By Susan Davis Gryder 2014-10-03 06:27:45
Learn why and how to set goals for your school nutrition operation. Many of us set goals in our working life all of the time—even without realizing it. “I’m sick of not being able to find the right-size spoodle when I need it. I’m reorganizing our utensil drawers once and for all.” “I am not going to let that crabby Margaret get under my skin today. I’m just going to ignore her snarky comments.” “This week, I’m going to finish drafting the training schedule no matter what.” “Look at how Sandra preps that recipe; she gets it done in half the time it takes me. I’m going to try it her way next time.” Even the simplest, most spontaneous goals help us move forward and improve— improve our performance, our processes, our attitude, our effectiveness. But for a more sustainable improvement, we need more sustainable goals. We need a different approach to our intent. It’s easy to say, “I want to be more efficient, happier, less stressed, thinner, healthier, more successful and so on.” But we need a commitment to identifying obstacles and actions; to making necessary changes and doing the required work; and to establishing a defined timeline to achieve that objective. This is hard to do as an individual—it’s also hard to do as a team. We spend so much of our day simply trying to get done what must get done. It’s difficult to find time, energy and focus to do more than dream of a changed future. In the continually changing school nutrition environment, with new regulations and many priorities from different stakeholders, an attempt at establishing and working toward formal goals may seem to be a frustrating process at best and an impossible one at worst. But what’s the consequence of not trying? Let’s agree that setting goals for school nutrition operations is a smart step toward continual progress and achievement. Now, let’s address how you and your team can go about the process. The Long and Short of It In the business world, goals come in two basic flavors. Long-term goals, covering three to five years, are established first. These tend to emphasize visionary ideas around big, conceptual areas. For school nutrition, these might focus on participation, customer service, cost control, revenue generation and community perception. A school nutrition department’s long-term goals also might be developed to correspond with goals set by the superintendent or board of education for the district overall. Once you have determined your long-term goals, it’s time to set the short-term goals, which should be designed to help you achieve your larger, longer-term goals. Short-term goals typically cover a year at most, and include very specific targets and measurements. When Julie Boettger, PhD, RD, child nutrition director for the City of Hammond, Ind., sets annual goals, her first step is to review data in different categories—key performance indicators (KPIs)—which provides an illustration of where the department stands today. “We measure outcomes like food cost, labor cost, participation percentages and comparisons of free and reduced-price meals versus paid meals,” Boettger explains. “I look at these KPIs by group, individual school and type of school— elementary, middle, high school. I use this information to set goals, based on my previous experience [as a consultant] and what [achievements are likely to] have the best growth or financial impact.” Boettger identified reducing employee absenteeism as one short-term goal for the department, establishing an individual goal for each employee not to have absences in excess of more than 10% of scheduled working days. She tied the outcome to both an incentive (employees who met the goal would be given the opportunity to select their summer work location) and a negative consequence (excessive absences could put the employee’s job in jeopardy), and communicated the new policy to all staff. There was already a metric for this attendance standard that had been established in the district’s policy and set in its human resources manual. “But it had not been widely communicated or enforced,” Boettger recalls, adding, “The first year, some of the staff didn’t really believe me! But [when] summer came, staffers who had a lot of absences didn’t get to pick their summer work location. The second year, we had a lot better attendance.” Be SMART About It As a director or manager, you need to recognize that goal setting can go awry right from the beginning. Goals can be unclear, too ambitious or simply not applicable to changing the desired problem. To help avoid setting unproductive goals, consider employing SMART goal-setting techniques. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-specific. If you keep all these factors in mind when identifying your goal, you stand a much better chance of achieving real and productive change. Let’s consider an example of applying the SMART approach to a general desire to improve your school nutrition operation’s bottom line. How can you establish a SMART goal to achieve this objective? Specific: Your goal should refer to a defined area of your operation. Instead of the vague “improve my program’s profitability,” reframe your objective by focusing on a specific achievement. For example: “Increase participation in the high school lunch program.” Measurable: To ensure that your goal is a bona fide success, it needs to be something that can be measured and tracked. Make your goal SMARTer: “Increase the percentage of students that participate in the high school lunch program.” Achievable: If your goal was easy, it wouldn’t be much of a change. It should be a stretch, but an achievable one. For this step and our sample goal, think about what percentage increase would be achievable and realistic in the coming year. Start by reviewing different factors that will have an impact. What is your current participation percentage? Does the school have an open campus? When was the last time the dining area was renovated? Does the onsite preparation area have the equipment to facilitate menu changes? What’s the current ratio of meal sales versus a la carte percentages? What’s the “real” free/reduced-price ratio; that is, the number of applications you typically collect from eligible students? Now, think about which of these areas have the potential for improvement? This will help you to identify a reasonable goal, a SMARTer one that might indicate: “Improve the percentage of students that participate in the high school lunch program by 5%.” Relevant: Keep an open mind as you check yourself. Does your goal promote a change that will be important to your program? In most school districts, participation in the school nutrition program drives profitably, so it’s safe to say that our sample goal about boosting high school participation is relevant! But let’s say that you decided your goal is to increase participation at your elementary school, which already has 90% of the students eating every day. In this case, perhaps a more relevant goal toward the objective of department profitability would be to seek new ways to reduce food and labor costs. Time-bound: Choose a time period to work on the goal and a specific end date to measure your efforts and see if you’ve met your objective. Give yourself sufficient time to achieve your goal without making it so long that you and your team lose focus. For our high school participation goal, a school year makes sense, although you might consider checking in on your progress a few times, such at semester or quarter breaks. By using this SMART goal approach, you’ve turned “Improve my program’s profitability” into “Improve the percentage of high school students that participate by 5% by the end of the 2015-2016 school year.” Now, that’s a smart goal! Gather Support for It Goals for an organization tend to address a process, and each process has stakeholders— people who have a vested interest in the outcome and/or an important role to play in creating changes. Stakeholders can provide valuable input in determining which of a long list of possible goals will be the most useful and the most effective. But bringing stakeholders together to provide such input can be tricky, and it requires some advance planning. Who will be part of the stakeholder group? How will you elicit and record their ideas, and make sure that the discussion stays productive? How will you choose the final goals? Jill Kidd, RD, SNS, director of nutrition services for Pueblo City (Colo.) Schools, has a disciplined approach to goal setting that she applies to both long-term (three- to five-year) and short-term goals. She regularly involves stakeholders at both the district and school level to generate creative ideas and buy-in. Whenever possible, Kidd uses an outside facilitator to manage group input. “It’s really important to have someone other than me facilitate, if I’m going to participate,” she points out. “If I’m the facilitator, it feels like I’m forcing my ideas onto the group, and I really want everyone to contribute.” Kidd has used the same facilitator who guides sessions for the entire district leadership; this allows her to “test drive” that individual, plus start thinking about how to align the school nutrition department goals more closely with the overall district plan. Robert Lewis, PhD, RD, director of nutrition services for El Monte City (Calif.) School District, believes that his success in meeting ambitious department goals is contingent on ensuring that stakeholders, including students, are on board. “Always involve the students as equal stakeholders!” he advises. In addition, he knows better than to rush the process. Lewis invests a lot of time and energy into work before setting any goals that will represent a significant change to the status quo. “Whether you implement healthier foods, breakfast or a supper program, it’s important to do the background work months in advance,” he asserts. “We make sure everyone in the community knows what direction we’re moving in, which eliminates pushback. It’s all about communication and pre-planning.” Others May Have Already Found It Where do you get your ideas for new goals? These often come as solutions to perceived problems, but don’t overlook the opportunities for innovation! Take inspiration everywhere you can find it— especially from the achievements of your colleagues in other schools and districts. Whether you read about them in this magazine, learn about them during a state or national conference or just discover them through an informal chat with a colleague, these ideas can be gold. Keep your radar tuned to things that excite or impress you. Even if your goals are unique, your peers may already have applied an easy, effective way to measure outcomes or benchmark progress that can be adapted for your own needs. Anji Baumann, child nutrition director for the Gooding and Shoshone (Idaho) School Districts, oversees school meals in two small but forward-thinking communities. In small districts, there isn’t a lot of room for error, she notes, acknowledging the value of learning from others’ successful initiatives. “I stay aware of what’s going on in other school districts,” she says, “and have certain go-to people that I look to for inspiration.” Stick With It If you’ve ever set a New Year’s resolution, you know that goals only succeed if you keep plugging away at them! This is especially true for business goals, where circumstances are usually changing, and it can be easy to lose steam or lose sight of your original objectives. “You have to be tenacious [in] persisting,” says Kidd. “Plan it, do it, check it. Don’t be afraid to change or tweak it from what you’ve learned. But keep going down the path. There’s a risk that things will happen to make you lose your focus, like a new superintendent [starting] or new regulations, but you have to keep working toward your goals.” Hammond’s Julie Boettger agrees— and urges against complacency. “It’s important to make goals stretch you [and your team], while keeping them reachable. If you make them too easy, people feel like they haven’t achieved much. People feel most energized when they know they’ve worked hard and made a difference. Keep pushing the bar a little bit every year!” Celebrate the Success of It Noted leadership coach Tony Robbins asserts that a core quality of leadership is the ability to honor success and celebrate victory. When goals are met, make sure you celebrate that success with your team! It reminds them why the goal was important in the first place, creates a feeling of unity around a successful outcome—and builds momentum toward achieving the next goal on your list. Accentuating the positives also helps teams stay resilient in the face of the next new challenge—and it seems like there’s always one of those around the corner in school nutrition. “It’s important to keep focusing on the things that really keep our programs healthy, like participation and happy customers—even while you are struggling to figure out how you will afford enough fresh fruit to serve this year!” says Kidd. “It’s one thing to tell your staff that what they’ve achieved is important, but they need to feel it, too,” asserts Baumann. This year, she began awarding staff members with “cook’s cash” whenever they take measurable steps toward meeting department goals, like attending a training session. At the end of the year, Baumann will hold a silent auction at which staff can use the cook’s cash they earned throughout the year to bid on items donated by local vendors. One powerful way to celebrate the achievement of an important goal is to document the process. Consider a celebratory team meeting with a slideshow featuring pictures of staff members taking action toward meeting the goal, as well as charts and graphs showing how the positive outcome is measured and, of course, images of the results: happy kids, healthy meals and so on. Add some upbeat music, and you have an inexpensive and inspiring way to celebrate your team’s success. Post the slideshow online and invite the community to watch and celebrate, too. As you celebrate, you will be sowing the seeds for the next set of goals. Make them long- and short-term, make them SMART, leverage the knowledge and enthusiasm of your staff, and remember: Thoughtful goal setting can make the difference between a good operation and a truly great one. Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer in Silver Spring, Md. Illustrations by retrorocket, flytosky11 and artecop2/www.istockphoto.com. SNAPSHOT • Thoughtful goals can make the difference between a good operation and a great one. • Applying the SMART approach to goalsetting will position you for success. • Involve stakeholders, be persistent and celebrate achievements. BRAINSTORMING EXERCISE #1 If you are working with a large group of stakeholders, it’s one thing to elicit ideas—it’s another altogether to prioritize the results. The following approach promotes interaction and creativity. • Divide participants into groups of three to five people, and distribute three large pieces of paper to each group. • Give the groups 30 minutes to brainstorm three goals; each group will put one idea onto each piece of paper. • Hang the papers with the goals on the walls around the room. • Distribute to each participant three green dots (to indicate high priority) and three red dots (to indicate high energy). Ask each to circulate around the room and assign their dots on the goals that best represent their top priorities and top areas of energy. • Identify the goals with the most green and red dots, which indicate that many stakeholders think these goals are important and will put energy/ enthusiasm into achieving them. Consider adding a third color dot, which could indicate a long-term or “parking lot” goal—that is, a good idea to consider at a later time.
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