The art of management is working with people to achieve desired goals and objectives. In the world of aquatics, this often means working with lifeguards and other staff members who are new to the work force.

Effective managers recognize that building a team, communicating needs, delegating tasks, providing ongoing feedback and evaluating performance are all components of supervision.

Team building

Managers who take the time to get to know the people they work with are generally in a better position to lead a performing team.

This is particularly true when dealing with teenagers. Teens want to be trusted, to trust others, and to feel appreciated as individuals.

Recognizing these needs is the first step in building your team.

Don’t make promises you cannot keep, and lead by example. The little things you do that show them you, too, are part of the team will earn you credibility and respect. Saying “I cleaned toilets when I was a lifeguard” is much different than chipping in and cleaning toilets along with your staff, should the need arise.

Communicating needs

Effective communication among your team is essential. If lifeguards are too uncomfortable to speak up during in-service trainings, will they be capable of speaking up during emergencies? To create a supportive environment where everyone feels respected and valued, strong managers build professional relationships of mutual trust with their staffs. That means establishing an open climate wherein people feel comfortable sharing ideas and concerns. Ask staff members for input, and encourage experienced employees to mentor and train new hires.

Delegating tasks

As a manager, your workload must get done through the people you lead, and that means learning to delegate. Successful delegation requires a clearly defined task, along with an explanation of desired results. Asking a lifeguard to “clean the bathroom” does not really define exactly how well the bathroom should be cleaned. Supervisors must be very clear in defining expectations. “Please bleach the toilets and sinks, sweep the floor so that there is nothing on it, and then mop the floor with the sanitizing solution. Don’t forget to empty the trash and convenience containers, and restock all paper.”

When looking at assigning tasks, it’s also important to consider that delegation provides employees with opportunities for professional growth. For example, delegating responsibility for portions of an in-service training are excellent opportunities for employees to gain skills in organization, public speaking and leadership.

Of course, not all tasks are appropriate for all employees. Carefully select members who will be successful in achieving assigned tasks, and give them the responsibility and authority needed to accomplish the task. Consider pairing senior team members with less experienced staffers so that they, too, can learn.

Ongoing feedback

Ongoing coaching and feedback is critical for any team. Feedback is an essential part of learning and, consequently, of performance. Here’s a basic feedback model to gently coach employees to proper performance.

1. Assess readiness. Ask, “Can I give you some feedback?” If employees are not ready to receive your feedback, they simply won’t “hear” it. Sometimes a cooling off period is needed before people are ready to receive feedback.

2. Describe behaviors. Provide specific examples of behavior that gave rise to the need for feedback.

3. Explain the impact. Employees do not generally intend to act irrationally or perform poorly. Sometimes they are unaware of how their actions are perceived by others. Use “I-statements” to share your concerns and thoughts as to the behavior to be addressed, listing the specific impact of negative behavior.

4. Discuss next steps. Ask, “What can you do differently?” Allow employees to take ownership of their behavior and offer suggestions for improvement. Be prepared to offer suggestions if employees are unable or unwilling to explain what could be done differently in the future.

5. Express confidence. Bolster good will by expressing your confidence that things will work out in the future.

Evaluating performance

While a seasonal or annual evaluation has value, ongoing evaluation and coaching often is more effective because it is more likely to yield immediate results.

Think of an evaluation as an incident report wherein you would document only the facts, not personal opinions. Overall, evaluation is most certainly subjective, but if you are measuring performance against defined criteria that you’ve communicated, it becomes a tool to encourage future performance rather than a retrospective expression of personal opinion. An evaluation, while describing the past, must remain focused on future performance.

When evaluating a staff member, provide examples of specific behaviors, along with dates and times that support your evaluation. This means taking good notes throughout the evaluation cycle so that you are not left with completing an evaluation based upon your “gut feeling” of an employee’s performance.

In sum, managers who show sincere interest and concern in their employees often will achieve better results than managers who are disconnected from their teams. Delegating tasks and providing a clear understanding of outcomes helps prepare employees for success. Providing ongoing coaching and support, in addition to honest and factual employment evaluations, will help mentor and grow your staff, leading to improved retention and high employee satisfaction.