When your staff members see that evaluation is on your agenda for a staff meeting, are they ready to roll up their sleeves and immerse themselves in the process of improving the camp experience or do they look at an evaluation as an imperfect, subjective, time-consuming and even punitive process?
Many staff members do not enjoy the evaluation phase of the planning process and some view it as just a waste of time. This negative perception of evaluation can often be traced to the mindset of many camp professionals who use evaluation to identify what went wrong and to focus on the weaknesses of the camp programming, staff and facilities.
Another reason that evaluation is often given such a cold reception is that it is usually scheduled for the wrap-up meeting at the end of the camp programming cycle.
The use of this traditional, end-of-season evaluation does have merit… The experiences are fresh in the minds of everyone who participated, the evaluations can be analyzed before any planning for the next camp begins, and the process of evaluation can cultivate a sense of achievement and closure for everyone involved in the camp operation.
However, the energy and objectivity that is required to implement an effective evaluation might be difficult to muster at the end of the camp season. Just like the student who puts off writing a paper until the day before it is due, the process of evaluating an entire camp season can seem overwhelming and is often treated as a task that needs to be done as quickly as possible.
Evaluate Before You Evaluate
There are many management geniuses and gurus who do not evaluate using the traditional, end–of-season approach. But before you decide to take the approach of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," as a camp owner interested in improving your operation, you might want ask some key questions about your current evaluation process.
After answering these questions, you might be inspired to consider some alternatives to the end-of-season approach:
• Do I value evaluation as a meaningful part of planning or is it just a cursory exercise?
• Does the evaluation that I currently use give me the big picture?
• Am I asking the right people for input?
• Do I use more than one method to collect data?
• Have I identified what went right?
• What will I do with the data? Do I actually use the data to re-allocate staff, rewrite the staff job descriptions, and make budgeting decisions?
• Do my staff members taken the evaluation seriously?
• Is the process a morale booster or breaker for my staff?
• Probably the most important question to ask before deciding the best approach for evaluation is: What do I want to accomplish, and how should I measure it?
Hopefully, your camp has a mission statement and objectives that guide everyone in your camp operation to meet the mission. These strategic elements should be tied into your formal evaluation process.
But to get your staff members to buy into achieving your camp's mission and to work hard to achieve its objectives, there needs to be an immediate feedback mechanism in the evaluation process.
If staff members are trained to be the gatekeepers of quality and are empowered to be problem solvers, the evaluation process can be driven by the staff.
One method that provides immediate feedback and empowers staff members is the concept of Concurrent Control. On its most rudimentary level, concurrent control is very much like the evaluation approach that former New York City Mayor Ed Koch used when he constantly asked both his employees and constituents, "How am I doing?"
Concurrent control is a term that quality control managers use as a process of observing performance and immediately giving written feedback.
It is a process that involves a constant vigil of how things are going and does not leave the evaluating until the camp season is over.
It actually helps to identify what works and what doesn't and empowers the camp staff to incorporate more of what works and to eliminate or adapt what doesn't.
If concurrent control is performed collaboratively, it takes evaluation out of the negative mode of judging and places evaluation in a more productive mode of problem solving.
This concurrent control process can be implemented in many ways. It can be one-on-one supervision of camp staffers on an interval basis or it can be training camp staff members to self-monitor their own behaviors, as well as the behaviors of the campers and the overall camp environment.
One method of concurrent control that has been extremely successful is to have the camp staff members collaborate with an ombudsperson.
The ombudsperson must be an approachable problem-solver who can work with staff members to identify changes in camp operations/programming that will enhance the camping experience for every member of the camp.
Each staff member is trained to self-monitor and enter a brief description in a journal of what went well and what didn't after each activity.
At the end of the day, the staff member writes a summary of the triumphs and the glitches and submits these to the camp ombudsperson.
The ombudsperson can determine whether there is a need to institute a change across the entire camp to take advantage of the triumph or to eliminate the glitch.
The ombudsperson may need to observe the camp staff member's approach before determining this. But, what probably is most important is that the ombudsperson must be sure to include the appropriate staff people in developing the solution.
A case in point would be using the concurrent control process to solve a problem with camper e-mails. Say a decision was made to address last year's camper survey request to be able to send and receive e-mail from camp.
Once the service and the security checks were in place, the demand for e-mail access far exceeded the staff's expectations. The camper appetite for e-mail created a logjam in the computer lab after meals.
Because of the ombudsperson's ability to cultivate problem-solving ideas from the staff members, campers were assigned specific access times to send and receive e-mail. The campers appreciated the ease of access and the staff members felt a strong sense of pride because of their role in solving the problem.
Beyond the value of immediately tackling problems and sharing what works among staff members, the data collected over the entire camp season by the ombudsperson can help the camp owner develop more meaningful end-of-season evaluation tools.
People who respond to the formal evaluation tools will probably recognize the relevance of the questions and might also be more forthright and insightful in their responses.
Concurrent control is an investment in staff training and facilitating that can yield phenomenal dividends in both staff and camper satisfaction and that can cultivate a collective mindset for constant improvement of camp offerings.
It also could be a catalyst to jumpstart a more effective and positive evaluation experience for the entire camp.
Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 20 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College. Her undergraduate education was at the University of New Hampshire in physical education. She earned her Master's and doctoral degrees from Springfield College. She is active in several professional organizations including NASSM, AAHPERD, ISCHPER, AAUP and NACWAA.
Sharman Hayward has directed sports camps at every developmental level, and has coached intercollegiate field hockey and lacrosse for 11 years. Sharman earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business from Colby-Sawyer College and has a Master of Science Degree in Athletic Administration from Springfield College. Sharman currently serves as Associate Director of Athletics at Endicott College.