Focus on Making It Happen

 "HINTS" from Camp Consultant Joanna Warren Smith 

If I could replay summer 2017 with the same cast of characters, weather, issues, successes and add one 'Magic Ingredient', your retention rate would be 3-5% better than it is now.  I’m certain of this because shops all over the country have subscribed to this theory and have realized those results.

The 'Magic Ingredient' is ‘Engagement’ and it’s elusive and mercurial unless you and your entire Leadership Team are absolutely committed to making ‘IT’ happen every single minute of the camp season.


Objectively Rate Last Year’s Engagement Levels.  On a scale of 0-5, zero being self-explanatory, dissect community interactions.  How do the Director and the Leadership Team engage with campers?  Are they simply making the announcements, handing out discipline and leading the songs or are they inspiring everyone to listen and participate?  Are campers certain that the Director’s smile or thumbs-up is just for them or do they feel left out?  How do counselors relate to the kids in their cabins?  Do they call them by name or herd them around?  Do they favor some children over others?  Do they make eye contact, laugh with kids and encourage or do they merely supervise?  Are support staff integral to the community?  Do campers and staff truly see and appreciate what they do or are they only considered necessary to get work done?  How do staff interact with each other in front of campers?  Are they dismissive and rude or helpful, caring and professional?

Identify Steps to Increase Engagement.  One obvious tool is for everyone to wear first-name only name tags all the time.  If it becomes part of the culture, it does not interfere.  Kids say they make friends faster and feel safe knowing the names of counselors.  Another technique is to have a bunk, unit or the whole camp create a secret handshake which they utilize at least once a day to connect everyone ... campers, counselors, leadership, maintenance dudes and nurses.  You get the idea.

Engage Staff in the Hiring and On-Boarding Process.  Most of your staff ‘talks with their thumbs’.  They are not intuitively wired to engage, establish eye contact and make small talk.  You’ll have to set the stage early on so that they know your expectations to have fun and proactively engage consistently.

Role-Model and Teach Engagement During Orientation.  The Leadership Team is critical to establishing a culture of engagement from the moment the first staff member arrives.  In addition to role-modeling engagement techniques consistently, plan now for short, daily engagement sessions that enable counselors to be more comfortable about moving outside of their comfort zones.  Being silly really helps!

Monitor Engagement Levels and Take Immediate Action.  Quality control is the name of the game and omnipresence is key to a higher level of staff performance.  Be vigilant, consistent and immediate to fine-tune individual and group efforts.  Keep constructive comments light and focused especially during week 5 when staff are starting to run low on reserves. Heighten your camp’s magic this summer and increase retention for 2019 by making ENGAGEMENT your absolute #1 PRIORITY.

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