Commitment to Excellence

It was amazing to see how people tested the open door policy. At first some staff would tentatively come by my office. I would stop what I was doing and give them my full attention. In some cases I would explain that I needed to complete something and then I would schedule a time to meet. Over time a feeling of comfort was achieved.

Next, ownership was a common theme. Staff didn’t feel empowered or that their voices were being heard. All department directors were re-trained in budget management and then given control of their budget.

In addition, program directors were responsible to create their budgets, keep receipt ledgers, turn in variance reports and meet formally at least twice a month on their budget.

Housekeeping was given a monthly budget for supplies. Along with the new budget training and logistics came a requirement for department heads to hold department meetings. Open forum and brainstorming sessions were the focus. This allowed for staff to share their thoughts and feelings.

Lastly, four all-staff retreats a year were created. The retreats focused on mission creation, department mission creation, and brainstorming about how to attain the goals of each department’s vision and mission as it related to the overall camp mission and philosophy.

Specifically, this year I met with the maintenance and housekeeping staff. The known issues as realized from the individual meetings were shared and then the department brainstormed what was needed to create a better place to work with meaning.

One of the dominant needs in the department was a need to feel appreciated and a need to know that their work made a difference.

We spoke a lot about what facility care means to children and guests. We changed the program evaluations to have specific questions about the grounds and buildings. These forms were then shared with all maintenance and housekeeping staff to see what their contribution meant to the guests.

A continuous stage in this plan was adding fun to the environment, along with appreciation. Staff needed to be told how they were doing. There is no such thing as a small thank-you.

I started giving Great Job awards to staff. Simple certificates were given recognizing staff for their work and effort. It is amazing to see how a little recognition changes a person’s morale and attitude.

Thank-you cards and certificates were written every week. A noticeable change began to take place in how people worked and their approach to each day.

In an attempt to broaden this, fun was added to the workplace. We encouraged people to share ideas and try them, and to cross train in other areas. Staff events were held and funny story sharing was added to meetings. A staff member enjoying their job will result in guests having fun with them. Staff is encouraged to have fun with the guests. Make their experience great!

Lastly, you must start the process in the very beginning with new staff, even during pre-employment interviews. It’s simply not enough to have prospective staff members read and sign our commitment-to-excellence promise, but they must review it in our formal interviews and after being hired must attend our two-day orientation, which focuses on expectations of team members and a complete understanding of our operating philosophy, organizational mission and each department mission as it relates to the camp mission.

After their initial two-day training staff spend three more days orientating to their new department and specific responsibilities.

The better trained your staff is in their duties, the more comfortable they will be in carrying out their job. The result is that the guest gets the best you have to offer as a team and as an individual.

As mentioned earlier in the article this is a constant experiment. To date we have seen a dramatic increase in staff retention (from 50 percent to around 85 percent) and an increase in camper and group retention.

Evaluations have changed to include more comments about the friendliness of the staff and the overall feeling that the group and our guest felt important while they were here.

We want people to come here and experience the magic of camping. That magic — that special something that campers, guests and alumni get — is created by a great staff. A staff that realizes the camp is their home. When you have a group of people improving their home everyday, you can not help but succeed in everything your team wants to accomplish. Good luck.

Jeff Merhige is the executive director of YMCA Camp Kern, Dayton YMCA, Dayton, Ohio.

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