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Sweat the Small Stuff

Tiana Brown
Assistant Director
Norwalk Housing Authority

Little Details Matter

At the age of 15, I started working as a camp counselor at a local community center in Bridgeport, CT.  I was a drill sergeant back then.  My girls stood in a straight line like soldiers and followed my lead, although other counselors struggled to maintain control over their campers.  Having an organized line might seem like a small feat, but it communicated to everyone watching that I had control.  If you asked me at 15 why having a straight line is important, I would have replied: “because I have to keep these girls in order.” I knew details mattered back then, but I was not aware of its value. After 20 years of experience, paying attention to intricate details must become the culture of your program and it will catapult your after-school program to the next level.

Here are a few reasons why you should focus on the little details:

1. It builds trust and confidence with students and parents.

When staff demonstrates effectiveness in handling the small details, it allows parents, teachers and students to be confident in the team’s ability to handle challenging situations. If a parent notices their child consistently misplacing his/her personal belongings, parents may perceive the program as poorly managed.  A consistent routine of staff members making sure students have a place to put their personal belongings is a simple solution to avoid appearing incompetent. Unaddressed, small issues like this can quickly become a bigger problem. If these details are neglected parents may view your program as unorganized, unpredictable, and chaotic will create a negative perception of your program. Paying attention to the small details communicates to parents, students, and teachers that quality is a top priority for your program. In this case, the organization is that little detail.

2.What is insignificant to you may not be trivial to your students and parents.

What you consider a small detail may be perceived differently by staff and students. For example, at snack time, students complain of the lack of variety in their choices for a snack. I have witnessed many employees responding to their complaints by saying, “you get what you get and don’t be upset.”  The staff member totally overlooked the students’ need for variety. Often, staff approaches situations like snack with the mindset of “let’s just keep the process moving”. Task like snack may be seem small to staff but we cannot presume to know what is relevant and irrelevant to our students. We need to approach every encounter with students and parents with the intention of helping them out in every possible way — even if it means rethinking your assumptions and perceptions.

3.“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out,” says Robert Collier.

Serious problems that are challenging your after-school program may be a result of ignored little details. Ignoring little details not only inhibits your program from progressing, but it also has a tremendous effect on how your students experience your program day in and day out. Programs leaders are inundated with several deadlines and tasks, leaving little time to focus on the small stuff. As a solution, appoint key staff members who are great at paying attention to the details of smaller tasks. They can monitor and manage the smaller duties of your program. In addition to delegating small tasks to staff, leaders must set clear standards. Outlining what you expect out of staff’s work will make the difference between employees assuming their work is correct versus knowing how to do their jobs correctly. In the end, your entire staff has to be aware and committed to monitoring the small details. If ignored, they will mount into significant problems.



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