Training

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

Training seems to be one of those elements of a recreation operation that is badly needed in order to sustain a quality program, but that is often ignored because of more “pressing” issues.

With budgets constricted to unprecedented degrees and staff reductions forcing departments to “do more with less,” it’s all too easy to justify slipping training into the “nice-to-have” rather than the “essential” pile. But I would argue that whisking relevant training under the rug is self-defeating and potentially damaging to the success of an operation.

It’s really a Catch-22: giving training the time it deserves might cause other routine items to be neglected; on the other hand, focusing on day-to-day functions and ignoring training stifles the operation because staff members are not obtaining the necessary training to do their jobs effectively.

I sometimes get caught in this conundrum myself. This year, though, I was determined to put training back on the priority list. To emphasize its importance, I made the decision to essentially close all facilities and suspend operations for an entire day.

Giving patrons plenty of advance warning and on a predetermined Friday, administrators and I mustered all the full-time and part-time staff, which in itself was challenging, but important — several facilities had different shifts and some people may not routinely meet others in their department. Because of the diverse job descriptions, it is also not unusual for one section not to know exactly what another section in its own department does.

Getting Started

So, the morning was dedicated to overviews. Essentially, we told the staff about themselves: what they all do, who they are, etc. Two administrators and I gave the entire staff the same briefing that we give to public groups, opening their eyes to how much we collectively do, both in volume and variety of activities. It gave me the opportunity to tell the staff why their daily jobs are so important to the community.

A couple of the coordinators did some fun ice-breakers to encourage people to share personal stories to foster camaraderie. The overriding message of the morning was to emphasize the importance of assembling everyone under one roof. I punctuated how important training is, and to encourage subordinate leaders to make time for it.

After lunch, departments divided into sections to train on specific important items in a particular set of circumstances. These were very job-specific, and aimed to help members perform better on a daily basis. One of the unexpected advantages to the sessions was realizing that all of the training can’t be accomplished in a day, so plans were made for follow-up training.

The Results

Closing facilities for this training was something we’d never done before, but I think it was a key to the program’s success. A strong message was sent that training is important and deserves dedicated time.

Another key to success is ensuring that the training is relevant and realistic, and can be immediately applied in the field. To ensure this, we sought staff input months prior to the program and asked where the staff needed more information.

This led to productive ideas and ultimately pointed the way to a central issue we needed to address: improving our website to make it more intuitive and easier for people to get what they need. It is a project that, if done correctly, should ultimately improve service, efficiently use staff time, and increase revenue–all critical elements in today’s operating environment.

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