April 18, 2006 / Spring 2006 / Staff Management

Using honey to motivate worker bees

Written by Laura K. Negri

Advising a yearbook means taking the big celebrations, like yearbook workshop, first deadline and delivery day, and fully appreciating them, because they are few and far between.

Every year and every yearbook brings its own set of challenges: the computers that won’t work; the staff members who don’t get along; the ideas that don’t quite work once they are on paper; the sales that don’t meet expectations; the tasks that never seemed finished.

When I was first advising yearbook, I looked at my more experienced colleagues and wondered how they made it look so easy. But as I have gained more experience, I have learned that the secret lies in remembering how much I can influence the atmosphere in the yearbook room by laughing at the computer problems, staying late with a smile to help finish deadlines, and praising even the little things that the staff does well. I cannot control many of the things that can go wrong; but I can control how much my staff feels they have done right.

It’s a long time between the first deadline and delivery day, and sustaining the energy from beginning to end is a difficult task; but I have learned in 10 years of advising that it is essential for survival. The year is filled with a thousand minor problems; the only way to combat them is with a thousand little joys.

For me it was especially apparent when we were struggling with a deadline and proofs for the previous deadline were not yet finished. The staff was tired, mid-year finals were approaching and they had little extra time to devote to yearbook.

I gathered the staff together for what I had thought would be another,” We’re on deadline so let’s get everything done” speech; but, almost off-hand, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the quotes in one story. The writer, a shy student who struggled with language and seemed severely misplaced on staff the year before, visibly brightened as other members of the staff leaned over and congratulated her.

The whole group became more relaxed, and as I looked around at their now-smiling faces, I searched my mind for other things I could praise. Yes, I told them, we had trouble meeting our deadlines without the last-minute push to finish; but the pages were turning out quite well and the staff did not compromise the quality of their work, even when it was last-minute. Another story had turned out better than I expected, original rather than an easy cliché, because that writer sincerely tried to write something that could never be found in another yearbook. A layout by a sophomore page designer showed creativity that belayed her lack of confidence. A few more book sales trickled in after the staff had pledged to aid our slumping sales. A lost folder of photos turned up misfiled, and they were better quality than we had remembered. All of these things, although none earth-shattering, we should celebrate, even for just a moment.

The effect on the staff was immediate, as they broke up the meeting and returned to their computers. I found that I, too, felt better about the approaching deadline; it seemed more manageable than it had before.

It is easy to get carried away by the noise and excitement of a major celebration; but yearbook staffs need small pep rallies in the room every time deadlines loom overhead and a thousand minor frustrations pile up.

Laura K. Negri