Virginia Nacy is owner and operator of Toddler’s Workshop, the first childcare company to receive the Rochester Business Ethics Award, in 2011. Toddler’s Workshop went on to earn the National Business Ethics Award in 2012. Statuettes and recognition are one thing, Nacy says, but the intrinsic value of preparing an ETHIE application has been the greater reward for the Webster-based childcare company.
The nationally-accredited Toddler’s Workshop brings commitment to high-quality child care and a continual improvement process that includes constant external and internal assessment. That self-evaluation program became the basis of Toddler’s Workshop’s ETHIE application.
Nacy knew that applying for the ETHIE would raise the overall opinion of the childcare industry among Rochester’s business community. She had long felt that childcare is often not given full consideration as a business, even though Toddlers’ Workshop had been serving the northeastern communities of Monroe County for 25 years.
“The best mentoring was watching the awards ceremony and the video productions about the recipients,” says Nacy. Seeing how the recipients portrayed their ethics culture made the difference for their next application. Nacy also knew a Toddler’s Workshop video would instantly educate the business leaders in the ETHIE Luncheon audience about the childcare industry.
Toddler’s Workshop formed a committee to articulate their ethics program – Nacy was not on the committee, by design, and the all-volunteer group was comprised of all staff levels. Involving employees is key – Nacy says that because of the all-staff buy-in, the payroll dollars were well worth the effort.
“For the companies who want to get involved in the ETHIE process, it is a time commitment to collect the data, and to make sure that you are on-point to answer the questions on ethics,” says Nacy.
Nacy credits her staff with bringing the Toddler’s Workshop ethics culture to life in Shapes, the title of their ongoing program rooted in out-of-the-box thinking and modeled on, appropriately, easy to understand shapes.
“For the first application, we had the pieces,” says Nacy of being a finalist in 2010. “When we did the ‘shapes’, it made our ethics culture super clear.”
The point of the process was not a top-down ethics plan. Rather, the whole staff of Toddler’s Workshop was already participating in developing and maintaining the company’s ethics culture – the ETHIE application helped them formalize and package their program.
Their in-house designed ethics program makes sense for a teaching environment:
The HEART core values system (helpful, empathetic, appreciative, responsive, trustworthy), and the STARS quality-assurance plan (staff, teamwork, accountability rating system) were joined by the Circle (for community involvement – a staff requirement), a Square (for out-of-the-box creative innovation), and the Pyramid (their model for ethical practice emphasizing health and safety, regulations, quality practices, customer service, and resources.)
The staff, and the parents of children in their care, are regularly surveyed for the feedback that drives Toddler’s Workshop’s continuous improvement efforts. Internal awards programs tied to the HEART and STARS shapes encourages all staff to fully embrace – and grow! – their ethics culture.
The staff-led Ethics Committee is now a fixture at Toddler’s Workshop, and they continue to develop new ways to live their ethical culture while being the guardians of best practices. Nacy fully trusts her employees and the Shapes program, saying, “The staff knows if there are ethics issues, because they see all the day-to-day functions.”
Nacy says the easy part of applying for the ETHIE was that Toddler’s Workshop already operated within a highly-valued ethical culture. Receiving the ETHIE, then being nominated for the National competition by one of the parents served by the childcare company, was public validation of what everyone working at Toddler’s Workshop already knows:
“We want our people to be able to contemplate ideas so that they don’t feel like they need to be in a box where you can’t say anything…you need to be able to problem-solve and not be afraid to venture into a continuous improvement process,” says Nacy.
“Receiving the ETHIE was a nice moment for us, but the long-lasting effect is the training program we have in place for all the new people coming in, and the expectation [of our team] that we are using the program.”