The new year is an exciting time, a chance to start anew. It is also an opportunity to revisit how you manage and train your lifeguards — and set the stage for a successful year to come.

Good planning and preparation now will make accomplishing that goal much easier and less stressful. Analysis of the previous year will prevent repeating things that were less than desirable, and guide changes.

Establishing good behaviors and habits will keep you on task. Yes, workplace safety begins with you, and everything that you do (or don’t do) now directly impacts the performance of your guard team throughout the year.

Where do you start? Consider the following steps:

1. Analysis and reflection on the past year. This process should include the following reviews:

• Incidents that occurred (as well as near misses); their causes, outcomes, trend recognition, and how each event was handled

• Personnel and employment status determination (current/rehire/no rehire) for all staff

• Equipment inventory and refurbishment/replacement needs

• Maintenance lists and the status of all projects listed within

• Documentation, including completion and filing of all that are necessary

• Certification covering what expires and when, who needs to be certified in something

• Code compliance evaluation; everything ranging from ADA to OSHA, state/local pool codes to ASTM

• Training programs; their strengths/weaknesses, effectiveness, timeliness, appropriateness and the like

A lot of information can be gathered during this process, which will give some guidance as you move ahead. Additionally, completing these tasks will help establish a timeline of what needs to be accomplished in the months to come. If you haven’t completed your wrap-up of last season, you should start here.

2. Self-reflection and self-accountability. This is probably the most difficult, and arguably most important part of the process. It is critical to take the time to honestly evaluate your performance over the past year. Did your actions reflect the expectations you have for your staff? What did you do well; what did you not do well? Did you always demonstrate the characteristics and behaviors that you expect from the team? Did you adequately provide the tools necessary to perform their duties?

You must welcome a critical performance review from supervisors, peers and subordinates, and be willing to the make the changes they suggest. Then refocus on your behavior as a leader. The highs and lows of a swim season can certainly take its toll on attitudes and your behaviors. When things get hectic, it's easy to take short cuts, skip steps or overlook things you think are “minor.”

Use this time of year to refocus and make the commitment that all of the things you do are consistent with what you expect from your staff. Then commit to holding folks (including ourselves) accountable to that standard at all times. No exceptions. Always model the behavior you expect from your staff. Developing consistent behaviors takes quite a bit of effort. Thinking about and doing the right things each and every day will develop good habits that will instinctively show themselves once they are entrenched in your routine.

3. Have a plan. As a leader, a big part of what you do is to provide guidance, instruction and critical feedback (positive and constructive) to your team. To do so, you need a good plan that's well communicated. This is the time of year to develop or improve that plan, and how you will communicate it. Putting together a timeline of everything that needs to be accomplished throughout the year is essential to keeping on task and on time.

Include big picture items such as hiring, training, operating schedule, deadlines and due dates, as well as more subtle tasks needed to make it happen. Things such as revisiting how you schedule your staff, zone areas, rotation plans, facility rules, employee policies, general safety practices, emergency action plans and crisis communication plans, staff evaluation and accountability plans, job descriptions, coaching and counseling practices, and all of your documentation paperwork should be included in the master plan.

Once the tasks are put on the list and you’re satisfied with what you have established, develop a “method of delivery plan” so team members know exactly what’s expected of them. Then communicate the information effectively and regularly. The best-laid plans fall apart when details aren’t communicated. Providing quality initial training, in-service training, feedback and resource tools is essential to ensuring your message gets across and everyone understands their responsibilities.

4. Accountability. The final piece of the puzzle is developing a method to hold all team members accountable. If you have done a good job of modeling appropriate behaviors, communicating expectations and providing the team with the appropriate resources to understand and accomplish their tasks, there should be no reason to accept anything less than what is expected. As supervisors, you must be able to recognize when individuals are not upholding their end of the bargain. You need to be able to evaluate their performance on a consistent basis.

Take the opportunity this time of year to develop a plan that will allow you to make these evaluations regularly, and develop a means of communicating your findings and provide constructive feedback. There are several methods that are used to accomplish this task and they are best served in conjunction with each other. Multiple forms of staff evaluation provide a well-rounded picture.

First and foremost should be “management by walking around.” Make the time to be visible on deck. Stop and watch what the staff is doing and be prepared to immediately address any issues that arise, when they arise, so the tone is set. Other methods may include, but are not limited to, independent third party audits, internal audits, mystery shopper evaluations, patron surveys and so on.

Sharing the results of these evaluations with the team and implementing consequences for unacceptable behaviors/actions is critical to successfully holding the staff accountable.