March 13, 2019

It's All About the Staff

By Jerrad Strand |

I don’t know about you, but if you’re like me, you spend the majority of your time thinking about programming, transportation, advertising, licensing, and good communication with parents in your programs. The one thing that I used to push to the bottom of the list was staff development and engagement. That was the biggest mistake I made early in my career. I now know that this is the most important thing I do each day.


We don’t sell a product in our field, we offer an experience. Youth don’t walk out of our programs with a tangible item like a watch or food. Instead, they leave with a feeling - hopefully one of trust, excitement, and community. I find that the only way I can do this is to have well-trained and happy staff. Here is my list on creating a dedicated, happy staff:

  • Training – We spend 40 hours training all new staff in the Youth & Teen Department
  • Learn your staff – Do you have a candy bar list? If not, this is the perfect chance to get one! We have a 10-15 question form that we give to all new staff. I ask about music, candy bars, and other personal things. I keep a stash of candy bars for when someone is having an off day.
  • Goal setting session – We sit down with each new staff to set goals, and I don’t focus on work goals. This session is all about personal growth and helping them in life.
  • We allow failure – As long as no one is hurt or lost, we allow staff to try and fail in a safe environment and we work as a team to solve the situation. (I personally think this is one of the most important topics.)
  • We listen to our staff – By listening I learn all kinds of important things. What is going on in their lives, what is causing them stress, and all about life. Try this once, listen to your staff and then walk up to them a few days later and ask “How did that big test you were stressed out about go?” You will probably hear something like this “How did you know about that, and it was easier than I thought.” It shows them that you care about them as an individual, not just an employee.
  • Treat them like a human who you care about –  It is truly that simple. Lead with empathy and kindness and find ways to make them the star. You do it every day with children, so why not staff? Look for ways to trust and challenge them and thank them for doing a good job.


We work to create a team that builds each other up - a team that can work through difficult problems.  Throughout my professional experience, I have trained hundreds of individuals to come together around shared goals and to work through hard things to come out stronger. I have always known the importance of communication in this process. I have learned that being present and actively listening in the moment builds value in the relationship and creates the opportunity for collaboration. Most importantly, I have learned to build in time to allow for communication to happen, to allow all parties to be heard, and to listen actively.  

By caring for your staff and inspiring them to be their best, you can unlock their full potential to achieve great results. When you create a tribe, you create a team that picks each other up, learns from failure, tests the limits, and unlocks the potential of the world around you. Leading with empathy and kindness are the key to my strong team at the JCC. I find that taking the time to learn who my staff are as individuals and then fostering the strengths they possess is vital. Look for the positive, and remember: we all go into this job to change the world and teaching your staff how to be exceptional is one of the best and most powerful ways to do that! Please keep up the good work you all do, and if I can help you in any way, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

Jerrad Strand is the Youth & Teen Director at the IJ and Jeanné Wagner Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.