Foundations of Building Community: Making It More Than Just A Job

Written By: Richelle Harvey

When does a job become more than just a job? After 12 years of working at various pools in vastly different cities, climates, and cultures, I tend to reflect on each of those individual experiences in completely different manners. I mean a lifeguard is just a lifeguard right? Wrong. The leadership, attitudes, and goals of the staff, supervisors, and organization as a whole hugely influenced each of my experiences.

I really felt that lifeguarding was just a job until I got to college. What changed you ask? EVERYTHING! I was hired into a close-knit group of people who were about to go through a huge workspace transition. My supervisor had high yet reasonable standards for us and knew what the end goal was. They were also extremely clear with what that goal was and how we were a part of it. For the first time I really felt like I was a part of something bigger, and for the first time, I felt like I was a priority, not just another lifeguard. They cared about us, took the time to get to know us, asked for ideas and feedback, and were unapologetically honest during evaluations.

I decided to pursue a career in Campus Recreation and have the opportunity to have the same impact on students that my supervisors had on me during my undergrad. I realized what made my first campus rec experience so special was that I truly felt like I was a part of a larger community. I had found my people. Through trial and error, I have been able to blend my experiences to create something larger for my staff. Below are my top five most important practices help create community:

  • Goal Setting
  • Transparency
  • Clear Expectations
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  1. Goals
    1. Organizational (workplace) Goals: Are you creating programs and training that are in line with these goals?
    2. Supervisor Goals: What goals does your supervisor have for you? Do they have goals for your professional development, staff development, training, programs, outreach, etc. ?
    3. Personal/Professional Goals: What are you trying to accomplish? When was the last time that you created 10, 5, 3, 1-year goals? 3-month goals? Have you evaluated or tracked your progress toward these goals?
    4. Staff goals: What is your staff trying to accomplish personally, professionally and academically? My staff completes goal sheets at the beginning of every quarter and we hang them in plain view. This helps them start to think about what they want to accomplish. Due to working with college students, I added a “Sleep Goal” for them to begin to think about sleeping regularly. (Sample Goal Sheet will be attached at the end of this post.)
  2. Transparency
    1. Lack of transparency is one of the quickest ways to lose staff buy in at any level. Nobody at any age or level like hearing “Because I said so or because the boss said so”. I have found that lack of transparency creates resentment and affects staff morale.
    2. Example of transparent policies: “We are not allowing lifeguards to wear jewelry while on shift because of the potential bodily harm that could occur during a rescue”.
  3. Clear Expectations
    1. Organizational (workplace) Expectations: What are does your department expect of your program in its day-to-day operations, level of service provides, demographic reached, programs offered?
    2. Supervisor Expectations: Have you ever asked your supervisor what their expectations of you are? This is a perfectly acceptable question; it provides clarity while completing your job, and should work to elevate any nasty surprises come year-end evaluations.
    3. Expectations of your staff: Have you clearly stated verbally and in writing what your expectations of your staff are? Does your staff know what they need to do to receive a promotion? Do they know what they need to do to be removed from the schedule? (Sample expectations table at end of post)
    4. Staff Expectations: Have you ever asked your staff what they expect of you? Their answers might surprise you.
    5. The MOST important component to having clear expectations is holding people to them. If you do not consistently hold people accountable, there is no value behind your expectations.
  4. Communication (is KEY)
    1. It is important to communicate as soon as you see something you would like your staff to correct.
    2. Confrontation is scary. Very few people like it. It is a part of life, and the more you practice (peaceful) confrontation the less painful it gets.
    3. If you verbally communicate an important message, you should also write down.
    4. If you are working with college age students, emails are hard. It is not reasonable for staff to expect you to individually text each person when trying to speak to the staff. I have found that utilizing GroupMe for texts as well as following up with email has worked best to press out important information in a quick manner.
  5. Empathy
    1. Your staff members are people too, not just employees. Things happen. Life happens.
    2. Instead of getting mad at an employee when they are late or miss a shift I always ask “Are you ok?”. From there we are able to discuss the consequences. This helps create a welcoming environment that creates a place for teachable moments.
    3. While being showing empathy is important, it is equally important to know when to lay the hammer down and know that people are trying to milk your sympathy for all its worth.

Goals + Transparency + Clear Expectations + Communication + Empathy = Foundation of the Strongest Community


Goal Sheet Example:  goal-sheet-example

Staff Expectation Chart Example: expectation-table-sample


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