Welcome to the Summer Camp Leadership blog. For those of us who lead summer camps, making a positive difference in the lives of young people is our passion. Turning that passion into a reality, however, takes more than the ability to lead songs, teach archery or plan craft projects. Creating camp experiences that truly transform lives takes leadership. Leadership that creates a vision for the future, leadership that inspires and engages others, leadership that remains focused and stays the course. My hope is through this blog you'll find ideas, inspiration and tools to help you be a great summer camp leader.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rewarding the Good, Punishing the Bad?

After spending some time after high school determining I wasn't ready for college I joined the Air Force. My first job was loading bombs, missiles, rockets and other things that blew up onto fighter jets. It was a tough, physically demanding job that was not for the the faint of heart.

On my shift we had about ten crews each comprised of three people. Our supervisor had a simple way of assigning work. He had a pile of work orders and gave each crew one job at the beginning of the shift. When you completed that job you came in and picked up another. Most crews realized that the more efficient you were and the quicker you got your work done, the sooner you'd get another job and the more work you'd do. The strategy that emerged was for most crews to pace themselves by watching the other crews. Go too fast and you did more work. Go too slow and you might get noticed. The overall performance on the shift was consistently slow.

Midway through my fours years in this assignment our shift changed supervisors. Our new supervisor changed the way work was distributed. At the beginning of the shift he'd take the total number of work orders for the day, divide them by the number of crews and give each crew an equal number of jobs. Once a crew completed all of their jobs for the day they went home. As you might imagine, how crews worked completely changed. Now the goal was to work fast to get your jobs done so you could go home early. Good crews could suddenly knock out eight hours of work in six hours. The performance of almost every crew on the shift improved.  

As a leader it's easy sometimes to fall into the trap of  mixing up what behavior we reward versus the behavior we punish. My first supervisor set up a system that punished good performance (go fast, get more work) and rewarded poor performance (go slow, do less work.) My second supervisor on the other hand, put in place a system that encouraged the behavior he wanted (go fast, go home early) and discouraged the behavior he didn't want (go slow, stay late.)

As camp directors do we sometimes fall into the trap of punishing good behavior and rewarding poor performance? Think about it. Do our best counselors consistently get the most difficult campers? Does the really good counselor regularly get teamed with the poorest co-counselor?  Do we assign less desirable tasks to the staff member with a great attitude because we know they won't complain? Do we give the chronic malcontent jobs we know they won't whine about because we don't want to deal with their negative attitude?