How to Build a Championship Staff

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Perhaps the biggest problem that the successful school owner has to deal with is recruiting new staff. Once your studio is up and running above 200 active students, you might begin to think about expanding. If you have one successful location, why not try a second?

Staff – that’s why not. No matter how good your advertising, no matter how good your marketing, no matter how good your curriculum – the bottom line comes down to how good are your staff? A studio is only as good as the person who runs it. Sure, if you do most of the business aspects yourself, you can survive with a mediocre instructor. But, in order to succeed at a high level, you need staff – an excellent staff.

The way to develop excellent staff is through a carefully instituted training program, like the Kaizan Club. While a great deal of attention and effort is given towards the martial arts end of training a person, very little time is spent by most people in training their staff in business skills, communication skills, and leadership skills.

Without these skills, your staff can’t perform up to your expectations – unless you’ve set them very low. Before you can train staff, though, you have to find them. This in itself can be a lot harder than at first glance. While finding people is not hard, finding people that are good, or that have the potential to be good, is certainly not easy.

When you recruit students from within your school, you inherit something of a built-in problem – that these members of staff have friends who are students. This often makes it difficult or embarrassing for them to ask their friends for money when they are behind in their payments. Then they also want to give some people special treatment, at the expense of others. It’s a natural reaction, but it must be dealt with quickly, and up front. You must make it clear to all staff members that the studio must be run like a business.

Another problem that will often creep up when you hire from within, is that of discussing studio business with their friends. This, again, is a big no-no. Studio business should not be discussed with any other students. Handle these problems the very first day, and remind new staff members of these points over and over again during the first few weeks, and they will seldom develop into problems later.

If you hire staff from within, and then, for one reason or another, the person does not always work out, and leaves – often, some of their friends will leave with them. Even if the employee leaves with no intention of opening up another school, this can, and often is, damaging to studio morale.

So, consider these points carefully when you think about hiring someone who is already a student. Outside recruiting also has its own problems. Run an ad in your local classified asking for black belts to teach, and you’ll have an avalanche of phone calls. Put up a flyer in your local martial arts store, and you’ll be greeted with the same response. There’s simply no shortage of people who want to teach martial arts for a living.

The problem with recruiting from outside your school is that they do not have the built in factors of loyalty and respect for you already in place. This is less of a problem with sales or office staff. It can be a major problem with teaching staff. Think for the moment for the respect you had for your first master, and you’ll begin to see how hard it is for someone else to be told that a specific technique, or method of teaching, is no good for your school.

When I ran ads, I found that many people who applied for jobs as instructors were often hard core fighters, or instructors who had already failed once – or several times – in running their own school. Interviewing prospective employees, whether it’s for a teaching position or an office position, is a very important task.

During the interviewing process, you must make a decision within a few minutes on that person’s ability to help your school grow over the next few years. Make a wrong decision, and it can cost you a great deal of money – not only in lost sales, but also in lost students as well.

The key skills to look for in hiring anyone are enthusiasm and attitude. Nothing takes their place when it comes to developing good employees. When in an interview, don’t cut off the interview by telling the person about your school and what you expect. Instead, encourage the person to talk about themselves. Listen very carefully. Past behavior is repetitive.

If an instructor has studied several different styles, then the chances are that after he’s studied some of your style, he’ll be rolling along again, to the next school. If he’s already failed in business, there must be a reason. If he’s discovered the reason – great. If not, beware.

Find out about your prospective instructor’s past – his training, his experience, and his feeling towards past masters, associations, and schools. I once watched a chain of schools hire six new instructors from outside their system to speed up their expansion. The first was a New Zealand kickboxing champion. He had a hardcore following of 45 students, and I don’t think he ever got beyond 50.

The second two were from Pakistan, where they taught in a school of several hundred students. One was so hard core, he failed instantly. The other learned enough about running a school in the USA to leave and open on his own. Although an excellent martial artist, he was far too hard core to get much beyond 50 or 60 students.

The final three were all local instructors who’d already failed in the martial arts business – some more than once. Now, having failed once, or even twice, is not necessarily bad. It means they must have learned something. But, within a few months, all six instructors were gone.

The moral is very simple: Be careful when you hire from outside of your school or system. Dig deep for answers about the instructor’s past, and his intentions in the future. It can work, but it takes careful planning.

Ask the prospective instructor, if he’s failed before, why he thinks he failed. If he says because his students were wimps, his partner quit and took all the students, or another school opened up close by – beware. If, on the other hand, he says he was too hard on his students, or didn’t know enough about the business, he’s probably a keeper, because he’s learned from his mistakes.

Always ask questions that allow the person to open up. Don’t ask yes or no questions. Ask questions which allows the person to tell you about their attitude, beliefs, and expectations. “What do you think is the most important aspect of teaching?” If he says, “Correct technique” instead of “Motivation,” chances are he needs a lot of work. If he says “Discipline” instead of “Fun,” – beware.

Ask him what they feel is a fair price to charge for lessons. Ask them how they feel about getting paid for lessons. Here, you’re trying to uncover the person’s underlying belief about his value, and the value of the martial arts program your school teaches.

If he feels that lessons should be cheap, there may be an underlying problem that afflicts many in the martial arts – that somehow, they think you shouldn’t charge for teaching. That is not a good underlying principle for a successful business. Be very careful of any instructor who does not respond well to this type of questions.

Once you are comfortable with the person you are interviewing, invite them to come back and teach a class. You can tell them that this instructor is a guest instructor, and is going to teach for you, for this class. Watch the instructor for his people skills, motivation skills, leadership skills, and communication skills. If they look good, keep him. You can always work on his martial arts technique later on. It’s easy to teach someone a kata. It’s very hard to teach someone how to have a good personality.

I know of several schools that have hired non-martial artists to work in the office, and then taught them to be part time instructors as they went along. If you can hire someone who’s worked selling insurance, health club memberships, timeshares, or anything like that, selling martial arts will be a breeze for them. Hire based on communication skills, sales skills, motivation skills, and personality – not on rank of the martial arts.

If you’re hiring an office person, voice is also very important – especially on the phone. In fact, very often I suggest that the first interview with anyone should take place over the telephone, rather than in person, so you can guage the quality of their voice, and the way they handle questions over the telephone.

Call the person up after the interview in your office, and continue it on the phone to see how clearly they can be understood. Here are ten essential qualities to look for when hiring a new instructor for your staff:

  1. Enthusiasm for the martial arts, for teaching them, and for life in general. If someone on your staff does not have this vital ingredient, try to help them get it – or get rid of them, fast. Without this simple quality, you’re fighting an uphill battle.

All of your staff must have enthusiasm on two fronts. First, they must love the martial arts. Secondly, they must love people, and want to help them by imparting their martial arts knowledge to them. Enthusiasm is contagious, and spreads like wildfire across all who encounter it. Students like it, parents love it, and you will get caught up in its spell yourself.

Enthusiasm makes up for a multitude of deficiencies in skills or knowledge. Enthusiasm attracts people to your school. Enthusiasm opens doors closed to others. Enthusiasm is practiced by all successful instructors. And, enthusiasm goes hand-in-hand with the next key, which is good attitude.

A good attitude towards work and people. Excellent instructors need excellent attitudes. That means they must have positive, helpful attitudes, towards themselves and others. Instructors with positive attitudes have more energy. Instructors with positive attitudes help students adjust their attitudes. Instructors with positive attitudes allow their attitudes to shine brighter than any deficiencies they might have.


Instructors with a positive attitude are more creative in their teaching, and more caring in the ways they help their school. Instructors with a positive attitude can laugh at themselves when they make a mistake. And, instructors with a positive attitude attract people to your school.