When it’s your job to win parents’ trust in your abilities to care for their children, it’s easy to slip into the mode of offering subjective and abstract qualifiers like “nice” and “the best” as you talk about your business. True quality is all about consistency. Define your expectations, communicate them clearly and achieve them on a daily basis. Improvement comes from raising expectations over time. Knowing what you want to do and doing it well is what operational excellence is all about. This pillar encompasses all of the things that are necessary to run your business on a day-to-day basis.
How are you meeting expectations every day?
Assessing the quality of your business and improving that quality starts with having an objective view of the current state of your operation. This is something that a great many businesses don’t take the time to gain. You do yourself no favors as a business owner by pretending that you are something you’re not. Your customers, teachers and children know exactly who you are. Ask them—whether through surveys, analyzing trends in customer and staff retention, or frank conversations. Compare the picture you get with your goal for what you want your business to be. Change does not come from simply stating your goals—you must take deliberate steps to implement that change.
In most states, daycare licensing covers the bare minimum requirements needed to run a serviceable childcare business. While many daycares see the licensing process as something to simply endure and check off the list each year, that is missing an opportunity. The regular process of bringing an outsider into your daycare business is an opportunity to look comprehensively at how your business will be seen by those not familiar with it. This is an important opportunity to harness.
At Callahan Learning Center, we do our own mock licensing inspections, complete with after-action reports and discussion of where we can improve. This is a time to be provocative and ask questions that don’t come up during daily operations. What is slipping through the cracks? Why is that happening? Can you implement a system—something as simple as a checklist—to stay on top of it? Asking and answering questions like this over and over again is how you improve your business. Licensing season is an opportunity to carve out time to ask the hard questions.
Distinguish Costs From Investments
As a daycare business, the product you are selling is time with your trained caregivers. There are many tools on the market that can save your staff time by helping them to be more efficient. Some are purpose-built for the daycare industry, like the Child Care Seer software I have built to solve some of the biggest problems facing daycares. You can also find many great tools built for the broader market, such as a subscription to Microsoft Office365, which can help your staff communicate by sharing lesson plans and other documents.
All of the tools you use form the “mortar” that holds the pillars together and enable all the components to work together to hold the entire business together with consistency and quality. Most good tools come with a price tag. While it’s easy to look at the price as a cost your business can’t afford, if you want to improve your business and build your future profitability, you must look at these as an investment.
Let’s look at the math. If you pay $150 a month for a software subscription that automates credit card payments, as Child Care Seer does, and that software saves your center director two hours of work each week, that is an entire workday you get back every month that your director can put into training staff or otherwise improving center operations. Your payments come in faster, and your parents like the convenience. The question then becomes, how can you not afford this $150 per month investment?
Focus On Operations
To set a course for operational excellence, first take stock of the current state of your business by asking for authentic feedback from your staff and customers. Remember that licensing inspections are a valuable opportunity to see how your operations look to a complete outsider—harness these, and use the licensing season as a chance to ask tough questions. Finally, learn to distinguish costs from investments that can free up time for your staff, giving them the opportunity to put this valuable resource into tasks that will raise the performance level of your daycare business. Most good tools come with a price tag. While it’s easy to look at the price as a cost your business can’t afford, if you want to improve your business and build your future profitability, you must look at these as an investment.