By Sharon Schaefer, SNS 2017-06-15 09:44:59
There is an elusive day that all school nutrition pros chase. It’s always slipping through our fingers—especially on Mondays. It’s not a favorite menu day or a visit by a legislator or other dignitary. It’s the day where everything goes right. It’s the day that is crisis-free. When there are no unplanned absences requiring labor gymnastics; when the equipment works and prep goes smoothly; when all deliveries have arrived on time and the next orders are placed; when staff is firing on all cylinders and the kids are smiling as they gobble the day’s tasty creations. Every school cafeteria, big or small, benefits from such good days. The frequency of these relies, in large part, on whether there is an onsite manager who is well-trained, confident and resilient at the helm. This individual can make or break the efficiency, customer service and overall success of an onsite school meals operation. They are absolutely essential for having a great—or getting through a normal—day. So, what happens when that key role isn’t covered? When the manager is sick, on leave or attending an important event offsite during work hours? Worse yet—what happens when a great manager retires? Does everything just stop? Of course not. School is open, so meals must be served. School nutrition teams learn to push through, push hard and make the best of every situation. But what if such effort wasn’t required? What if an unexpected absence or a planned leave is met with a competent “I-can-jump-in” person on standby in the wings? Ahhh, now that’s more like it. But how do you get there? Qualified school nutrition managers don’t grow on trees—and neither do effective management trainee programs. Districts of all sizes can benefit from implementing a focused management trainee program, which can help boost team morale and validate school nutrition as a viable career path. Such a program certainly can help in meeting long-term staffing goals and aiding with short-term emergencies (see the box on page 40). While you may dread implementing or updating this type of curriculum, feeling that it is as fun as eating dry toast, read on, because we’ve just slathered some virtual avocado on this project by doing much of the hard work for you! PICTURE THIS Begin with the end in mind, recommends 7 Habits series author Stephen Covey. Have a clear vision of the desired end results. What kind of manager do you need or want to cultivate? Spend time to think this through. Explore the skills needed to meet your department goals for individual sites, as well as the district-wide school meal operation. Start by reviewing (and possibly updating) the job description. You may not think to look at this unless you have a current vacancy to fill, but it’s a key tool in developing your training program. A solid job description helps to define the details of normal daily tasks, as well as identify needed skills, training and experience. If your department hasn’t updated these since before the Internet age, or if you’re new to school nutrition or if you want to start with a basic overview, consider the descriptions SNA has published in its Little Big Fact Book and made available online at www.schoolnutrition.org/AboutSchoolMeals/SNPRolesResponsibilities. When flexibility is what you need, make the job description suitably expansive. Each school kitchen/cafeteria site will vary in regard to the exact functions for the manager. If there are a few types of sites within your district (e.g. quick-serve, full-service and production kitchens, etc.), the job description should reflect all tasks you want covered. The trainee should have a breadth of knowledge so that she or he can be flexible to move into any number of kitchen styles. Your next step is to identify who will participate in the manager training program. The box on page 41 offers advice on recruiting candidates with enthusiasm and potential. Another helpful step at the program development stage is to assess your personal training style. Are you a teacher? A coach? A mentor? Don’t force yourself into a role that’s not comfortable, as you won’t be effective. Understanding your training skill sets will direct your approach. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus for some advice on identifying your preferred training style. ON YOUR MARK… Expectations—check. Participants—check. Knowing your training style will let you design the program structure (check), but what will you teach? Obviously there are many fundamentals, but which ones get the most time and attention are determined, in part, by working with your manager trainees in a cycle of assessment, goal setting and skills development. In fact, this cycle is something to keep active even after the training program has concluded; it’s how a manager-in-training will grow into a great manager. STEP ONE: ASSESS. Ask each trainee to complete a self-assessment by reading the job description and identifying specific areas where they feel the need for training. (Obviously, the more detailed the job description, the more information you will collect during this assessment.) Consider using a 5-point scale in your assessment tool: “Mark 1 if you have no current knowledge of the topic; Mark 3 if you are aware of the topic but require additional training; Mark 5 if you have mastered this topic.” It’s also helpful to ask each candidate’s immediate supervisor to assess the employee. Use the same scale: “Mark 1 if the trainee has never performed the task; Mark 3 if the trainee has had previous experience with this topic but needs additional training; Mark 5 if the trainee has demonstrated mastery of this topic.” Look for discrepancies between the two assessments. Focus on areas where the trainee and the manager see the skill level very differently and have an open discussion to reach consensus. STEP TWO: SET GOALS. A solid assessment leads naturally into the specifics of your training—you will know which skills need minor refinements and which will need comprehensive coverage. To keep you and your trainees on track, you should set goals—especially for those areas that may seem overwhelming. Consider applying the SMART approach: Specific (gain knowledge and expertise about a particular task area), Measurable (complete task area without error), Attainable (knowledge and expertise can be gained through various identifiable means), Relevant (the steps to gaining knowledge are specific to this task area) and Time-bound (knowledge and expertise will be able to be measured by a specified deadline). STEP THREE: ACQUIRING SKILLS. Just as knowing your preferred training style is an ingredient for success, so is knowing the preferred learning styles of your manager trainees. The three primary learning styles are visual, auditory and kinesthetic; most of us have one or two preferred styles. [Editors’ Note: To learn more about this topic, read “What’s Your (Learning) Style?” in SN’s June/July 2016 issue.] The key is to develop a training program that conveys information in different ways to provide enough of a mix so that all your candidates can successfully acquire skills. This may mean demonstrating an activity, giving the trainee a chance to duplicate that activity and following up with a handout describing the key points. Your primary job is to help the trainee find her or his own way. Make online training and other resources available to act as a complement to on-the-job activities. Provide thorough information, encourage questions, check in on progress and celebrate milestones. STEP FOUR: ASSESS. We’ve circled back to the assessment phase. This time, instead of using a ratings scale, you’ll want to observe the trainee in action to determine if goals have been met and skills acquired. There are many ways to give the trainee a safe opportunity to demonstrate their new competence. One is role-playing. While some may find this a corny exercise, it’s a great way to test real-world work situations without it actually being real. This can be particularly effective at a manager’s meeting; more experienced managers can offer valuable insight to your trainees, both when playing a part and in assessing performance. Pairing your candidate with a site manager for shadow-type activities is another way to provide hands-on experience. Your trainee can act as manager for parts of the work day, with the actual manager available for backup as needed. This can help promote confidence in both the trainee and the manager! It’s important to make assessment—through regular communication—an ongoing priority. Foster an environment that is tolerant of mistakes and encourages questions and honesty. Is your new manager confident in addressing the tasks at hand? Have gaps in their knowledge or understanding surfaced as they take on new responsibilities? Was anything lost in translation? Be prepared to retrain in areas that may need a second look. Finally, return to that 5-point scale, asking your new “graduates” to assess the program: “Mark 1 if the training provided for this topic was confusing or insufficient; Mark 3 if the training was adequate; Mark 5 if the training was thorough.” GRADUATION DAY! Pull out the graduation caps, sign the diplomas and celebrate! Whether it’s been a short, fast sprint or more of a marathon, completion of your management training program should be a celebration as big as its announcement. Promote your graduates via social media and other communications—this will help to drive ongoing interest for the next round. Pat yourself on the back: You’ve invested in your school nutrition department’s future and the new managers have invested in themselves. Not only do you have a deeper support bench of qualified employees who can write a production record and place a food order, but you have team members with renewed excitement and dedication to a school nutrition career. MANAGER TRAINING PROGRAM OUTCOMES (check all that apply) ☐ Current openings to fill ☐ Expected position vacancy, retirement or long-term leave ☐ Short-term coverage, planned vacation or occasional unplanned absence ☐ Increase in employee morale and knowledge ☐ No vacancies but want to offer training as a benefit of employment IDENTIFY AND RECRUIT YOUR MANAGERS IN TRAINING Simply establishing a manager training program does not guarantee anyone will participate! You may need to overcome some barriers to participation, including time, lack of confidence, fear and so on. Following are some steps to consider—and to avoid—in recruiting your trainees for your program. • DO: Announce the program in a big, fun way! Create excitement as you spread the news. Don’t limit the announcement to school nutrition staff, tell everyone! Use the same internal and external marketing avenues you do for your meal program: social media, web pages, school bulletin boards, email, newsletters, back-to-school meetings, etc. Really brag about it: “Opportunities to receive usable skills and advancement are right here in your school nutrition department!” Presenting the program with enthusiasm will generate excitement and awareness. • DON’T: Announce the program before it is has been thoroughly planned. No one really wants to be a guinea pig, and there are few things worse than having every question answered with “We don’t know yet.” Enthusiasm alone will not carry the whole program forward. • DO: Make the opportunity open to everyone—and seek recommendations from all points of view. A coworker, teacher, principal, central office representative or even a student or parent will have a unique view of someone’s potential. Use your enthusiasm to ignite a spark in others by simply asking: “Do you know someone who would be a great fit for a manager in training?” Encourage self-identified candidates, too. Some employees really want to advance their career, but sometimes they need permission to say it out loud. In your marketing materials and your staff meetings, ask: “Are you in search of a fulfilling career? Do you love helping kids make healthy choices? Do you like a challenge? Are you looking for more responsibility? Does your household need more income?” DON’T: Pick your trainees before making an announcement that is open to all. You may have particular individuals in mind for this opportunity, but you should avoid starting with preconceived ideas about who will be best and who won’t. Enter this process with an open mind—and make sure your team knows you’re not starting with an attitude of favoritism. Being open to all will surely uncover hidden talents and enthusiasm. • DO: Set a deadline. Your intentions about your program will have more credibility if you have some hard deadlines for accepting nominations/applications (say, the last working day of the first month of a new school year); reviewing these; informing participants; and getting the program underway. Another option is to have rolling admissions, but commit to reviewing and responding to each application within a set time; don’t let these sit on your desk until you “have time.” Pick the approach that works best for your needs, but either way, leave the door open for late arrivers or late bloomers. • DON’T: Develop as you go. Yes, you always want some flexibility when developing a new program to see what works, understand what doesn’t and make appropriate changes. But timelines and deadlines for each step in the process will give candidates confidence that this program is worth their time. • DO: Recruit with a career focus. Many trainee candidates likely will have found themselves in school nutrition by accident or by circumstance and not consider it as a vocation. Try to break the “it’s just a job” mindset with your team and emphasize that school nutrition is an amazing and fulfilling career. Your manager training program can be a critical first step. • DO: Schedule an interview. Have a conversation to review the candidate’s current strengths, interests and opportunities for growth. If previous employee evaluations are available, use these to help determine eligibility. Be sure to ask the candidate to articulate what they hope to gain from participating in the process. • DO: Have a plan for “post-graduation.” If you don’t have many vacancies that will be available to these newly qualified managers, how will you reward their participation? What incentives can you offer to prospective candidates? A change in title? A pay increase? An increase in hours? Other benefits? • DON’T: Focus solely on self-initiated training with books and online courses. In general, adult learners respond better to hands-on training. Also, if you focus primarily on self-initiated training and/or books and tests, you are likely to spook great candidates from applying. Make it clear that this is a program that emphasizes coaching and guidance—you want to help your candidates to succeed! MANAGER TRAINING AT A GLANCE 1) Create and/or update job descriptions; list expertise/qualifications; identify desired outcomes; determine opportunities for promotion 2) Announce, promote and collect nominations/applications for candidates 3) Select candidates and assess their skills 4) Determine your own preferred training styles in developing your program 5) Set goals for each trainee; plan and execute training 6) Celebrate and promote graduates 7) Evaluate and adjust the program as needed Did you read this article and wish there was a management trainee program available for participation at your district? Don’t just wish—ask. Bring your SN magazine to the attention of your manager, an area supervisor or the district director. There’s a very good chance that if you’re excited about the opportunity to grow your career and become a manager, your director would love to know this and will help to make it happen. BONUS WEB CONTENT School Nutrition: Generation Next This month’s online extras offer help in identifying your preferred training style. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access. Developing a management trainee program is an investment in success for staff, for your program—and for your peace of mind. Chef Sharon Schaefer is a K-12 school nutrition consultant. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/evolutionofthelunchlady or Twitter at @chefsharonsns. She can be reached at www.evolutionofthelunchlady.com.
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