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Calibrating for Quality

By Trina Adler, Program Leader — Health and Nutrition

Every year at this time of year, I rack my brain to come up with new ideas for the annual spring ritual I plan for my children: the egg hunt.

Over the years, I have challenged my children with increasingly difficult sets of clues. When they were very young, I fashioned Dr. Seuss-style rhymes for them to complete, like “Keep on looking, don’t be a slouch, you’ll find an egg under the ____”. As they got older, the hunts required them to employ tools such as GPS apps, a compass, measuring tape (with metric values), books, and music.

three children with a laptop and easter eggs
Children hard at work cracking clues, circa 2007.

One year they had to translate clues from Morse code. Another year their clues were written on the back of a several hundred piece puzzle — in an unfamiliar foreign language.

There seems to be a pattern to my children’s response to the difficulty of the hunt. Some years they have relished the challenge of it, waking up at the crack of dawn to start the hunt — it often takes them the better part of the day to crack all the clues and find the eggs. But other years — particularly when our lives have been a bit more chaotic, we’ve experienced some family transitions, or things have generally been more stressful — they have been reduced to tears or simply given up in frustration.

a chart with candy eggs
Faced with this, you might give up, too.

Over time, I’ve learned to calibrate my hunts based upon the events of the year. My children seem to appreciate the occasional breaks in intensity and the rewards of the hunt are no less worthy or appreciated.

Another ritual that happens at this time of year has just drawn to a close for me: performance reviews. I am truly inspired when I visit with staff, review their year, hear about their plans, dream a little, and celebrate fine work. My staff, consistent with all Family Development staff, are highly creative, motivated, and productive, and are moving substantial initiatives forward with skill and aplomb. I not only try to reinforce their spectacular work, but also to nudge them to think about taking their work to the “next level.”

That said, I also try to get a sense of everyone’s energy based upon their past year. I noticed this year that some of my staff were…tired. Quite a few had hit their strides in 2016, diving into highly engaged, scholarly, community-driven work yielding successful programming models and results. It was a year of great ambition, with a good dose of stress, intensity, and time investment, sometimes at a pace that is hard to sustain over time, and with a fair bit of sacrifice to work-family-life balance.

So in the same way that I strive to calibrate the egg hunt for my kids, I strove to calibrate my recommendations for staff. Based upon what I heard, I tried to steer staff toward “next level” work that is focused, manageable, fulfilling, and in alignment with performance expectations, without requiring a frenetic workload. Specifically, I encouraged them to:
  • Think carefully about timelines for work projects, and make adjustments to prioritize quality of work over speedy output.
  • Reflect on their practice, scheduling time to write about their processes and outcomes.
  • Engage with national listservs to connect with folks who are doing similar work for inspiration and national collegiality.
  • Think carefully about their travel, and weigh the costs and benefits of road time.
  • Articulate what elements of their current work would be dropped when they suggested taking on new initiatives.
None of this encouragement will detract from their amazing work. In fact, I hope it will help them focus more sharply, have more time and energy to examine their work, and bring it to an even higher quality.

In the Center for Family Development, we have a lot of “type A” personalities who accomplish a great deal and see high programmatic productivity as the mark of success. But in keeping with a center-wide ethic, I truly believe that a reasonable workload that allows for reflection, efficiencies, and focus — as well as improved work-family-life-balance — is a far more desirable goal than an over-filled schedule.

A final note: This year’s hunt will involve locks and keys. I envision jars of lookalike keys, clues containing numbers that must be ordered correctly to open combination locks, keys frozen in large blocks of ice, road trips to abandoned (locked) buildings, buried locked boxes, lockers in airports or bus stations. I am still putting the pieces together, so please send me your ideas — I have a whole day of hunting to design!

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