Staff Retention, Recruiting, and Revving Up in the Off-Season: "Do Now's!" That Will Help Create Your Best Camp Staff in 2010

by Stephen Maguire

By this point in the year, you've processed your staff evaluations, and you've been thinking about those difficult decisions: "Should I hire her back?" or "This person just didn't cut it; is it time for him to move on?" So, how do you begin to prepare to form your staff for 2010? Here are some simple yet effective tips some simple, yet effective tips you can "Do Now!" that will help retain, recruit, and rev up your best possible staff.

A Quick Two-Step Process to Get Started

Step 1: Take a white board or a large piece of paper and divide it into four sections. For each of these sections write down the staff member's name and what exactly his/ her role was at camp. Title each of the four sections with:

  1. "No Brainers" — These are staff that you definitely want to bring back.
  2. "On the Fence" — These are staff who show potential. They may have had a few bumps in the road this summer, but overall, they are people that can get the job done.
  3. "Out" — Staff from 2009 you are not asking back.
  4. "Needs" — Here is where you list your "needs" for next year's positions. I always love doing this because it gives me a tangible look at where I need to go.

Start with your "on the fence" list. I truly believe you need to pick up the phone and talk to those on this list. Get a feel for where they are. Be honest with them about your reservations and why. Ask them why you should hire them back and if they want to come back. Ask them what they intend to do differently to improve their performance at camp. At the very least, give them an opportunity to explain themselves. Once you get a read on them, get off the fence and make a decision one way or the other.

Step 2: Get out your communication. However you communicate to your staff (letter, e-mails, phone calls), get on it! You are communicating two types of messages:

  1. We want you back!
  2. We're moving in another direction.

Retain

Get Commitments
Get your commitments from staff for next summer's season by February 1, 2010 (at the latest). Now that you have a clearer picture and know that there are staff you definitely want back stop reading this definitely want back, stop reading this article and communicate with them! It's simple, "Present neglect makes future regret." If you're not communicating to them, someone else might be. One of the great joys of camp directing is to be surrounded by awesome staff — a group of colleagues who can complete each other's sentences — who know what you expect from them and what to expect from you. These are clearly "100 percenters" — those who work sixteen hours and will work longer if you need them to. Some call them "keepers"; they are your best of the best. Doing the following will help you retain these staff.

  1. Don't wait, communicate. After your correspondence has gone out, don't wait long to follow up with these staff members. Immediate follow-up is so important. Treat them as blue-chip college recruits. Phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages, tweets . . . . Get in touch with them. Let them know how great they were and how much you want them back. Send them a gift card with a note, send them some cool pictures from camp, and get on it. You may be thinking, "That seems like a bit much." Really? Well if a crisis happens next summer and you need someone around you who knows you, your campers, and your camp, you will be grateful you made the extra effort.
  2. Send them a contract and give them a raise. Get these people committed as fast as possible. Even if the raise is minimal, raise their salary. I am reminded of the Dicken's play a Christmas Carol — the last scene in which Scrooge is talking with Bob Cratchet, after Scrooge has had his transformation. Scrooge says: "And another thing Bob Cratchet… I'm going to RAISE your salary!" Cratchet passes out. Hopefully, your staff will just be very happy with the raise.
  3. Get their input about camp. Once these staff have committed, get them rolling as soon as possible. One of the best ways to win over people is to ask for their advice. As you are wooing these staff members, ask them for their feedback about camp. Phrase it simply: "As someone who was such a key player in last summer's success, I'd really like your thoughts about camp. What do you think went well and where do we need to improve?" Start early soliciting their thoughts and ideas and including them in the process. Anytime we ask for staff's help, they feel they are making more of an investment in their jobs.
  4. Increase their responsibility and role at camp. Make them a campfire director, have them become an assistant, evening program coordinator — perhaps they can be on the rainy day program committee. By giving outstanding staff more responsibility, you boost their confidence in their work and instill more pride in camp.
  5. Sell them on your team. As soon as your next summer's team starts to commit, let others know. You can post it on your Web site when staff returns their contracts. Start a summer of 2010 staff Facebook group. You may know this already, but as soon as your "we want you back correspondence" goes out, all of those staff members are talking to each other. The biggest question among them is "Are you going back?" When they start to see others commit, they will want to do the same. You want these staff to be working together, so keep them up to date about who is coming back!

Recruit

To Be the Best, You Have to Get the Best!
Now, you're looking at your lists. You've obtained as many commitments as possible. You've filled in your "No Brainers," "On the Fence," and "Out" sections. Now it's time to fill in the "Needs" section. Once that is done, use these five tips to recruit.

  1. www.getoutthereonthewebandfindsomegreatstaffmembers.com (no that's not real Web site!). There are so many staff recruiting Web sites — sign up for them. Check resumes. Post your needs. The power of technology has made staff recruiting so much more accessible. However, the personal touch makes a huge difference, as well. For example, whenever I receive an e-mail from someone who wants me to do staff training at their camp, I always follow it up with a phone call. I want my first contact with someone be my voice and not written words. This makes a difference when you are recruiting staff that other camps may be recruiting, too. The personal touch will help sell you, so let your first contact be a phone call instead of an e-mail.
  2. Get educated. If you have a local college nearby, use it as a staffing resource — but be sure to have a plan. As a teacher, I think that "teachers-to-be" make great camp staff. Recruiting at a college is an excellent idea, but you need to reach the right people. Contact the chairperson of the education department, and ask to set up a table in the education building. Even if the college offers a career day, try to make arrangements for a day and place on campus where there is no competition. Offer an exchange — if you can have an exclusive day on campus, the college can send a representative from its admissions department during the summer to talk to your senior campers and younger staff who are considering college.
  3. Get recommendations. Ask your 100 percenters if they have friends who may want to work at camp. Great people usually spend time with great people. It's that simple.
  4. Get local. At the high school where I teach, every year, our hometown recreation department announced the opportunity to work at camp for the summer. Why not do this at your local high schools? If you hire high school age staff, arrange to visit with local schools during lunches to give out some information about your camp and staff opportunities. Or, ask to present at a faculty meeting at area elementary, junior, and high schools. Local school teachers make excellent staff. Sometimes great resources are right under your nose.
  5. Look inward. Some camps only hire staff if they have been a C.I.T. in their program. The reasoning is "We know how they have been trained; they know camp, and we now know them." It's obviously working for these camps.

Rev Up

Your lists are complete. You're feeling pretty confident about the team you're starting to put together. An excitement is growing about next summer. Now, it is important to maximize the value of staff through preparation and training. Take advantage of that momentum with the following tips:

  1. Conference season visit www.acacamps.org/conference/. Staff retreat
    Some camps gather their key staff together and have a staff retreat weekend. They host it on their camp's property or a local hotel. These retreats are "all-about-camp" weekends with no distractions and the full commitment of everyone. A retreat is a good idea to get your new staff on board, even if it's only for a day.
  2. Book report. That's right. Although these words may send shivers down some spines, give your new staff some homework to do. Pick a book that you believe is a great staff training/motivating camp book, and send it to them. Send them the hard copy, the e-copy, the Kindle copy . . . whatever you want. Have them read it and put together a quick report to share what was meaningful about it for them and how it relates to camp. This will give them some good insight into your philosophy, and they'll have a better understanding about your leadership style and what your expectations are.
  3. Online training. Take advantage of this generation's technology. Have them look into online training modules that are available to help them prepare for the summer ahead (e.g., the American Camp Association's e-Institute offers online staff train ing resources at www.ACAcamps.org/einstitute).
  4. Camp Tours. A camp tour can be part of your staff retreat weekend or independent of that. Get your staff together and co-ordinate with a few other camps in the area to take tours of the different properties. Tour the facility. Have your staff meet their staff or director. Have the other camp take you through a typical day and traditions. Cover broad-spectrum ideas such as "How do you set up your staff week?" to finite details of "How do you set up your day-off schedule?" If you take away one useable idea, it's worth it. Another plus is that this activity enlightens your staff to the fact that there are other camps besides yours!

In essence, this is all about an investment in people. The formula is quite simple. The time, effort, and energy you invest in creating amazing people on your staff equals a staff who will invest time, effort, and energy in your campers. When all is said and done, is there anything more important than those positive and healthy relationships?

Originally published in the 2009 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.

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