This is going to leave a mark

Ready and abundant access to our stress-relieving and health-inducing parks and recreational services is needed now more than ever.

Aerial drone view of a huge riverbed, Iceland

Like the 2001 terrorist attack on the United States, the current COVID-19 pandemic will jar our senses and society in ways we haven’t anticipated.

The coming shift in our collective psyche is not yet clear in anyone’s cloudy crystal ball, but is likely to be profoundly and broadly pervasive.

But even as park and recreation professionals scramble to respond to the abrupt demands of cancelling and rescheduling programs and events, sanitizing and maintaining facilities, establishing and enforcing new protocols—while remaining on frontline public service duty in food distribution, coping and cognitive therapies, and many other community interactions and enrichments—we must also invest in some leadership forethought to our futures. Ready and abundant access to our stress-relieving and health-inducing parks and recreational services is needed now more than ever.

What will all this mean to our profession when we return (yet again!) to a new normal?

I’m no prophet (nor even a mediocre soothsayer), but it’s likely the long-term impacts of surviving the worldwide pandemic will rock our world socially, economically, environmentally, relationally, psychologically—in short, fundamentally.

And with this disruptive shift, comes a series of thought-provoking considerations to re-establishing our community value and our professional accountability. Among them:

●  How do we navigate the inherent conflicts between social distancing and community engagement?
●  How do we maintain sanitary outdoor play surfaces, and encourage trust in our best practices?
●  What adjustments do we make to our maximum load capacities in aquatic centers and meeting spaces?
●  How do we balance park/program equity with new fiscal realities and responsibilities?
●  How can we leverage increased interest in personal health for more interaction in nature?
●  How can we lessen dependence on governmental funding and operate more entrepreneurially?
●  How do we better assist our most vulnerable populations?
●  How do cancelled school sessions create a new niche we can fill in our summer camps?
●  What new partnerships can we create to build more healthful and resilient neighborhoods?
●  What new protocols need to be established in our recreation centers, swimming pools, children’s services, large-group events, fitness programs, playgrounds, concessions, trails, visitor centers, and other public facilities?

Granted, not all of these questions are newly arriving with a post-pandemic world, but if we practitioners are to remain relevant and, indeed, grow our industry’s uniquely influential role in the public good in its aftermath, we can no longer kick these proverbial cans further down the road.

Instead, I suggest embracing a new metaphor for a preferred future.

With the onset of the pandemic, thousands of park and recreation agencies suddenly have to deal with new, yet simultaneously similar challenges. Our many responses are like the myriad of rivulets produced by a flooding rainstorm. They’re trickling everywhere at once, exploring ways of forward passage, but ultimately leading in the same downslope direction. If we will share our new ideas, our innovative procedures, our lessons from failures and successes; our thousands of earnest rivulets will coalesce to braided stream flows that, just a little bit further on, will produce a stronger, broader channel of unified best-practice standards and indispensable public services, restoring and refreshing us all.

Please share your questions, suggestions and experiences with your peers in the PRPS companion Facebook page, What’s Up P+R?! As we gather resources and can offer authoritative guidance, we will post them on the PRPS Recreation and Park COVID-19 Resources webpage for all to benefit.

During the coming weeks, PRPS will be hosting free Virtual Roundtables (Parks & Recreation – Surviving the Covid Crisis) via Zoom to provide a networking platform for members to share issues and brainstorm about how to move forward during this stressful time. Individual Roundtable topics include Aquatics, Maintenance, Programs/Events/Summer Camp, Leadership/Planning, Therapeutic Recreation, and Urban Recreation.

And join the fluid movement forward!

Talkin’ Bout My Generation!

What is Age Diversity?

Age Diversity is defined as the ability of an organization to accept people of various age categories within the organizations’ business environment. The ability to manage both the group of people and merge them in a single working environment. Age Diversity is a hot topic in today’s business environment as we currently have more generations in the workplace than ever before. However, age diversity tends to be less focused on than gender and race diversity. While age and gender diversity are important, age diversity is another equally important piece of the puzzle.

As many as 5 generations represent today’s workforce.

Silent/Greatest Generation: Born between 1925 to 1945

Baby Boomers: Born between 1946 to 1964

Generation X: Born between 1965 to 1980

Generation Y (Millennials): 1981 to 1995

Generation Z (IGen): 1996 and later

Various trends lead to why today’s workforce is represented by so many generations. 1.) People are working longer since they are healthier and living longer. 2.) Many Silent Generation or Baby Boomers are choosing to work because they want to or are not financially in a position to retire. 3.) Some Baby Boomers are supporting Millennial children still living at home in their 20’s and 30’s.

What are Advantages of Age Diversity?

Age diversity improves performance and production. Productivity in both older and younger workers is higher in companies with mixed-age work teams. Age diversity within work teams is positively related to performance when groups are involved in complex decision-making tasks.

Age diversity can help prevent employee turnover. Workers who are 55 and over contribute to lower turnover, as they are loyal workers who typically stay in their jobs longer than younger employees. Employers gain lower turnover costs and more skilled, experienced employees.

Age diversity drives innovation. Workers bring different experiences, styles, expectations, and perspectives. These differences become a source of strength and innovation when addressed and managed the right way. The bottom line is that the most diverse organizations are usually the most innovative.

What are Disadvantages or Challenges of Age Diversity?

Lack of mutual interests, lack of communication, and egoistic approach because of the age difference. For example, a single issue may have different ways of approaching a solution. The problem rises when people stick to their decision and are not willing to communicate and work together to compromise their ideas for a solution. In many cases these problems arise due to ego and less teamwork. People of different age groups have a mindset of why they have to bend for people who are of not up to their standards. When a manager is younger in age due to his education, senior employees might react due to level of experience. Another miscommunication is language and slang. Whereas one generation may understand a certain slang, another generation may not.

Resistance of adopting a new culture. There are employees who do not want to change their working style even in a new environment. Some refuse to accept that technology is taking over, especially when a new system is taught by a younger generation.

Forming groups within teams. Employees of the same team may be more comfortable with people of the same age due to language, religion, or social status.

Not very comfortable with each others attitudes or behavior. It is common human nature that people will go along with people of their beliefs, opinions or nature. We also see this with same gender.

Employees attach themselves to a particular style and there is no social mingling. We tend to see this with employees of different departments. Due to this employees might miss out on educational experiences with exposure to different parts of the business.

Conclusion

A diverse workforce is a reflection of a changing world and marketplace. Diverse work teams bring high value to organizations. Respecting individual differences will benefit the workplace by creating a competitive edge and increasing work productivity. Diversity management benefits associates by creating a fair and safe environment where everyone has access to opportunities and challenges. Management tools in a diverse workforce should be used to educate everyone about diversity and its issues, including laws and regulations. Most workplaces are made up of diverse cultures, so organizations need to learn how to adapt to be successful. But not all companies focus on inclusion as well as diversity. Inclusion goes beyond the identification of differences by encouraging a work environment that allows people to be who they are and to feel safe and respected. Employees will thrive only if they feel truly valued and included in the long-term strategy and day-to-day operations of their organization. Diversity and inclusion are essential to the health of any enterprise because they lead to greater engagement, teamwork, performance and innovation by workers.

The Black and Gold(en) Rule

Recently I attended a training on workplace harassment. While I was familiar with most of the “do’s and don’ts” I was surprised to find out that I’m now in a protected age range. (Look ma’, I made it!) Fear not, I don’t plan to discuss the merits of a 40ish year old being age protected. As I’m still in the beginning stage of my ascent up 40 mountain, I’m fortunate enough to have never experienced that on a personal level.

As happens when I’m presented with something new, I try to look at all sides, to include the inverse. This rabbit hole dive, led me to think about all the young people we employee and how vital they are to our seasonal operations. Perhaps it was recently reading Kristin’s blog last week, or the seasonal staff that are beginning to trickle in the office to say hi while they’re home from break. How do seasoned supervisors and co-workers treat new-to-the workforce or less experienced young people?

New York Islanders v Boston Bruins

It reminded me of something I heard last summer.  During the Stanley Cup playoff run, Zedeno Chara, the 42 year old captain of the Boston Bruins, was asked about some of the younger Bruins. He responded,

“If I can help them in any way I’d love to. Age doesn’t really separate the conversations or the personalities. I’ve been saying that for a long time.

We are treating everybody the same way no matter if somebody is 18, or 40, or somebody has 1,000 games or is playing in their first game. We treat everybody with respect in the same way as everybody else in the locker room. I’ve said it many times. Since a very young age, I didn’t like the separation in a team between young players and older players, [or] players who have accomplished something or players that are just coming into the league. I don’t like to use the word ‘rookie.’ They are our teammates. I just don’t like to separate. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. Once you’re a team, you’re a team regardless of the age, or accomplishments. We have to treat each other with respect and the same way.”

Big Z’s advice is spot on. There’s so much good stuff in there.  The word he uses multiple times is “respect.” How we treat each other is something I’ve always believed to be of major value, not just in our profession, but I think it’s pretty safe to say is a universal advantage. We can’t treat our teenage staff or young adults any differently than anyone else.

Talk with them like you would talk to your closest peer with 20+ years experience. Notice I said “with” and not “to?” There are two parts to talking with someone, the talking part, and the LISTENING part. Listening to your young staff is far more valuable than droning on about the “good old days.” More often than not, you will come away with a better understanding of that person, or maybe you’ll learn something yourself.

Be patient as you train them and give them the tools needed to succeed. Try to remember when you didn’t have “all the answers.” Be an example through your actions and show them the work ethic you needed to get where you are. Treating them kindly, fairly, yet still with high expectations and clearly defined goals will provide opportunities for a more productive team and healthier work force.

Putting the HUMAN Back in Leadership

2019 Carlisle Community Pool Management and Lifeguard Staff

We are all born into this life with the same perspective, the HUMAN perspective.  We all want the same things, to feel connected and cared for, wherever we are in life, and that includes our time at work.  I hope that your perception, at least at some point in your life up to now, was formed with love, and not only receiving but also giving love.  Maybe up to this point, you haven’t really learned how to show someone that you care about him or her.  You might think “Well sure, I say I love you to my family, but I can’t do that with my employees, so what do you want me to do?” My hope is that this article will help you learn how you can show that you care about your team. If you are already showing lots of love to your crew, this article will provide you with some good reminders to help keep your team feeling valued, appreciated, connected and in turn are productive in their work.

To keep the HUMAN perspective will take a conscious effort every day and you will probably need some help along the way.  You can do research and read books on communication, mindfulness, relationships and leadership; and learn even more by attending workshops and conferences.  I have developed an easy acronym to help guide your way back to putting the HUMAN back in your leadership.

H – Be HELPFUL.  Answer questions and offer assistance to your team.  Communicate.  However, before you speak ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, and is it helpful.

U – UNDERSTAND your team.  Ask questions and listen to understand.  Find out what drives them. 

M – Create MEANINGFUL connections with your team.  Inquire about their personal life.  Send a thank you text for all their hard work lately.  Make them a card for their work anniversary.

A – ACKNOWLEDGE and celebrate accomplishments, and ACKNOWLEDGE mistakes as lessons, not only in your team but for yourself as well.

N – NEVER stop caring.  Be considerate, empathetic and encouraging.

Remember that your perspective changes over time, mainly by the people who influence your life like family and friends, your experiences, and your environment – like home, school, church, and work.  Many of these factors also change over time.  All of a sudden, you may have forgotten that we are all HUMAN.  You may be caught up in the hustle and bustle of work.  Your once open mind narrows, and you begin to harden and stop leading with your heart.  For example, you might have started limiting communication with certain team members or realize you have only been acknowledging negative things with a certain employee lately.

If those examples don’t sound like you, I am sure you have either had or heard of the boss who never said they were sorry or even talked about their mess-ups, never celebrated those huge projects you worked so hard on, or never really listened.  I have listed a few examples of a leader with poor judgement, unfortunately, there are many of these cases, and nonetheless I think you get the picture.  

Most of the time, those bad bosses never let their pride or their ego down, to lead with their heart.  In the moment, they care more about being “right” than being considerate, they’re more focused on work than the problems someone else might be facing or they are just not brave enough to be vulnerable with their own lives.  If they were, they would show you that underneath it all, they really do care.

If you are ashamed to admit it, and you have been “that person” lately, it is never too late to start showing that you care about your team.  We all have bad days; where we haven’t been able to see past our noses, so don’t be too hard on yourself.  Your team is ready to feel connected and cared for.  However, if you don’t start to treat them as HUMANS, they will go work somewhere else, maybe even sabotage your job or if nothing else, they will certainly bring down the rest of the team.  

You might read all this and think, “well there’s work to be done and I don’t have time to chat or celebrate every project.”  Showing that you care doesn’t mean chatting the day away or celebrating every little thing.  But just a quick “How’s your mom doing today?” or ask them “How do you feel about doing that report you submitted last week?”. Just by inquiring (personal or work related), will show them that you care. Questions = Caring (in most cases and especially if you’re listening to UNDERSTAND, not just to respond). Remember that if you don’t ACKNOWLEDGE your team’s hard work, they may not put in as much effort next time.  

You might think showing that you care, means letting things slide or allowing people to do less than what is expected of them.  What I really mean is that you need to think before you speak so you are respectful, ask questions and work to understand the situation and your team.  These tips on communicating are really the first steps to creating a MEANINGFUL connection and normally allow opportunity for you to be HELPFUL.  Then you can build that connection through acknowledgement.  But remember most importantly, NEVER stop caring about those you work with.  You are capable of all of this and together, we can put the HUMAN back in leadership. 

Brene Brown has a new book “Dare to Lead” where you can learn more about “Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts…Daring Greatly and Rising Strong at Work”. 

Tool Shed Update: Mythbusting Your To Do List

Everyone has a busy season. The retail community is approaching their busy season, CPAs are swamped during tax time, and a majority of those in the Recreation Profession feel the crush during the summer months. This is a generalization and there’s no doubt that ones busy season can vary depending on your branch and/or project load. However with regards to the Rec Professional, this spring/ summer was no different for this humble public servant.

Last summer I wrote about the figurative tools in our tool shed, and how having the correct tool makes all the difference. I’ve always been big on using lists to help organize and keep my due dates and tasks in the forefront. However, my tried and true list system was failing me. I needed an upgrade! The number of tasks I was adding to my list kept growing and items were getting buried as new additions were creeping into the margins. I found myself scanning my lists repeatedly to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something. Not efficient. Not productive.

Fortunately for me, I stumbled across an update that would enable me to glance at my sheet and have a cleaner grasp at the days work ahead. Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” fame was discussing a listing method he uses to keep track of his projects. This is the part of the blog where you may be asking, “Is this guy comparing, not forgetting to order port-a-johns to the certified smarty pants that built a working Iron Man suit?” Guilty as charged. I can get pretty dorky about my lists, so this may be more impactful for me than others. On the plus side, it’s incredibly simple to implement!

The system in a nutshell is as follows:

(i.e. get ready for some hot list talk)

Instead of numbering or making a dash or dot beside the items in your To Do List, draw a little box to the left of each task. Use that box to then illustrate the completion process of that task. For instance, if you’re half way done with a project, shade that box in half way. If you’ve only just begun a task, shade the box a quarter of the way.

boxes

I fell in love with the clean look of this easy-to-grasp method.  Where in the past, when I completed a task, I was sloppily crossing out the task and my lists became muddled and not reader friendly. With the box method, when a task is complete, the box will be completely shaded in and I still have complete visibility of what the task was.  See Wired article for more details.

At the time of this discovery, I was working on special event prep, writing a grant, working with consultants on a pool feasibility study, and trying not to lose track of my everyday responsibilities.  I ended up making an 11 x 17 mega list with four quadrants and then implemented the box listing to those quadrants depending on the topic.  Top left was Fun Food Fest, bottom left was my grant, top right was the feasibility study, and bottom right was everything else.

List

My pride and joy.

This solution clearly tickled me, as I’ve now written a 500 word love letter illustrating the virtues of a To Do List. (Sorry ladies, I’m off the market!)  Not only did the boxes help keep me on task and organized, I felt the satisfaction of seeing those boxes fill up as tasks were closed out. The wired article listed above also discusses the momentum building that occurs when you mentally see yourself completing task after task.

I know there are more organized individuals out there than myself, and there surely are tweaks that can be made to this. (Shout out to the four-color pen club and your color coding ways!) I like to joke, but I sincerely hope this silly simple solution may increase your productivity. Share your favorite organization tips in the comments, and let’s keep our professional tool shed growing!

The Importance of Internal Customer Service

You’re committed to Customer Service with your team and yet things are still not going smoothly…

You’re doing things like investing funds in training, modeling for staff, and encouraging staff to always take care of the customer. And yet… the staff is getting burned out and frustrated, customers still call to complain, and the cycle goes on.

What is happening?

Let’s take a look at Internal Customer Service, which is the facet of providing exceptional customer service that is often missed.

How staff interacts with each other, support each other, and do their jobs in ways that make others jobs go smoothly, is vital to the whole customer service cycle.

Here is a definition I really liked, from Micah Solomon in his Forbes.com article:

Internal customer service is when we provide customer service to the people we work with, helping them to do their best to serve external customers and promote the interests of our company.

woman working girl sitting

Let me walk you through some things to consider:

A staff person working at the front desk of a recreation office works hard to provide excellent customer service to a repeat customer who can be difficult, asks for extras, and has had complaints in the past. They carefully take down the rental request details – let’s say it’s for a picnic pavilion – noting for co-workers on the crew at that park all the important details this customer has outlined.

When the parks crew leader gets the information via electronic form, they are instantly irritated by the list of special requests and extra details that were promised to this customer, partly because the front desk staff doesn’t want to “be the bad guy” and say no. The policy states no extra customized set up – you take the pavilion as you find it – so the parks crew is very aware that their co-workers are making extra work for them and setting the customer up for complaints if they refuse to do it.

The customer, happily walking away after making the reservation, will either be:

    1. a) very unhappy when she arrives at the pavilion and finds it not set up to her specifications and yell at the first parks crew member she can find – and/or call the front desk the next day, or
    2. b) be extremely pleased to see her requests were fulfilled and return with even more special requests next time.

The parks crew leader is going to have a few choice words to say to the person in the front office, and there is now a cycle of conflict where co-workers cannot rely on each other, trust each other to do what’s best for all, or generally work together. The front office cannot call and say “hey, I need a really special favor this time” because there is no cohesive feeling or emotional capital in the bank.

Some other examples:

        • Someone uses the last pool pass form and doesn’t copy more
        • Someone leaves a mess in the staff lounge and doesn’t clean it up
        • Someone doesn’t put the kayaks away properly, making extra work for the next day’s crew

Another way of looking at Internal Customer Service: Working with a team of IT staff, we asked them to define their jobs. Since they knew they were sitting in customer service training, their answers very carefully included “the customer.”

        • Keep the website up-to-date and running so the customer can get information
        • Maintain the database and registration system so the customer can register for programs and passes
        • Monitor and maintain the wireless internet system so customers can have Wi-Fi during meetings and activities

Great! Yes… and, what if we ask these folks to re-word their job definitions based on their work with their co-workers?

      • Keep the website up-to-date and running so fellow staff members can access information and assist customers
      • Maintain the database and registration system so staff can efficiently do their jobs and provide excellent service to customers
      • Monitor and maintain the wireless internet system so staff do not have to troubleshoot and try to fix at the last minute when it goes down during a customer’s activity

Other examples might include:

      • Set up the projector and laptop system in the conference room so the Director can smoothly and professionally make the budget presentation to elected officials
      • Have an efficient system to onboard new staff members with email addresses and system access so new hire employees can be trained and welcomed smoothly

The bottom line is this: we need to treat our co-workers with the same respect, courtesy, kindness, promptness, and thoughtfulness that we provide to customers outside our organization.

When you call a boating outfitter, you expect to have a pleasant phone greeting, a variety of options, and a helpful person to guide you through getting the equipment you need. When you call your own boathouse at the park you work for, do you get the same thing?

This is a much more challenging training situation and requires open conversation, time for team bonding within the staff, training and communication about civility expectations, and consequences if new internal customer service protocols are not respected.

It is well worth the time invested to work through this with your team!

Advancing Workforce Diversity

 

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has developed a position statement on Social Equity.  

https://www.nrpa.org/our-work/Three-Pillars/social-equity-and-parks-and-recreation/ – .XUBNsrSXcM8.link

Communities are becoming increasingly diverse.  Does your workforce reflect that diversity?  Park and Recreation organizations regularly grapple with this concept.  Still, others are oblivious.  What challenges do you face in your agency or organization for promoting a diverse workforce?    

 When this question was posed to Park and Recreation professionals; respondents cited numerous challenges.  

Current hiring practices are restrictive or are subject to political interference.

There is no identified pipeline to recruit persons of color or people with disabilities for Parks & Recreation jobs.

There were no diverse applicants.

Pay scales cannot compete with fast food restaurants.

Park and Recreation staff expressed frustration and a desire for support and training in recruitment techniques.  On the surface, these are valid excuses.  However, solutions require a strong commitment, research into best practices, analysis and critical thinking. 

When inquiring about recruitment practices that have yielded increased diversity in professional Park and Recreation agency workforces, few solutions or ideas were offered.  Therefore, we should think back to the basic techniques we employ to recruit program participants.  

Personal connections to the people we serve are integral to ensuring social equity.  While the topic of workforce diversity is broad; begin by focusing on part time and seasonal employees.  Seasonal employees are generally older teens and young adults.  Often, they decide to pursue post-secondary education to become Park and Recreation professionals.  Building a diverse workforce is a process that develops over time. 

Helen Ubinas, columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer recently wrote an article featuring four lifeguards in Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.  Their deep commitment, knowledge of their communities and care for the neighborhood youth illustrates the value of hiring people from the neighborhoods.  

There is no quick solution to building a diverse and equitable workforce.  It is an intentional process.  The most important action you can take is to get out of the office and be present in your community and at the activities you offer. Reach out to your program participant families.  Talk to people.  Build relationships.  Creating awareness of seasonal jobs such as camp counselors and lifeguards is an important step.  Ask your teens and young adults if they have ever considered working for your agency. Mention it to their parents or guardians.  Sometimes, they need a little push.  Conversations with prospective staff can yield both perceived and actual obstacles to employment.   What trainings are needed?  Can you provide those trainings at little or no cost?  Winter is the time to think about hiring summer staff for your camps and pools.  Over time, these actions pay off.  Engagement will cultivate community investment. This investment in diversity and equity will significantly enhance your community and programs.    

When our staff reflects the families in our community…we are all richer for the experience.  

Park and Recreation professionals have a responsibility to recruit, train and hire staff that reflects the diversity in their communities.  The most important strategy is to engage with the people we serve.  Residents are a rich resource for feedback and ideas.  Over time, your investment will pay off.