By Joanne Robinett 2015-10-05 21:43:52
Let this personal inventory guide you in your efforts to create and maintain a healthy, happy work environment. Alright now, let’s see—you submitted your next purchase order to the main office on time. You called the maintenance team to fix the pilot light on the oven. You collected the ingredients list for tomorrow’s meeting with the school nurse and the parent of a child with multiple food allergies. You’re ready to conduct that series of 10-minute training sessions on proper temperature-taking next week. You’ve assigned a staff member to take pictures during National School Lunch Week for consideration in the “School Lunch Snapshot” photo contest. Plus, you’ve submitted your team’s new recipe comments to School Nutrition as a volunteer member of the magazine’s Kitchen Wisdom Panel. What could you possibly be forgetting on your managerial to-do list? Ha! The actual list is probably about 10 times longer, but that’s not an excuse if your priorities are not in order. Your first priority as a school nutrition manager is the care and nurturing of your team. After all, you cannot do this job without them, and you won’t run an effective and successful school meals operation if they aren’t feeling motivated. Motivation doesn’t just happen. It takes effort and time—and you must be motivated to make it happen for them. Are you overdue for a review of your motivational manager to-do list? Let this personal (and “personnel”) inventory be your guide. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. Are you a role model for the behavior you would like to see among others on your team? Are you organized? Do you plan ahead? Do you keep your cool when challenges arise? Do you support the decisions made by your administration, or do you make disparaging remarks about how things get handled? Creating a healthy, motivated workplace usually means starting with your own actions and attitudes. Be brutally objective in your self-assessment. Imagine: When Wanda, one of your employees, calls her sister after a tough day at work, do you think she praises you for being a team leader who appreciates her efforts even when things are going wrong? Will Wanda cite you as someone who manages with fairness? Or will she reference you as one of her on-the-job sources of stress and dismay? Resist the temptation to throw your hands up in aggravation and complain about the lack of teamwork among your staff—even when you have justifiable frustrations. Prioritize patience and focus on solutions. Remember that you are the one who sets the tone for the operation you oversee. LISTEN AND ASK. Listening helps us manage. A quote attributed to legendary basketball coach John Wooden summarizes the value of listening: “If you want to be heard, listen.” Make a point to truly listen and not just hear what your employees are asking, saying and suggesting. Create an environment where everyone knows their opinions are welcome and will be considered with care. Keep in mind that we all often say much more than the words that are actually spoken. Pay attention to body language. Listen to wording choices and reflect on context. Is there another message hidden in the conversation? Practice being an active listener. This means repeating back what you heard and asking follow-up questions for clarification. Perhaps Marcus has come to you with a complaint about a particular task. Make time to discern the real issue. Is he frustrated by technology? By lack of training? By a coworker’s behavior or attitude? Is he bored? Does he perceive favoritism when jobs are assigned? Ask open-ended questions, avoiding those that may result in unhelpful “yes” or “no” replies. At the same time, don’t wait for employees to come to you and risk a workplace powder keg ready to blow. Make time on a regular basis to have conversations that are focused on the positive. For example, start by declaring what you find to be the best part of your daily responsibilities and why. Then ask employees individually to share their own thoughts. If Betty says, “quitting time!” avoid a gripe session by responding, “Well, that is another thing we have in common, but what is your favorite part when you are here?” But don’t be dismissive; if you perceive genuine frustration and discontent, find a private time to follow up with her (or any other disgruntled employee) to dig into and address the source of the dissatisfaction. WATCH WHAT YOU SAY. Communicate clearly. Employees need easy-to-understand expectations. Be mindful that individual staff members tend to differ in how they need (and respond to) that communication. Lisbeth may need you to deliver messages wrapped in kindness and compliments, while Gary wants a bulleted list of exactly what he is to do—nothing more, nothing less. (Being a manager of multiple personality types on one team is definitely a challenge!) Either way, it is up to you to ensure that the message is communicated. That means not just that you said it, but that the recipient heard and understood it! Above all, think before you speak. (Yes, that means you, too, extroverts!) Consider the following mnemonic device to help you make your communications count: T Is it TRUE? H Is it HELPFUL? I Is it INSPIRING? N Is it NECESSARY K Is it KIND? KEEP CONFIDENCES, BUT NOT SECRETS. As the boss, staffers often confide in you about private matters—health, home situations and personal struggles—that may affect attendance and attitude. Don’t share this information with anyone. Think what it would be like if the tables were turned, and you were dealing with a personal situation that might embarrass you if you discovered that others discussed it. Take the problems and concerns of your employees seriously, and earn the trust they place in you. Trust is essential in a healthy work environment. Trust is built over time, but it can be destroyed by one inappropriate remark. While keeping an employee’s private matters private, you should avoid being mysterious about issues that affect the workplace. Be transparent and share as much work-related information with your team as you can. For example, if your supervisor sends you budget reports or you are informed that participation and sales are in a slump, share the numbers with all employees and explain what this means—or might mean—to the operation if things continue to slide. Of course, don’t just share the bad news. If the numbers are good, share these, too—along with a high-five for the entire group! Remember that no one likes to be kept in the dark. If changes are coming, let the whole team prepare to face these together. Don’t let trouble begin to bubble and brew because “insider” information is shared only with certain members of the crew. Of course there are times when you aren’t permitted to discuss various management issues. But the stress of these occasions can be mitigated when you make a regular effort to keep your team in the loop. Build trust with your team so that they are confident that you are sharing what you can, when you can, and are not using information as a power tool. SHOW AND EARN RESPECT. Respect your employees and their needs—but remember that you also need to be a role model in respecting the workplace and the process for getting things accomplished. This means that, above all, you must be the manager and not just a buddy. This, in turn, generates respect by your team for you in your role as supervisor. Success does not happen by accident, and everyone needs to be on board if your team is to meet its goals. The workplace is not a theater, and it is no place for drama—from you or anyone else. Do not allow emotions or “volume” to play a part in the decisions that get made. Discourage your drama queens by dealing in facts and not in feelings. Ask appropriate questions that help you control a situation. When one person attempts to distort facts to get her or his way, you can be appropriately firm in refusing to tolerate such manipulation. There is a fine line between being appropriately resolute and being disrespectful or dismissive, so watch out to be sure that your own emotions aren’t being drawn into play. Remember the advice on page 20 about thinking before speaking when you handle such situations. Don’t be afraid to table an issue in favor of having private conversations with employees who are behaving inappropriately. When you are the boss and behave as such—seeking to find solutions that are in everyone’s best interest—you are demonstrating respect for the entire team. You can be the boss without being a dictator, but you should be the boss without being a doormat. BE FAIR. Sometimes it is just easier to ask the person who has a positive attitude to do one more task, so you don’t have to listen to the complaints of the individual who actually has the time to complete it. But that’s simply not fair, and your staff members will begin to pick up on this type of injustice. When making decisions about staffing or assignments, one approach to guide your fairness is to imagine that the situation is happening at another site where you do not know the individuals. You would make the decision based on who was most appropriate to do the job, evaluating skill level and workload, among other objective factors. It is so much easier to see what is fair when you can let go of personality issues. A great lesson for a manager is “The Hot Stove Rule.” Douglas McGregor, author of the profoundly influential The Human Side of Enterprise, a book on management and motivation in the 20th century, used the following analogy to explain how to handle discipline, but it’s also appropriate to help define fairness: Anyone who touches the hot stove will get a burn, he noted. Not just some people. Not just some of the time. The stove is impartial. You should try to be impartial, too! BE ENCOURAGING. Encourage employees to be their best. Don’t micromanage each facet of their tasks. Let them know the desired outcome and applicable deadlines. When you provide your employees with even limited flexibility—such as to rearrange the order of certain daily responsibilities—and the autonomy to add creative touches, they will take greater ownership of the job. Employees who feel empowered in this way are happier workers. Encourage professional growth. Promote upcoming meetings of your local SNA chapter and help coordinate carpools, as necessary. The outing itself can be a terrific bonding experience for the team outside the kitchen walls, and since such meetings are typically fun and informative events, they can be win-win occasions for everyone! From constructive conversations around the scheduled meeting topic to gaining a new appreciation of one another to greater confidence, the results are often immediate. Invite team members to share their career goals with you—not just for getting through this week or this semester, but related to where on the professional spectrum they would like to be in a few years. Let everyone know that your door is open to discuss such opportunities at work, and that you will give honest feedback in a respectful way. For example, perhaps Maya is eager to be an assistant manager now. You know she far from being ready to take on a position with more responsibility, but you don’t have to crush her dreams. Let her know that the goal is admirable and attainable. But first, she must master other responsibilities and show improvement in specific areas, perhaps promptness, customer service or attention to detail. Once Maya shows you that she is committed to doing the work that it takes to gain more responsibility, you will do your best to see that she receives the mentoring and training needed to move up. As you encourage your staff to become more involved with the school nutrition profession, consider the possibility of putting your own hat in the ring the next time your chapter or the state affiliate is seeking someone to run for office. Remember, as an officer in your association, you will tend to command greater respect for your leadership and expertise. KEEP THEM ENGAGED. Seek opportunities to engage staff in making contributions that are above and beyond the basic requirements of the job. For example, if it’s your responsibility to decide on decorations for the serving area or to manage the calendar of promotional activities, this is an ideal area to engage your employees, by asking for their ideas and help. It may be an extra task, but it’s one that is fun, breaks the monotony of everyday tasks and offers opportunities for creativity. Even if this is a responsibility you really enjoy—will that enjoyment be diminished if you let others participate? Another way to engage all employees is to organize an activity around an “outside” purpose that speaks to all. Perhaps you will spend the next month promoting the collection of mittens and gloves for the homeless before winter comes on. Maybe you will spearhead an effort to conduct a school-wide food drive for the local food bank. Would team members participate in a community walk to raise awareness for a charitable cause? Always remember that a fundamental principal of successful employee engagement is that everyone feels a part of the team. That means no one feels alone or like an outsider. If it seems like Semira is resisting participation or seems left out of the group, reach out to her privately. Without exerting pressure, you can inquire if there is a work-related or “extracurricular” activity that attracts her interest. Maybe there is a charitable cause that holds special resonance for her. Let Semira know that she is important to you and that you will present her ideas for the next activity. Be sure to follow through. Theodore Roosevelt said it beautifully: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” MAINTAIN A DIALOGUE. Conversations with your team members—as a group and on an individual basis—should be ongoing. Make sure you’re not touching base only when there’s a problem or during performance evaluation periods. Continue to listen, to ask and to engage all year long. Some employees will make this a tough and discouraging task. Juan may argue relentlessly every time you attempt to explain corrective actions. You see Kathy in animated conversations all day with all of her coworkers, but with you, every response comes in the form of a shrug. Hua does everything she’s asked, but keeps to herself without engaging with anyone from the team. Persevere! It doesn’t mean that you will change someone’s personality. But if you make the effort to keep the lines of communication open, giving honest feedback all throughout the year, then no one should be surprised by what is discussed in the year-end performance evaluation. For many managers, this is the hardest part of the job. More suggestions on dealing with a difficult employee appear in “Turn Cloudy Coworkers Into Sunny Staffers” on page 28. Remember the words of author Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” BE YOUR TEAM’S BEST ADVOCATE. Stand up for your team. If a parent, student or teacher lodges a complaint about one of your employees, you can acknowledge your regret that the complainer has had a negative experience, but you should do so without throwing the employee under the bus. There’s no need to take their version of the incident at face value, but you also should avoid getting defensive or falling into an argument. Simply listen and then promise to investigate the matter. Nothing destroys your efforts to build a team of engaged employees faster than accusing them of failing in some way—especially in public. Let’s say Principal Simms shows up at your door annoyed because a lunch period ran four minutes over its scheduled time. You need to accept the responsibility. Do not explain that it was because Sarah was on the register today and she is slow when recording meals into the new POS system. Just apologize and provide reassurance that you will work with your team to do better next time. Even if Principal Simms personally observed and subsequently blamed Sarah’s performance, you can shoulder the responsibility. “I’m sorry, that’s on me. I need to make time to work with Sarah to increase her speed.” Follow up with Sarah in private—and then follow through to help her gain confidence with the technology. Take the blame, but share the credit! When someone compliments you about the way the cafeteria is running or raves about how delicious the day’s entrée was, don’t just say “thank you.” If it is a general compliment, respond by giving kudos to the entire team, stating how proud you are of their commitment to provide the best for the students. If Leslie is directly responsible for that dish, sing her praises! If Leslie worked together with Judy, Tom and Vanessa on the recipe and prep, be sure you name them all. Don’t wait for outside praise. Make an effort to brag about your staff from time to time. Of course, positive PR and marketing efforts should always put your team in the spotlight. [Editors’ Note: See the September 2015 issue for ideas about maximizing your moments with traditional, social and in-school media. ] But even without making time for those efforts, you can take the initiative to tell a good story about your team to your supervisor, the principal or the secretary. Word will get around. CELEBRATE WHAT’S WORKING! There is so much to celebrate, yet we often get so bogged down in day-to-day routines that we fail to recognize the Herculean job that we perform well each and every day. Feeding hundreds of children (with varied likes and needs) in a period of an hour (give or take) is no small feat! But we have a tendency to browbeat ourselves when little things go wrong, like running short two servings or not having the entire kitchen shut down until six minutes after we should have been out the back door. Begin now to train yourself to be aware of all the good things that happen in the cafeteria. Compliment Sarah when her POS line is finished ahead of schedule. Note when a menu item is prepared perfectly. “Catch” Marcus helping Betty finish a complicated task. Is everyone wearing a complete uniform? Give them each a little heart sticker proclaiming how you “heart” how professional everyone looks! If a display is beautiful, go get your phone and take a picture to post on Facebook. Has fruit consumption been on the rise this week? Create a simple certificate to display in the kitchen, replacing it each time the “record” is broken. People take pride in improvement, in showing how they can be better than last time. Stay on the lookout for personal or team “bests,” and acknowledge them. You can find stickers at a discount store and create certificates on the office computer. Buy a large bag of mints so you can present one along with genuine praise of how much it “mint” to you to have such a great employee and team. When you find even an inexpensive way to express this recognition, work can be more fun for everyone! TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Keeping a team working smoothly together is a big job—it’s a responsibility that can wear you out! Get enough rest. Eat right. Find time to exercise and to relax. Make sure you engage with friends outside of work, because you, too, need a confidante from time to time. Leave your personal problems at home, though, and stay focused on work at work. Identify the parts of your job that you find most rewarding and make sure you are incorporating those into your average day or week. Remind yourself that as a manager, you are mentoring individuals and helping them to succeed—it’s a big responsibility, but one with so many rewards! Make sure that is one of the successes that you celebrate. But manage your own expectations. You won’t do it right every time—have patience with yourself, as well as with your team. You can still celebrate the effort and care you’ve invested in making your workplace a happy and healthy environment for all! JoAnne Robinett is owner of America’s Meal (www.americasmeal.com), creating and delivering diverse training and conference keynotes on school nutrition. She can be reached at email@example.com. Photography by jiunlimited.com.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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