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Summer Camp Jobs: The Market for the Truly Exceptional is Better Than Ever

March 17th, 2010 · 6 Comments · Books, Linchpin

This post is part of a digital book club of summer camp directors and recreation professionals reading Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. To see all the posts in the series go to our linchpin start page. You are welcome to join in at any time.

Week 3: Becoming the Linchpin
Pages 49 – 79

How You Be a Linchpin?

Becoming a linchpin is going to be one of my staff training topics this year.  If you’re like me, you have a lot of returning staff and can’t run the same training each year. I do have a job with Charthouse where I run Fish! For Schools training for teachers around the country.  While each event is slightly different, for the most part I can get away with the same training every time since each audience is new.  Not so with camp staff.  This year, as a group, we are going to put together the recipe on how to become a linchpin.

As Seth Godin says, linchpin’s solve problems that people haven’t predicted yet.  In this week’s reading, Krulak’s Law was explained.  In the area of always-on cameras, social networks, and cell phones, General Krulak hypothesized that the front line Marine would potentially have the most influence on the immediate situation as well as at the strategic level.  Krulak’s Law: “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.” page 61  That has never been more true than at a camp and for me is the reason that young staff makes the leave into a higher rank.  The kids and parents see my front line staff 97.5% more than they see me.  The kids tell stores about the connections with their camp counselors, not about their director.  It is the camp staff who notices someone being left out or teased.  When they don’t, kids suffer and it is a reflection on our entire program.

This time of the year I am inundated with requests from my junior level counselors requesting to be interviewed for a higher position.  At 17 years of age they typically have had 3 years “working” at camp and if we have kept them around it is because they do a good job.  At 17 they make good judgment calls about 70% of the time.  What I am looking for is the other 30% that comes with age and maturity.  Being on the front line, they can make or break camp for a child.  In many ways they are on their way to remarkable.  They are just not fully cooked.  They are remarkable at their level.  This is a very hard concept to get across because the teenager is biologically blinded from seeing that they are missing that other 30%.  It is imperative to reward and recognize the junior staff for their remarkableness or they turn into a Steve, the character described on page 77. You know Steve, the staff member that does not really work hard because you are not paying him enough.  I actually had an 11th grader tell me that, “If you pay me more than you will see that I can work hard.”  Needless to say that was his last day with our organization.  He did not understand that you work hard, connect, and engage first and the rewards will follow.

Pictured above is one of my young energetic high school junior counselors who brought her whole self to work every day.  I am sure you all have this sort of remarkable staff member who musters enthusiasm for their work even when tired or cold, even when they have heard that same dance song six hours a day for the last 2 weeks!  That is the sort of individual you reward and even try to clone. Who is that person in your camp or rec program?

The Law of Linchpin Leverage

From the director and administrator perspective, I am perpetually working with my admin team on being useful throughout the day.  We talk a lot about MBWA (Manage By Walking Around) and being visible and available to solve problems as part of the job.  I too can go through the day an not feel like I have done much, having delegated most of my tasks away. I do like the camp to run without me and it does quite well, although the staff say it is just not the same without me.  I always thought that was flattery.  What are they supposed to say, “We didn’t even notice you were gone.”  The Law of Linchpin Leverage is, “The more value you create in your job, the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating that value.” page 51.  That quote pulled it together for me and explains why I can feel like I don’t do much all day yet know I am necessary.  It is why my admin team is also necessary and can also feel like they are not doing much.  A high level staff member, a linchpin, “solves problems people haven’t yet predicted.”  It comes so naturally that you just do it, but if you weren’t there, who knows how many fires would have to be put out because you were not there to solve the pre-problem. Just by “being there” a linchpin makes a difference.  That is why “being there” and mentally showing up is so important.

What did this chapters bring up for you?

What do you do during your interviews to determine who those linchpins are?

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  • h2lifesaver

    What if we substitute the words “Camp,” “Staff” or “Culture” for the word “job” in the quote about the law of linchpin leverage: “The more value you create in your [camp/staff/cutlure], the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating that value.” page 51
    I'm interested in this specific thought because I think it gets to the heart of the tension which exists between wanting linchpin staff and wanting staff who will comply. My sense is that a staff as a whole perhaps may operate as a linchpin to the camp experience…or they may not. Camp is not made by a single linchpin but rather by thousands of linchpin-like actions from staff all across the camp. This perhaps gets to the root of how good staff and staff who aren't yet fully cooked (to steal a line from Jenn) are indispensible. The scary thought though is this, culture is what encourages this to happen. Culture also can allow mediocrity to exist. I see this especially in more senior staff who also may not yet be fully cooked. Brain development research has led us to the conclusions that most camp staff (simply because of their age) will not yet have reached maturity of judgment…most aren't yet fully cooked. So, it becomes a question of culture which either elevates and encourages the best from all staff, or which tolerates mediocrity because “what more can a person expect…they're just kids leading kids?” I think camp culture is critical to linchpin behaviors across all staff. If culture allows mediocrity, then even a good counselor may stand out…may even look like a linchpin, and in the end mediocrity will win.
    I would like to ask the question in the group, what steps do you take (which have worked) to help you build, protect and sustain a linchpin culture amongst your staff from pre-hire to closing day?

  • What steps do you take (which have worked) to help you build, protect and sustain a linchpin culture amongst your staff from pre-hire to closing day?

    I find it helps to have regular feedback time with staff so they know exactly what they are going that is indispensable. What you focus on will expand.

  • DavidBetz

    Godin's reminder on page 57 that we are ALWAYS invited to reinvent made an impression on me: “Every product you make represents an opportunity to design something that has never been designed, to create an interaction unlike any other.”

    It sure is tempting to repeat a past success. Before we are even aware, the repetition transitions from Consistency to Boring.

  • As a camp that offers 8 one week sessions – we really try to get this across to staff that every week there are campers who are having their first week at camp – that the interactions need to be as enthusiastic as the first week.

    Keeping staff and camp feeling different and new and better to parents and campers is always the big goal.

  • At Pearce Williams we really focus on building the team with daily teamwork exercises but more importantly getting all the staff to buy into the job description that we have for all staff, “To do what needs to be done to make the campers stay the most amazing ever.” Getting across to our staff that they are all part of the staff puzzle – different people fill different needs – but that only together do they make the great picture.

  • “Bill Ford hired someone who knew how to train people to live without a map.”

    “In the face of an infinite sea of choices, it’s natural to put blinders on, to ask for a map, to beg for instructions, or failing that, to do exactly what you did last time, even if it didn’t work. Linchpins are able to embrace the lack of structure and find a new path, one that works.”

    To live without a map, to find a new path – this is the essence of what we ask our summer camp staff to do. Every interaction they have, every day is different, every camper is different. We need to focus, as camp directors, on giving these opportunities to staff – on encouraging staff to see these opportunities so that when they are older they will be more comfortable without the map, seeking the new way.