Thousands of dollars are spent annually on the writing and updating of employee manuals, handbooks, brochures and guides. Despite using catchy titles, bright colors, quick infographs and interesting photos, employees still rarely read and comprehend these useful and necessary work tools.

While these manuals do assist us in covering legal obligations and liabilities, they are seldom used as intended by our young crew of lifeguards and other aquatics personnel.

In my years as an aquatics director, I?ve tried many methods to encourage the use of these manuals, from required reading to graded quizzes. I have sent manuals home with lifeguards as well as given in-service time for reading. Neither technique proved successful because most of the staff had little time or genuine concern to devote to reading and review of procedures and policies. Even if the material was read by my most dedicated lifeguards, it was often not understood.

Clearly, a new approach was necessary.

To be sure I had one 100 percent participation as well as comprehension, I decided to set aside time during in-service to review the manual. I divided the staff into small groups and each was given a set of questions for a certain topic. The group then needed to locate the answers to its assigned questions and present the findings to the entire staff.

This not only introduced the manual and its contents to the lifeguards, but they also got to know one another better.

If you try this method, keep the following things in mind.

1 Go through your manual. Pick out the 20 to 30 most important policies or pieces of information you need your employees to know. You probably won?t be able to cover the entire manual in one sitting, so spread the learning goals across several weeks or months.

2 Develop questions that will require employees to search in the manual for the answers. Answers shouldn?t be overly obvious. It?s important for your staff to know how and where to go for information. This is something they will do in their future careers long after they?ve left aquatics.

3 Have a round-table discussion with interaction from the staff as you review. I?ve learned much from these discussions, and many topics have been learned as well as debated. Motivate the discussion with prizes. I use Lifesavers candy, pun intended. Even if the prize is small, the recognition in front of one?s peers is invaluable and a great motivational tool.

4 Don?t be afraid to give quizzes over material. I do this to not only validate the research and presentations made, but also as a progress report. While my staff doesn?t receive grades, I do keep these quizzes in each employee?s file.