of building lasting relationships with them! 

Step #4: Appreciate & Recognize

Staff need to feel appreciated if they are going to do their best work. They need to know that you notice the effort they are making and appreciate what they do, even if it’s just their basic tasks. I can guarantee that if they feel appreciated, their attitude about work will be more positive, they will happily do what is expected of them, and they will likely go above and beyond what you ask them to do. A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.

Conversely, if you fail to show appreciation, your people will learn to stop going above and beyond because they’ll feel like there’s no point. If your team members regularly scoot out before changing the garbage, sweeping the hallways, or completing other expected tasks, it might be time for your management team to look at the effort you’re making to appreciate and recognize your staff members. There is a good chance your staff is underperforming because they feel underappreciated.

One of the best ways to show appreciation for your team members is to recognize them for their efforts in front of other people. This is probably the simplest thing you can do to boost morale, and it’s definitely the most inexpensive. You simply have to remember to do it. Put it on your calendar or your to-do list if you need to! Make a point of actively looking for positive things that your team is doing and recognize them out loud, in front of others.

“Wow, Susan. Your shelves are so organized. How do you keep your classroom looking so nice with a room full of toddlers? You are an example to us all.” 

“Mary, did you know that Jane stayed late to help me organize the craft closet last night? It really looks great and I couldn’t have gotten it done so quickly without her help! Plus we had a lot of fun.” 

Comments like these make people feel good and can go a long way toward making your team members feel like you truly value them. 

Most of the time, when noticing and complimenting your staff in front of others, I’m talking about during normal day-to-day conversation. But sometimes a more public outpouring of praise is appropriate. If so, consider adding a blurb about it in your social media or parent newsletter, creating a bulletin board recognizing your staff members, or mentioning it during a staff meeting or a parent event. 

Make it a goal to appreciate and recognize your employees on a daily basis and you will see the atmosphere in your school shift positively!

Ask for the Enrollment

Many times, parents will enroll when you simply ASK them to do so! They are looking for child care. They have already indicated that you are at the top of their list by touring your school. Sometimes they just don’t know the next step. Lead the way for them! Ideally you would have a special offer with a deadline running that you can use when asking for the enrollment. 

    • Tell them you want their business. No more hemming and hawing and saying things like, “Thanks for coming in. Give me a call if you want to enroll.” No! No! No! You may have just lost that enrollment. Instead try: “Susan, I am so glad you came in. I feel like we’ve really connected during our time here today and I think that you would fit right into the Munchkin Manor family. We’d love to have you enroll. Actually, we have a special running right now that can save you $X when you enroll by Friday. Can I help you get the paperwork started to get Jackson enrolled today?” 

    • If they say they are touring other centers, congratulate them on their diligence as a parent, and restate how much you’d like to get a call with the good news that Suzie will be enrolling with you! Set a time to follow up, and then follow through on your follow up. Forgetting follow-ups is a great way to lose enrollments, so make sure your center is using a CRM system to keep track of tours, prospects, and follow-ups. No more sticky notes plastered around the office!
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Keep these things in mind for all your tours, and soon you will become a pro at enrolling more children than ever before. It will become so second nature to you that even families that drop in for a tour will feel extremely welcome and ready to fill out that enrollment packet on the spot! And if they choose not to enroll that day, make sure to follow up with them to check in and see if you can be of service and answer any questions or concerns they may still have that are holding them back. 

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