Elementary lessons: Second grade classroom offers tips for workforce management

Have you ever received a memorable gift? I hope you receive a gift like the one Mrs. Lynch received.

Mrs. Lynch and the students in her second grade class  in Iowa were talking about pets and Mrs. Lynch told a few stories about her family’s now-deceased dog, Chips. One student named Madison asked to see a picture of Chips.  The next day, Madison came to the classroom with a styrofoam bobble head dog she had found in her closet and drawn on with a black marker to look like Chips. “She told me I could keep it on my desk to remind me of Chips everyday,” Mrs. Lynch says. “But I will mostly remember her sweet gesture.”

Why the lessons from Mrs. Lynch’s second grade classroom?

Because what goes on in her classroom offers an excellent example for business owners and managers of how to create a culture, build a team, hold people accountable and motivate them.

Mrs. Lynch, by the way, is my sister, Jeanine. When I go home to Des Moines, I visit her classroom. I’m totally in awe every time I visit. I smile at how comfortable the children are in their surroundings. I marvel at all the students are learning. And I have seen so many parallels to human resource management in what this talented teacher does in her classroom.

Elementary school teachers know how to develop culture big time. They do it by building pride at all levels: classroom, grade level and school. They emphasize that each child contributes to the reputation of the school. They make it cool to be a second grader and cooler still to be a third grader. Mrs. Lynch makes her students feel special to be in her class. Principals, teachers, staff — every person interacting with a child — express clearly and often what’s expected of students to live up to being a member of the group.

I know many business owners and managers who’re successful at building a culture of pride. Some don’t feel it’s necessary, but it’s part of the role of owners and managers to also serve as cheerleaders.

Spend a few minutes to organize. Draft a schedule of activities and focus on one a month. Share stories that warm hearts. Don’t be the manager who either never shares anything or the manager about whom employees know everything but don’t believe he or she knows anything about them. You might not want to share personal stories. If it’s personal, keep it personal. Share what you’re comfortable sharing.

Good managers are good communicators and nearly everyone should do more culture building. One of the things I do is pay attention to what owners and managers do right and encourage them to do more of it.

One way to build pride it is to ask employees what they like about their jobs.

I ask that question as part of the advance work for a leadership seminar and managers usually have big smiles on their faces when they hear the responses. I ask participants ahead of time to write down three things they love about their job and one thing with which they’re dissatisfied. They tell the group the three satisfiers at the beginning of the session. Their answers almost always come from the heart.

The key to making this exercise successful is to ask employees to write down their answers and have them do it ahead of time. The responses are much more thoughtful. Ask for only one dissatisfier and require that employees offer solutions. Take up the “dissatisfier” with each person alone or discuss the issues in a group without naming any names. Believe me, if one person mentions an issue, others probably have thought about the same issue.

Use what you hear. Bring up what employees say they love about their job at another time. It’s a tremendous thank you when people remember what you said, And when the boss remembers, it means a lot. Keep at it to generate more pride and a sense of belonging.

How else does Mrs. Lynch create a positive culture in her classroom? She reminds her students every day of their job: to learn skills and knowledge, but also to learn to work with others and how to be a good friend. She tells them that it won’t always be time to laugh and giggle, but school should always be fun. Right there you have some values and goals you can use.

Mrs. Lynch sets and verbalizes the culture. Good business owners and managers set and verbalize the culture. What a rich culture they can create by getting their words together and using them. Do more of it.