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We know that a positive workplace culture matters. It’s a huge player in why people join particular nurseries and why they choose to stay. In a time when recruitment and retention are such huge challenges for the early years sector, and when pay and progression are limited, it’s vital that leaders know how to embed an organisational culture that makes staff excited about coming to work every single day.

But how do leaders actually embed a positive culture? According to the leading figure in organisational culture research, Professor Edgar H. Schein, there are a range of what he calls ‘embedding mechanisms’ that leaders can use to help a positive workplace culture to stick.

He separates these mechanisms into ‘primary embedding mechanisms’ – the things that leaders do straight away as they try to build up a particular culture in the organisation – and ‘secondary embedding mechanisms’, which are vital for helping to sustain that positive culture over time.

In this article, we’ll look at the primary embedding mechanisms that leaders can use as they try to cultivate a new workplace culture across a nursery. We’ll look at three in particular:

  • Paying attention: what you notice and celebrate day to day
  • Allocating resources: where the time and money goes
  • Role modelling, training and coaching: showing how you’d like things to be

Building Workplace Culture: Acknowledging And Celebrating Everyday Wins

If you want to embed a positive workplace culture that emphasises supportiveness across a team, as a leader, you’ll need to pay attention to the quality of support as it shows up in day to day interactions across the nursery. This means being on the lookout for how staff show support to one another at the moment.

For example, you might notice that a particular member of staff is great at cheering others up when they’re feeling tired or demotivated. You might see how this individual’s attitude and emotional attunement helps others to get through the day. Saying the simple words “thank you” to this person sends a message throughout the organisation about what matters to you as a leader and how important you think this kind of supportive attitude is across the nursery.

Leaders can go further than just saying thank you of course. You can celebrate supportiveness more concretely and encourage others to celebrate it also. This might mean putting up a noticeboard for example in the staff room where staff can share examples of how they felt supported by someone else. You could have a small budget available for staff to buy each other small, silly tokens to show support or to show their appreciation for others’ support. Over the longer-term, you might even invest in a staff award ceremony – on whatever scale works for you – where there is an award specifically for showing support to others in the team. All of these celebratory actions are powerful because they reinforce the idea that showing support matters.

And of course this doesn’t apply to just supportiveness. You could do the same thing for kindness, for joy, for showing initiative – whatever you see as the fundamental qualities of workplace culture that you really want to make stick.

Allocating Resources: Where The Time And Money Goes

When it comes to valuing particular qualities in the workplace culture, as leaders we need to put our money where our mouth is. We need to show that we care about these qualities of the culture through directing resources in their direction. It’s not just money that matters and speaks, but also the allocation of time.

So, for example, in a team meeting, you might show that being supportive matters by dedicating the first 15 minutes of the meeting to connecting with one another on an emotional and personal level, helping to support flow more readily across the team. Team meetings are precious time where there’s a lot to get done. But if support really does matter to the culture, then fostering this support is a priority.

Does pay and progression in the nursery clearly relate to the qualities that you’re hoping to embed? If we look at promotion criteria for example, is being supportive explicitly recognised?

On a more day to day basis, is there a small budget that staff can tap into in order to support colleagues through difficult times or even just show appreciation of colleagues that have been supportive? It could be a personalised mug costing less than £20, but for an employee it makes all the difference to know that what they’re doing for the team matters, along with being a sign to the whole team about what’s most important in the nursery.

Workplace Culture: Modeling, Training, Coaching For Desired Environment

Sometimes it can feel like a positive workplace culture is something that’s hard to pin down and therefore hard to teach. But once you get a clear grip on the qualities that you want to see more of, you can begin to not only model that quality through your own style of leading, but also use training and coaching to enable staff to bring more of that quality into their practice and teamwork.

If you want to develop a team that feel emotionally connected to one another and where the support flows freely, it could work well to invest in training around emotional intelligence, attunement and even attachment styles. This is powerful on many levels because it impacts not only on how staff interact with each other, but their understanding of young children and families as well. Follow-up coaching, which focuses on these qualities, is a great way to help staff to embed the quality in their practice over time.

To help a particular quality in the workplace culture to stick, you can start by celebrating that quality in action, directing resources towards it, role modelling what it looks like and investing in training and coaching to foster the quality in practice.

Take a look at some of our other leadership blogs here:

Leadership and childcare expert, Mona Sakr

About the author:

Dr. Sakr is a leading expert in educational leadership, her current research focuses on developing leaders across the early years, with a special emphasis on the baby room.

Leadership and childcare expert, Mona Sakr

About the author:

Dr. Sakr is a leading expert in educational leadership, her current research focuses on developing leaders across the early years, with a special emphasis on the baby room.

Leadership and childcare expert, Mona Sakr

About the author:

Dr. Sakr is a leading expert in educational leadership, her current research focuses on developing leaders across the early years, with a special emphasis on the baby room.

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