What makes for a truly brilliant nursery manager – and are there enough of them to go around?
Whenever there’s any discussion about the general quality of service in children’s nurseries the need for adequate qualifications and rigorous training is rightly brought to the fore, and nobody would expect that to change.
However, as in any other professional walk of life, it’s the ‘x factor’ , the talent that takes the whole process beyond the merely adequate, which I would argue really makes the difference – both to the operation of the business and, obviously much more importantly, to the quality of the experience the children have while in our care.
On a fairly regular basis we make it clear we are seeking ‘high achievers’ when recruiting nursery staff at all levels, and although we don’t initially spell out in detail exactly what it means, we really intend it to be taken as a general sign that we’re looking for above-average commitment and a degree of initiative which you can’t really acquire through training alone.
This doesn’t mean that every nursery nurse should aspire to be a manager – far from it, as for many that particular job is rewarding enough in itself to satisfy the talents and aspirations of the person concerned – but it certainly implies that we’re looking for somebody who both needs and wants to go several stages better than the average (however that might be defined).
Again, we find that while training and qualifications are the starting point it’s experience ‘on the ground’ which brings out the extra edge. How will this person respond in a crisis? No matter how caring the employee may be, other considerations, such as an ability to multi-task effectively, will also have a strong bearing on how the job is carried out.
Evidence from any previous work experience is a help, of course, but when it comes to finding – and developing – experienced managers, the employer has a particularly important role to play.
Creating the environment for success
I’m convinced that in many cases potentially brilliant managers are either not becoming managers because they haven’t been given the incentives and guidance needed for them to gain promotion, or, on the other hand, they are managers who are frustrated in their jobs because they have little or no way of progressing their own great ideas and new initiatives. Eventually some in this second category will simply give up and leave the profession.
It perhaps goes without saying that even the best team leader can’t operate to full potential if management simply aren’t listening when it matters – or taking action on some issue when there’s an overwhelming case (from the manager’s point of view) for doing so.
In our company we argue that the field-leading status we have set ourselves as our key objective can only be achieved if we address these issues head on. We seek high achievers, but equally we have to give our senior staff the means to bring about results.
A major key to success, we are convinced, is the whole concept of staff incentives. Anybody who excels in any area of endeavour is rewarded and recognised, in accordance with a scheme which everyone is aware of and which aims to ensure that nobody ever has to feel their efforts are in vain.
We also ensure that there is an adequate flow of information between our (currently) six nurseries, so that a good idea in one nursery has the potential to be taken up across the company, and equally that there is full and frank communication between nursery nurses and managers, and between them and management.
We have formal arrangements in place to ensure nothing is left to chance, and no point is left unanswered, but beyond that our whole approach has always been to imbue staff with the conviction that their role is to deliver an above-average service, and to provide them with every possible means – training and promotion opportunities, full liaison with seniors, good pay and conditions, and proper recognition for their efforts – of helping them to bring that about.
There are some obvious barometers of success which aid the process. We liaise as fully as possible with parents, of course, and their comments are invaluable in helping us find where we could be doing better.
Regular staff meetings and reports soon show whether or not our team work is truly effective.
And on a strictly practical note our managers now operate a nursery assessment scheme, which allows them to regularly score every area of operations – from fire safety to maintenance of outdoor play areas – and this has definitely helped bring about rapid procedural improvement, where needed.
But I believe that to get the desired high achievement from managers which we need to drive our business, it’s crucial for us to demonstrate in every way possible that they have our support and that we are continually ready to act on their well-founded recommendations.
This in turn should inspire those nursery nurses who are thinking about promotion to go for the same ambitious goals, and to build upon the same ethos.
My broad conclusion is that if it sometimes appears to be difficult to find sufficient high quality managers, the people who run our nurseries – or rather the systems they administer – are at least partly to blame.
If we want high achievers, we have to demonstrate that we can provide the support needed to allow ambitious and talented people to reach their full potential.
Deepak Poddar is Managing Director of the Little Einstein’s children’s nurseries across Scotland.