29th March 2022 All Posts Insights Expert Advice

5 minutes with… Sonia Hardy on attracting, retaining, and managing staff

Having shaken up our employee Q&A, we’ve delved into our staff’s specialist subjects to gather more information about the powers of technology in the early years sector.

This time we’ve tasked our Chief People Officer, Sonia Hardy, to tell us about attracting, retaining, and managing staff in the childcare sector. Here’s what she had to say…

In just three words, sum up what makes Connect such a fantastic place to work?

Supportive, flexible, collaborative.

When recruiting new team members, what are the essential qualities that you look out for in every employee, regardless of role?

  • Great interpersonal and communication skills 
  • A positive attitude
  • Creativity – not someone who solely fits the culture, but who adds to that in their own unique way
  • Honesty – this is difficult to measure in an interview, but so important
  • Driven and passionate about their personal and professional development. 

And how do those attributes contribute to the service that Connect offers to its customers?

We want every customer to have a great experience when they deal with our team. By ensuring that each of our people embody these positive traits, we can be confident that every query is dealt with in a polite and efficient manner – and that our clients receive the very best that we can offer. 

In such a challenging recruitment market, what tips would you offer to other organisations wishing to retain their staff?

Talk to staff and find out what they think makes a great workplace, and equally what doesn’t. Really listen to their responses and act upon the insight you gain. Many managers ask the right questions but then don’t utilise the feedback they receive. This, understandably, demotivates people and makes them feel undervalued. As a result, they’ll be reluctant to have those conversations again, or to place their trust in the management team to help them in resolving any issues moving forward. 

It’s also worth remembering that people aren’t motivated by salary alone — flexibility is a desirable benefit, as is an open and encouraging company culture. Creating a package that factors in a broader range of benefits, and considers work-life balance, is likely to result in a happier and more loyal workforce. 

What do you think makes a good manager? And what advice would you give to others wishing to pursue a similar role?

There are so many qualities that come together to make a great manager. For some people it’s seen as the next logical step in their career, whereas for others they have a passion for the role and the attributes to make them excel. 

While both circumstances can produce great managers, those who gain genuine satisfaction from developing their team, and seeing them shine — rather than those who are solely motivated by their own career desires — are most likely to become the best leaders.

And when it comes to balancing the needs of a team – while also ensuring that they deliver a great service for customers — being both a good communicator and a great listener is vital. As is giving people the trust and freedom to perform their role at their best. Furthermore, having the ability to give constructive feedback, but also to be able to receive that graciously, is a must. 

High emotional intelligence is another key quality. Being able to pick up on the subtle signs that someone is unhappy or struggling with a particular element of their role, is a great skill which not only shows that you care but helps to build trust too. It’s also helpful in identifying strengths and weaknesses in a team, or areas where further support might be required to aid an employee in reaching their potential.

Ultimately, for anyone wishing to pursue a management role, they need to have a deep understanding of what a good manager looks like and understand the importance of being able to coach and mentor teams. It’s a role which requires someone to keep building on their skillset as you will never be the finished article. Lead by example and remember to ask for regular feedback from your managers and team. Be confident enough to hear what would make you better – and take this advice on board.

The staffing crisis in the early years sector is well-documented. How can Connect’s technology help to alleviate some of the difficulties currently being experienced by settings? 

In the current climate, many settings are finding themselves significantly overstretched. But while periods of illness or isolation can’t be helped, having a real-time overview of staffing levels can. For nursery groups in particular, it’s really helpful to be able to visualise resource within each setting so that practitioners can be re-deployed when and where needed. This help to navigate and manage difficult circumstances in a quicker, easier manner and prevents disruption to children and parents. 

Connect’s childcare software combines everything nursery managers, practitioners, and parents need in one simple solution. Book a demo by calling 01282 507945, enquiring here, or visiting our website.

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Imogen is our Content and Social Media creative