When To Hold On

Among the most important and rewarding responsibilities that parks and recreation managers deal with is mentoring the staff. Nurturing a new hire from the first day to leading an agency is both a source of personal fulfillment and an essential to organizational continuity (See “Getting Back To BASICs,” PRB August 2008).

Conversely, managers are equally responsible for meeting and exceeding the expectations of the people they serve, requiring that events and programs be implemented by a competent, well-supervised staff. If you had to personally manage every activity offered by an agency, you would be busy from dawn to dusk. At some point, you delegate supervision to selected members of the team.

The Turning Point

But when do you decide to let go, to allow the staff to manage (and for you to go home for some well-earned quality time)? Figure 1 depicts three of the critical aspects of supervision that can inform this decision, and also act as a model by which you can assess and guide the staff’s skill-training and professional development (See “Not Another Training,” PRB April 2008).

The horizontal axis displays the range of event, or program complexity. A one-hour Halloween pumpkin-painting event involves only a comfortable room, pumpkins, markers and drop cloths, while a community costume dance and contest–complete with a raffle and formal voting for best costume, etc.–requires months of planning, a large facility, supplies, equipment and significant numbers of staff. Higher levels of complexity require more experienced levels of supervision.

The vertical axis represents staff ability, which can be a mixture of maturity and experience. Young people are permitted to babysit at home in some states at age 12, and can work part-time, front-line service jobs in many localities at age 14. Often, they perform their roles quite well, and are eager to learn more. Ideally, in-house training and development are provided to arm staff with appropriate skills and exposure to growth opportunities.

The third aspect considers an assessment of the need for control. Are the people working for your supervisor operating as a nearly autonomous team, requiring minimal direction, and are the participants accustomed to behaving civilly without prompting from your staff? For example, is the softball umpire corps comprised of seasoned veterans who share the same philosophy and values, and are the players and their fans respectful of the game’s rules, customs and honored traditions?

Determining Factors

Taken together, the pumpkin-painting event is relatively simple, involves low levels of supervisory skills, and needs little control. You almost could leave it to the parents to implement, but any of your staff could successfully monitor the fun. You can go home with confidence.

On the other hand, the costume dance is more complex, involves the choreographing of myriad tasks and related skills, and who knows what the participants will do if they think the contest has been rigged? You might as well prepare for an extended evening.

A third scenario might be considered, however. If you’ve been grooming a particular employee to step up to the next level, the costume dance may be presented as the ultimate challenge–a test of skill, maturity and control, representing a development opportunity. In this case, you can go home … but stay close to the phone.

Kim S. Uhlik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism Management at San Jose State University. He can be reached via e-mail at kuhlik@casa.sjsu.edu.

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