How to Fire a Staff Member

Last week I told an all too familiar story of the benevolent instructor who pretty much raises a kid in his school who seems to turn his life around as a result.

I pointed out that the student wasn’t the only liability. The instructors reluctance to release the student out of concern for his well-being made him as culpable as the student for any damage done to the school.
That message clearly hit home. Here is a sample message I received.

The Benevolent Instructor:
I just want to say how close to home you hit with that last e-mail you sent out the other day.  I have recently found myself being the benevolent instructor and let an employee damage my business, health, stress level, and family conversations for far too long.

This employee was finally released and it marked the first time I have ever had to let someone go.  She was a good person but no longer a good fit for our business.  It was really, really hard and I found myself nearly in tears once it was over.

Thank you for timing the release of that post at a time when it really helped me to finalize those feelings and be able to move on.  Thank you.

Name Withheld

Before we get into story 2 of 3 on this topic, I want to share with you the best phraseology that I’ve learned to use when letting someone go. My multiple schools had at least a half-dozen employees and running NAPMA had as many as 25 employees with some making over $200k per year.

It’s important to document all of your meetings with the employee to make sure you are building your case for termination. However, I will leave that to the HR experts and not play labor attorney.

My only advice is that when you have that final meeting and have protected yourself from lawsuits relating to discrimination, harassment, etc… you be very careful in what you say and how you say it.

In my experience, my best line has been, “Sally, as you know, we’ve been giving this the best chance we could have. You’re a good person, and you will do well, but I think we both know that this job is just not a good fit for you. It’s best we bring this to an end.”

Typically, I’d give them two weeks pay and change the door locks, website passwords, etc…. As part of the process of receiving the two weeks pay, they would have to sign a release of liability that basically says they will not sue the school or any employee from that moment on.

Firing an employee for a martial arts school owner is often more difficult than most businesses because there is often a stronger emotional history / baggage attached with the process than the local 7/11 or health club.

Next week, story two of how an owner can become a liability for his or her school.

300 Questions for a Job Interview

300+ Questions for a Job Interview

  1. Why did you decide to apply for this position?
  2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  3. List three of your most important/proudest accomplishments.
  4. What kind of work environment do you prefer?
  5. What motivates you? ALSO Have you used these motivators with others?
  6. How are you qualified for this job?
  7. What supervisory or management experience have you had?
  8. How would you characterize your supervisory style?
  9. The person in this position needs to be innovative and proactive. Can you describe some things you have done to demonstrate these qualities?
  10. How would you rate your communication skills and what have you done to improve them?
  11. What else besides your school and job experience qualifies you for this job?
  12. What have you read lately, and what are you reading now?
  13. While this position involves some specific skills (language, computer, administration, etc.), it is more of a generalist position. How do you feel that your background fits into this?
  14. What are the personal characteristics and qualities that you would bring to this position that would be particularly helpful in fulfilling the responsibilities of this position?
  15. Tell us about yourself.
  16. Do you prefer to work independently or as part of a team?
  17. What appeals to you about this position and/or this company?
  18. What are some aspects of your present (or most recent) position that you like?
  19. Why do you want to leave your current job?
  20. Why do you want to leave your current employer so soon?
  21. What are some aspects of your present (or most recent) position that you dislike?
  22. Have you ever been in the position to fire anyone? Why did you fire that person?
  23. What do you know about this job.
  24. Have you ever received a grade lower than expected? What did you do about it?
  25. How do you deal with pressure situations?
  26. How do you deal with surprises?
  27. How do you deal with tension?
  28. How well do you work under a deadline?
  29. How well do you work under pressure?
  30. Is there anything you haven’t revealed that would affect our decision?
  31. Tell me about a time you had a problem with decisiveness.
  32. What are some things you had planned to accomplish that were not carried out?
  33. What are your pet peeves?
  34. What do you least like about writing a term paper?
  35. What is your biggest professional challenge?
  36. What job experiences have angered you?
  37. What mistakes might we make in hiring you?
  38. What types of things make you angry?
  39. Why aren’t you making more money with all this background?
  40. Why do you want to work in a job for which you are overqualified?
  41. Why is your grade point average so low?
  42. Why were you in school for so long?
  43. You’ve been with your current employer for a very short time. Is this an indication that you’ll be moving around a lot throughout your career?
  44. You’ve changed jobs quite frequently, what assurances do we have that you will stay with us?
  45. Have you been asked to resign?
  46. Have you ever been asked to resign?
  47. Have you ever been demoted?
  48. Have you ever been denied a promotion?
  49. Have you ever been fired for reasons that seem unfair?
  50. Have you ever been fired?
  51. Have you ever been laid off?
  52. Have you ever been rejected?
  53. Have you ever been turned down for a promotion?
  54. Have you ever laid off anyone?
  55. What did you do during the gap in your employment history?
  56. Why did you leave your last job?
  57. Why did you leave your last job?
  58. Why do you want to leave your current job?
  59. Why do you want to leave your current employer so soon?
  60. Why do you want to leave your job if you like it so much?
  61. Why have you been out of work for so long?
  62. Why haven’t you accepted a job yet?
  63. Why haven’t you been hired yet?
  64. Why haven’t you found work yet?
  65. Why is there a large gap in your employment history?
  66. Why were you let go?
  67. How was your last performance review?
  68. How were you evaluated in your last job?
  69. What were the results of your last performance appraisal?
  70. What’s the biggest mistake you can recall making?
  71. Have you ever had a communication- problem with anyone?
  72. Have you ever lost your temper?
  73. Have you ever openly criticized someone else?
  74. Have you ever worked with someone you didn’t like?
  75. In the past, how have you dealt with co-workers who have disagreed with you?
  76. Tell me about the last time you got angry on the job.
  77. Tell me about the time when someone has lost his/her temper at you in a business environment.
  78. Tell me about your last situation with an unhappy customer? What did you do?
  79. What bothers you?
  80. What did you dislike about your previous company?
  81. What did you dislike about your supervisor?
  82. What did you dislike most about your previous job?
  83. What kinds of people do you have problems working with?
  84. What types of people seem to rub you the wrong way?
  85. Did your former employer have any policies that you consider unfair?
  86. Have you ever been discriminated against or treated unfairly?
  87. Have you ever intentionally deceived someone?
  88. Have you ever used drugs?
  89. How did you resolve the last moral dilemma you faced?
  90. How do you react when your honesty is questioned?
  91. How would you deal with a subordinate who violated a company policy?
  92. How would you react to a situation in which a fellow employee confided in you that he was stealing from the company? (situational)
  93. Tell me about a time when you felt it might be justifiable to break company procedure.
  94. To what extreme do you use liquor?
  95. Would you be willing to take a drug test?
  96. Would you submit to a drug test?
  97. Can you give me an example of one of your failures?
  98. Did you have any problems in your previous jobs?
  99. Have you ever been put on the spot by a professor when you felt unsure of yourself? How did you respond?
  100. Have you ever been turned down for a salary increase?
  101. Have you ever missed a deadline?
  102. How do you deal with failure?
  103. How often do you miss deadlines?
  104. Tell me about a situation that you just couldn’t handle.
  105. Tell me about a situation when miscommunication created a problem on the job.
  106. Tell me about something in your last job that you’re not proud of.
  107. What are your biggest failures in relation to your career?
  108. What are your weaknesses a person?
  109. What are your weaknesses as an employee?
  110. What are your weaknesses?
  111. What have been your greatest disappointments?
  112. What have you done that you regret?
  113. What was the greatest disappointment in your last job?
  114. What was the worst mistake you made at work? How did that affect the company?
  115. What were your biggest failures?
  116. Have you ever had a demanding supervisor?
  117. Tell me about the worst boss you’ve ever had.
  118. What are some areas you disagreed with your supervisor?
  119. What would you say about a supervisor who was tough to work with?
  120. What would you say about a supervisor who was unfair?
  121. Did you ever have a customer get mad at something that wasn’t your fault?
  122. Have you ever been openly criticized?
  123. Have you ever been reprimanded?
  124. How do you deal with rejection?
  125. How do you handle people who are critical? (or How do you handle rejection?)
  126. What has been the biggest criticism of you?
  127. What have you been most frequently criticized for?
  128. What would you say if I said your presentation was awful?
  129. When has your work been criticized?
  130. What about your performance do your bosses tend to criticize most?
  131. What are some problems you found in your job?
  132. What decisions are difficult for you?
  133. What difficult problems have you dealt with?
  134. What do you think are the biggest challenges you’ll face in this position?
  135. What do you worry about?
  136. What do your subordinates consider your weaknesses?
  137. What duties did you find the most troublesome?
  138. What is your greatest weakness?
  139. What is your worst personality trait?
  140. Can you work under pressure?
  141. Did you ever have a customer get mad at something that wasn’t your fault?
  142. Do you have experience working under strict time limits?
  143. Do you work well in pressure situations?
  144. Do you work well under pressure?
  145. Does your present job have a lot of pressure?
  146. Have you any experience working to meet deadlines?
  147. Have you ever worked in a place where it seemed to be just one crisis after another?
  148. How do you cope with stress on the job?
  149. How do you deal with tension?
  150. How do you work under pressure?
  151. How effective are you under pressure?
  152. How well do you work under a deadline?
  153. How well do you work under pressure?
  154. How would you clarify an unclear assignment?
  155. “If you had a project due and a co-worker wanted to talk about something else, what would you do?”
  156. “In what kind of a work environment are you most comfortable: structured, unstructured, etc.”
  157. In what kind of work environment are you most comfortable?
  158. In what ways do you deal with criticism?
  159. Is there a lot of pressure in your current job?
  160. Tell me about a time when you were assigned an unwelcome job. What did you do?
  161. Think of a particularly hectic day. How did you handle it?
  162. Under what type of conditions have you been most successful at any project?
  163. What do you find frustrating?
  164. What do you find tough to do?
  165. What happens when two priorities compete for your time?
  166. What has been the most difficult decision you’ve had to make in the last 3 years?
  167. What has been the most difficult situation you’ve had to deal with? How did you handle it?
  168. What is your definition of stress?
  169. What major problem have you encountered and how did you deal with it?
  170. What major problem have you encountered and how did you handle it?
  171. What major problem have you encountered? How did you resolve it?
  172. What methods do you employ to overcome challenges?
  173. What part of your workload do you find most challenging?
  174. What pressure situations have you been involved with?
  175. What tense experiences have you had on the job?
  176. What was the environment at your last job like?
  177. What was the most frustrating thing about your last job?
  178. Do you enjoy working on difficult projects?
  179. Do you have accomplishments you are proud of?
  180. Do you have initiative?
  181. Have you ever accomplished something difficult?
  182. Have you ever accomplished something you did not think you could?
  183. How have you shown initiative?
  184. How have you shown willingness to work?
  185. Tell me about a time when you went beyond the call of duty.
  186. Tell me about accomplishments of which you are the most proud.
  187. Tell me what initiatives have you undertaken recently?
  188. What challenging accomplishments have you had?
  189. What are some examples of important recommendations or decisions you’ve made recently?
  190. What are some of your recent accomplishments in your current job?
  191. What are the five biggest accomplishments of your life?
  192. What are your major accomplishments? Your failures? Your disappointments?
  193. What challenging experiences have you had?
  194. What difficult challenges have you solved?
  195. What difficult problems have you worked through?
  196. What do you consider to be your most important accomplishment and why?
  197. What has been your greatest accomplishment? Your greatest disappointment?
  198. What have been the most memorable accomplishments of your career?
  199. What have been your biggest accomplishments?
  200. What have been your greatest accomplishments?
  201. What have been your greatest disappointments?
  202. What initiatives have you undertake recently?
  203. What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
  204. What is the most difficult task you have undertaken?
  205. What is the most important accomplishment in your life?
  206. What is the most challenging thing you have ever done?
  207. What is the most stimulating thing you are looking for in a job?
  208. What is your greatest accomplishment?
  209. What is your most significant accomplishment?
  210. What is your proudest accomplishment?
  211. What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction?
  212. What was the job’s biggest challenge?
  213. What was the most/least challenging part of the job?
  214. What was your greatest accomplishment?
  215. What was your greatest disappointment?
  216. What was your most significant accomplishment in your last position?
  217. What were your most memorable accomplishments with your last employer?
  218. Are you willing to take risks?
  219. Describe a significant risk you took to accomplish a task.
  220. Describe how you can take risks to accomplish tasks.
  221. What kinds of risks do you face when implementing a new initiative?
  222. What risks have you undertaken recently?
  223. What risks did you take at your previous job?
  224. Are you a self starter?
  225. Are you a competitive person?
  226. Describe two things that motivate you at work?
  227. Describe when you felt motivated to do your very best work and did.
  228. Do you enjoy challenges at work? If so, what kinds of challenges have you recently faced.
  229. Do you feel motivated in your current job?
  230. Do you feel motivated to work harder?
  231. Do you work to achieve your objectives? If so, describe how hard.
  232. Does competition increase your desire to succeed?
  233. Have you received any recognition for significant accomplishments at work?
  234. How important are promotions and advancement to you?
  235. How important is challenge to you?
  236. How important is recognition to you?
  237. How important is responsibility to you?
  238. Is recognition important to you?
  239. Were there any special difficulties you overcame in achieving these accomplishments?
  240. What are your motivations?
  241. What challenges are you looking for in a job?
  242. What do you get out of completing difficult tasks?
  243. What has your last employer done that motivated you to work harder?
  244. What have you done that shows initiative and willingness to work?
  245. What have you done which shows initiative and willingness to work?
  246. What kinds of responsibilities are important to you in your work?
  247. What makes you put forth your greatest effort?
  248. What motivates you?
  249. What motivates you in a job and in your personal life?
  250. What motivates you in accomplishing difficult tasks?
  251. What motivates you to be successful in your job?
  252. What motivates you to put forth your best effort?
  253. What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
  254. When do you put forth your greatest effort?
  255. Would you describe yourself as motivated more by your goals or by money?
  256. Are you successful in completing projects at work?
  257. Describe what success means to you.
  258. Describe situations in which you are most successful.
  259. Do you feel you have been successful in your job?
  260. Do you generally think of yourself as a risk-taker or someone who plays it safe?
  261. How do you define ‘success?’
  262. How do you determine if you are successful?
  263. How have your successes benefited your previous employer?
  264. How would you describe your standards of performance?
  265. How would you evaluate success?
  266. Tell me about your recent successes.
  267. To what do you attribute your success?
  268. What are some of the reasons for your success?
  269. What do you think has contributed most to your success so far?
  270. What does ‘failure’ mean to you?
  271. What does ‘success’ mean to you?
  272. What is your definition of success.
  273. What projects have you recently completed successfully?
  274. Why are you better than your co-workers?
  275. Why are you successful?
  276. Would you define yourself as a self-starter?
  277. Would you rate yourself as an overachiever?
  278. Do you achieve all of the goals you set? If not, why not?
  279. How could you have improved your progress?
  280. What weaknesses have you overcome when accomplishing difficult tasks?
  281. A fellow employee told you what his/her salary is and wants to know yours. How would you react and what would you do? (situational)
  282. Describe a conflict with an employee and how you handled it.
  283. Describe a complex problem you solved.
  284. Describe a work situation in which you were not proud of your performance. What did you learn from this mistake?
  285. Describe an important goal you have set and tell me how you reached it.
  286. Describe how you have been able to apply something you learned from your degree program to a real-life or work-related situation.
  287. Describe a (recent) project in which you failed? What did you learn from this?
  288. Describe a (recent) situation in which you asked for advice?
  289. Describe a (recent) situation in which you asked for help?
  290. Describe a (recent) situation in which it took several tries or approaches before you were able to figure out what was going on.
  291. Describe a (recent) situation in which you had to quickly establish your credibility and gain the confidence of others. What did you do ?
  292. Describe a (recent) situation when you didn’t know who you needed to speak with in an organization too get something done. What did you do ?
  293. Describe a (recent) situation when you were able to identify a conflict between two individuals and were instrumental in the solution to that conflict. (skills)
  294. Describe a (recent) situation when you worked in a team environment.
  295. Describe a (recent) situation in which what was really going on with someone else was much more complicated than it might have seemed on the surface.
  296. Describe a (recent) situation on your last job that you did not handle as well as you might have.
  297. Describe a (recent) situation that you just couldn’t handle.
  298. Describe a (recent) situation when miscommunication created a problem on the job.
  299. Describe a (recent) situation when you were confronted by a difficult problem and how you solved it.
  300. Describe a time when you had to take on something very new or different and you had little or no guidance and support in doing so. How did you handle it ?
  301. Describe a time when you organized a project where your directions were vague?
  302. Describe a time when you simplified or clarified a situation by putting your finger on the key issue.
  303. Describe a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty.
  304. Describe a time when you accomplished a challenging goal.
  305. Describe a time when you accomplished a difficult goal.
  306. Describe a time where your performance went above and beyond expectations.
  307. Describe how you work under pressure. Do you anticipate problems effectively or just react to them?
  308. Describe how your (office/department/company) is organized.
  309. Describe how you would handle rude, difficult or impatient people.
  310. Describe how you have handled rude, difficult or impatient people.
  311. Describe projects that have required accuracy and attention to detail.
  312. Describe situations you have been under pressure in which you feel you have handled well.
  313. Describe projects you have been involved in the last few years.
  314. Describe techniques you’ve used with great success in your field. Have you ever managed people in the positions you’ve held?
  315. Do you feel you can ask for help?
  316. Do you feel you can assist others in their jobs?
  317. Explain how you overcame a difficult situation.
  318. Finish this sentence: Successful managers are the ones who….
  319. Given a situation when you disagree with your supervisor, how would you deal with it?
  320. Has competition had any positive or negative impact on your achievements? How?
  321. Have you ever been absent from work? If so, how often?

10 Qualities to Look for in Hiring Staff Part 2

Part 2: 10 Qualities to Look for In Hiring Staff

See All Staff Development Articles and Files.
Are Your Martial Arts Assistant Instructors Employees?

  1. Excellent communication skills. The martial arts business is a service business. A people business – and people like good, clear communications. They want to be recognized, complimented, encouraged, and rewarded. They want to know that they are important and special individuals, and they want you to tell them this.

They want you to listen to their problems when they’re down. They want sympathy, counsel, and moral support. A good instructor plays the role not only of master, but also of coach, doctor, lawyer, friend, and mentor. The student looks to the instructor as a pillar of strength to help them overcome the problems of daily life.

Tom wants a few stretches, and some sympathy, for his bad back. Mrs. Jones wants to instill some discipline in little Tommy, but also she wants the world to know what a great little angel he really is most of the time. Fifteen year old Sammy wants to know how he can get a date with a girl from the high school for the prom.

Instructors with good communication skills provide all these things, and much more besides. Good communication is 80% listening to the other people, and showing them that you’re interested in them and their lives. Less than 20% is actually helping them out with any of their problems.

  1. Excellent sales skills. Chuck Norris, who obviously did not lack martial art skills, went bankrupt in his martial arts schools 3 times before becoming a movie star. I had the opportunity to talk with him about this several years ago, and he told me his biggest mistake was this – “I thought that everyone wanted to be World Champion, just like me.”

In addition to a hard style of teaching, Chuck could have used some help selling and marketing his school to make sure it was a success. If you hire an instructor with no sales skills, or any aptitude to learn them, you will continually be handicapped in your efforts to maximize your school. Everyone is in sales – if not directly selling lessons, selling themselves to their students, so they come back again and again.

  1. Teaching skills. There are hundreds of thousands of excellent black belts, who couldn’t teach a dog to lick a bone. Teaching skill has nothing to do with personal skill. The best golf instruction I ever had was given to me by a rather crass, middle aged pro, that I could have beat, one-handed.

What he did have, however, was an amazing skill in helping other players play better golf. So it is with martial arts. Do not make the mistake, as many of us have, of thinking that an excellent martial artist will also be an excellent instructor. In fact, in many cases, the opposite may be true. Because the person is technically excellent themselves, they will often demand the same of their students, creating a negative rather than a positive atmosphere.

Teaching martial arts requires a lot of patience, a lot of energy, and above all, lots of coaching, encouragement, and leadership skills.

  1. Good physical appearance. Although I know of several successful instructors who are shamelessly out of shape, it does not create a good image for you or for your school if you have an over weight or out of shape instructor teaching. America, wrongly or rightly, is a society of looks. If you or your instructors do not look good, you are hurting yourself.

Would you go to a weight loss clinic or a health club run by a 300 lb. lady? Most people wouldn’t. Not only should your staff look good physically, but they should always have clean, pressed uniforms and excellent grooming. The uniform does a lot to create the aura of mystique in the martial arts. Make sure that your instructors are always wearing theirs.

While ponytails, men’s earrings, an unshaven look, and other fads of fashion come and go, the best look for anyone who’s going to be successful – other of being of Asian descent and looking like Bruce Lee – is clean cut. All American – like a Marine on Embassy Guard Duty. The more you get your instructors to look sharp, appear sharp, and act sharp, the better it will be for your school.

  1. Self-confidence and motivation. It’s essential that your instructors have confidence in themselves and in their ability. If they do not, it will quickly show, and hurt your class. The ideal instructor is not an ego-maniac, but someone who is sure of their own abilities

Nothing is more draining to a studio owner than having to go in every day and pump up an instructor, just to get him to do his job. If you have to pump up your employees every day, you have the wrong people working for you. Once a week, yes. By all means, once in a while. But not every single day.

You have to find and hire self-motivated individuals. People who can get up in the morning early enough to show up at the school by noon, and not be late on a regular basis. People who have their eyes wide open without 19 cups of coffee. People brimmin’ with enthusiasm, energy, and a great attitude.

  1. Willingness to continue learning. Very often you will find that once instructors reach a certain level of martial arts achievement, or financial success, they mentally shut down their learning systems. Unfortunately, this phenomenon often happens just as soon as an instructor reaches black belt.

In many cases, we contribute to this problem, by always making black belt seem like the end of the journey, rather than the beginning. We always ask questions like, “You want to be a black belt, don’t you, Jimmy?” Or, we have signs posted – ‘Your Goal is to be a Black Belt.’ Fine, for most of the students, who might never get there. But, what about those that do?

After one of the first Apollo Missions returned from the Moon, all of the astronauts became clinically depressed. A study was conducted, and found some very interesting answers to their problems. Since they were all little boys, all had wanted to become astronauts. Once astronauts, they all wanted to be picked to go to the moon. But, what do you do with the rest of your life, when your entire focus for ten or fifteen years, is to go to the moon – and you’ve already been there?

They became depressed because their wildest dream had come true – and they’d not focused their life beyond that specific goal of going to the Moon. Your staff must have a willingness to continue training – both in the arts, and in the business skills. Help them develop this willingness by holding meetings where ideas and information can be exchanged. 

I’m constantly amazed by the number of people I talk to who tell me they don’t go to a seminar, or don’t buy a specific program, because they already know everything they need to know. This is such an ignorant attitude towards success. I know a lot about sales, a lot about marketing, and a lot about leadership – and yet, last year alone, read over 200 books on those subjects.

You can never know enough. Always look to know more about teaching, about training, and about business. Be good, get better, be the best.

  1. A team player. A good instructor must be a team player. When staff or resources are not available, he must be just as willing to clean the restrooms as he is to teach the advanced Bokada. This is where the value of an up-front job description can come into play.

Show your staff a wide range of job descriptions, right from the word ‘Go.’ Let them know that teaching is only part of the job an instructor must perform. Perhaps the biggest mistake I see studio owners making is that of thinking that the instructor they hire is there only to teach class.

I feel that an instructor’s main job should be that of promoting the school, and helping the school grow. If you make it seem like this is the main job, you will find that your staff do a lot more to help your studio grow – and it won’t affect their teaching. The key instrument in making this happen is to provide your people with a position agreement.

The position agreement should cover all the things you expect them to do, in minute detail, and also let them know all the things they can expect from you in return. We’ll talk more about this valuable instrument later in the program.

  1. Last, but certainly not least, is martial arts skills. While I know it’s hard to believe that martial arts skills are all the way down here at the bottom of this list, in terms of having a valuable instructor who could help your students, and your school, grow – that’s exactly where it belongs.

Not to say that you should not take every opportunity to improve your staff’s technical martial arts skills – but the other skills must be developed first. Once they are in play, and operations are running are smoothly, there will be time for you to get those martial art skills exactly where you want them to be.

Look for these ten key attributes when hiring people to teach in your school. Whether you are paying them or not, it’s important they have each of these attributes. I’ve seen many, many schools who have people that help out, teaching for free – only to find out that these people, because they don’t have the enthusiasm or attitude, far from helping the school, are driving it under.

You can’t take people who don’t possess these skills and let them loose in your school.   Even if you’re not paying them, it’s a false economy. You have to have people who are upbeat and excited about working for you.

The final thing to consider, and one which covers all these key traits, is that of leadership skills. In the MATA Program, you have a wonderful leadership program. Make sure you use it, and help each member of your staff, whatever their position, enhance their leadership skills.

The better staff become in a leadership role, however small that may be in your operation, the greater your studio will perform.

How to Hire Great Help and Avoid the Bad Ones-Part 2

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During the course of the week, various people cancelled or rescheduled their private classes, allowing 30 minute time slots to do two intro classes.   Over time, we also decided on specific days where we left the prime time of 5 pm – 6pm open for the sole purpose of teaching intro classes. Also, we put some time slots in on Saturday.

Our sign up ratio was over 80% using this method. On top of that, the fact that we did not charge for the trial lesson in the first place, greatly increased the number of initial calls, and easily brought us in more income than the old fashioned way.

Instead of getting lazy, and hiring more and more staff as some of my friends did, we stayed lean, mean, and profitable. They worked less, hired more, and soon found out that while their enrollment up, their income went down, since they had to hire more staff to teach. There is a point of diminishing return that must be weathered once a school grows to a certain enrollment point.

Another question I’m often asked about keeping a lean staff is ‘How can you teach 30 people in a class with just one instructor?’ To maximize your school, you have to have a low overhead and lots of classes. For example, I tried to keep my kids classes to around 20 kids. I did this by having a PeeWee class every day, since I had more of them – over 100 – than any other age.

That gave me an average class size of around 20 students, which I could easily handle on my own. You need to be in tune with the demographics of your school in order to schedule the right number of classes for any particular age group or belt rank. Over the course of a year, these will often change, and you will have to add or delete classes to accommodate the changing makeup of your school.

For example, in January, you might have an influx of adult white belts, necessitating the need for extra beginners classes.   They may drop out, or will certainly will have moved up by September, when you experience an influx of back to school PeeWees. At this point you can phase out the extra adult white belt class, if you haven’t already done so, and add new PeeWee classes instead.

It’s very, very important that you stay up on these changing demographics to maximize your time and efforts. You don’t want classes with 50 students in it – nor do you want classes with 2 or 3. You have to encourage, prod, and schedule people to come to the classes that allow you to maximize your time, effort, and space.

I’m often asked by instructors who call me for the first time how many students I had. Usually they ask me with a great deal of skepticism and a great deal of anticipation. Once I answer that I only had around 250, they jump in and tell me that they already have 250, or 300, or 400, or even more. Although some say the next line, some, and many more think, “What can you teach me when I have more students than you did?”

These people overlook two very important points. Firstly, how big the school is in terms of enrollment means nothing to your bottom line. There are schools in Korea and China with 2,000 active students, and the instructor might not make in a lifetime what an average school here makes in a year.

The bottom line is now how big your school is, but how good your service is to your students, and how much money you get to keep at the end of the year. This is very important when it comes to strategic planning. You have to know where you want to be in terms of net income. Nothing else matters.

A lot of instructors get lost in this fact by talking about, “If I just had this many students,” or, “My goal is to get to this many students.” The amount of students really doesn’t matter. What matters, is what you keep.

I talked to an instructor today who had over 700 active students, and does not make $50,000 a year in income. Recently, I visited another school that looked like IBM headquarters. It was white marble and glass, with three separate training areas, a pro shop, conference room, Program Director’s office, instructor’s office, and changing rooms. With well over 400 students and a rent just under $10,000 per month and four full time employees to service it, what do you think is left over at the end of the day?

Another school I know of in California has over 500 students, and the instructor has never made $50,000 in his life. At a seminar this weekend, an instructor who I thought to be financially sound, met with me after the seminar to show me his accounts. After a gross monthly income of over $15,000, he took home an average of $400 per week – less than his 20 year old assistant, and less than he was paying his two office managers.

Based on his expenses, he should have been taking home $2,000 a week, but with 40% of his gross income going to staff, that just wasn’t possible. Are you in business to be big, or are you in business to be profitable? Are you in business to make your landlord rich, or yourself? Do you want to have the largest and best-paid staff in the country? Or do you want to reach your own personal level of financial security? These are all questions that must be asked before going forward with hiring paid employees.

My philosophy has always been one of maximization, not large enrollment. Firstly, I want to provide the greatest service I can to my students in the form of excellent instruction, curriculum, and motivation. Secondly, I want the maximum amount of students, paying the most money the market will bear, with the least amount of capital and time outlaid

Now, I’m not saying you should not want your enrollment to grow as much as possible. But just make sure, as it grows, you make more money – not less. A well run martial arts school should produce a net income somewhere between 40-60% of gross income. If you’re not including your own pay in the overhead – that is to say if you gross around $200,000 – you should be netting $100,000 as your profit at the end of the year.

Now that depends, to some degree, on the overhead of the area. For example, a studio in Texas should net more money than one in California or New York, since the overheads are much lower, whereas the amount students will pay is about the same. Happiness is all about having a positive cash flow.

Angel and Regina Gonzales ran one of the most financially successful schools in the world with just two of them, and one assistant instructor. They’re only open from 4-9 pm and have less than 2500 square feet. Yet, their income is huge. That’s maximization. Angel and Regina became millionaires in their early 30’s because they knew how to maximize.

A good friend of mine was netting $2,000-$3,000 a week in a 1200 square foot school with around 300 students, when he was just 19 years old – and his retention was great. He worked from 7am until 10pm and only had one other instructor to help. Now, I know that’s not for everyone, but you can find a happy medium between breaking your neck and working just to make your staff and landlord happy.

Another client of mine has an active enrollment of over 200 in just 1300 square feet. He has owned his own condo on the beach since he was 24, and buys a new Corvette every other year.   On top of that, he has a substantial retirement plan. He has a full time staff of one instructor and one part time office person.

The bottom line is this – who do you want to get the money from your efforts? You only have x amount of time, space, energy, resources, and money. Make sure you get the maximum return on all of them.

Before we look at how to hire staff and how to get maximum performance from your paid staff, look at how you might tide yourself over until that point. On way is to make use of temporary help. For about $8-$12 an hour, you can get help from any temporary agency in the country. This is money well spent when you have to enter names in a database, type letters, stuff envelopes, create a newsletter, or answer the phone at peak hours. Your time is too valuable to waste. So, let people do what they are good at, and you stick to what you are good at.

When you need extra help at peak times, pick up the Yellow Pages and call a temporary service. By using temps, you save money in several ways – even though they get paid more per hour than you would pay a student to help you. One reason – if you don’t like the person they send you, you can get another one – no hassle.

You use them only for the time you need them, and send them home when you don’t need them – removing wasted time, and paying only for what you need. The temp service takes care of all the paperwork, and pays payroll taxes – so you have no hassle.

On top of that, people who work for temp agencies go through an extensive screening process, to make sure they are experts in the area of expertise in which they are placed. Because they are trained to type or work on computers, they also get far more work done in far less time. So, temps are a great way to pick up the slack that 2 or 3 busy hours a day.

Another way is to get help from coaches. I suggested that many schools start a coaching program, and get the parents who usually sit around in class swapping recipes, to put on a track suit, and actually get in to help – especially with the kids’ classes. That’s not to say that they’re going to be teaching classes, but they can help maintain discipline, if the instructor has to leave the class in order to answer some questions, or talk to someone about a renewal.

Think about it – parents all over the country are involved in coaching little, soccer, football, baseball, and swimming. Why not get some of your parents involved in coaching martial arts? The parents don’t actually teach classes, but they can hold shields, oversee classes, and help keep order. They do it for free, and it’s valuable help to you as an instructor.

At my school, we even organized special coach’s meetings and training sessions. You can use the Kaizen Club to help you with this. As an added benefit of setting up a coaching system in your school, here’s the great part. Many of the parents who got involved in the coaching program quickly decided to sign up for lessons themselves. It’s really worth a look.

I’ve said many times previously that I am against having people teach, then not get paid, and I still am. However, I am not opposed to receiving some help from people enrolled in an instructor’s program, provided that it is also of benefit to them. Once an instructor has completed your instructor’s management course, you could extend the program by, say, an additional 3-6 months of on the job training – in which he would get the practical experience of running the school.

He would work, maybe twice a week, for 3 or 4 hours. During this training program, you would schedule regular meetings with them, and suggest ways in which their teaching methods or performance might be improved. After the session was up, the instructor would graduate, and then would start getting paid for his services – more or less like the old-fashioned apprentice system.

This approach provides you with extra help on the days you need it most, at no cost – and provides the trainee instructor with valuable feedback on his performance. While many people have set up arrangements like this, they often forget their end of the bargain. If someone is working on a training program for you, make sure you do provide the training and coaching necessary.

Also, don’t try to extend this type of arrangement for very long. The instructor you are teaching will only come to resent you if you do not pay him for his time. Treat his time just as valuably as you would yours.

A third way to get extra help is through scholarships. Occasionally, when an older teenager runs into financial difficulties, I would set up a meeting with his parents, and offer him or her a scholarship program. In the program I continue to provide him or her with scholarship training, in return for 6-8 hours per week of part time help – either with classes, or by going out and passing out flyers, handing out surveys, and generally becoming an asset to the school.

Let’s sum up this segment in this way: Before you hire great staff, look for other ways to expand your reach and maximize your income by making use of all the resources you have. Also, remember when planning your strategic expansions, that big is not always better. Profitable is better.

How to Hire Great Help and Avoid the Bad Ones-Part 1

See All Staff Development Articles and Files.

In the course of my travels, I’m frequently asked at what point new staff should be added to the school. This, of course, depends on many factors, but I can say that most schools hire staff long before it’s really needed. Now when I talk about staff, I’m talking about paid staff – not the multitude of students you have that may help out, without getting paid, whenever they are needed.

Some instructors hire not so much so the students can be looked after, but so the head instructor can take Monday nights off to watch football. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – once you are satisfied with the income from your school. Most instructors who hire for this reason, do it before that income point is reached – thereby ensuring that it’s never reached.

Some instructors hire staff purely out of ego.   They want someone they can have underneath them that will jump at their commands without quitting. They want someone to run errands, fetch coffee, and stand in awe of their fearsome master. Others hire staff because they feel the students demand more staff.

A parent might complain once about the instructor leaving the class when the phone rings, and so the next day he runs out and hires a secretary. One night, too many people show up for class, and again he hears the comments from the lobby. Immediately, the instructor runs out and hires somebody else to help him teach.

I’ve just come back from a consulting visit with a school that grosses around $14,000 per month, with a rent of $2,000. This should be an ample figure to provide a healthy profit for its owner. But in fact, the studio actually loses money. The simple fact of the matter is that after the assistant instructor gets his $400 per week, the secretary gets her $300, and the night help share a little money that’s left over, there’s nothing left to pay the other bills.

And we haven’t discussed the bookkeeper, six part time assistants, or the girl who puts the data in the computer. Add in payroll taxes, which many schools fail to keep up with, plus federal, state, taxes, Social Security, and it’s easy to see why the only person who doesn’t get paid in the school is the guy that actually owns it.

On the subject of taxes, the IRS is coming down very hard on people who claim to be independent contractors. I know of several schools in the last couple of years who have burned big time by claiming that their staff were subcontractors, rather than putting them on payroll. Two people I know were actually forced to sell thriving schools to pay their tax bill – so beware.

The criteria is now very strict. Check with your accountant on the specifics. This point alone should make many instructors think twice before adding to their staff, since payroll taxes and Social Security add a hefty burden to your expenses, and come directly off your bottom line profits.

Many schools add an extra office person, when they have less than a hundred paying students. This is an unnecessary luxury. I have phone conversations every week with instructors who have 50, 60, or 70 students, who ask if they are ready for staff. In my opinion, the need for a second paid member of staff rarely comes around until you’ve reached that critical stage over 120 students.

At that point, a second full time instructor can be added to the staff. That’s not to say you won’t need some part time help before you reach 120 students, but if you can’t handle a hundred students on your own, you’re going to have trouble making a good living in this business.

If possible, the person hired should not just teach, but also contribute to the sales, marketing, and follow up effort for each student. In other words, he should be capable of signing up, selling, merchandising, updating the computer, and all the other daily, and sometimes mundane, tasks that running a successful school demands.

It’s hard for you to justify hiring an office person who’s incapable of teaching trial lessons, or substituting in a pinch if needed. That’s not to say that at some point, I wouldn’t hire an office person without these skills. But typically, I’d like that person to have a few basic skills.

I ran my school with the aid of one full-time instructor, myself, and two young assistants to teach on Saturdays, so I could take the day off. This allowed us to service 250 students, and more importantly, allowed our bottom line profit to stay in excess of $10,000 a month. Was it hard work running a studio like that? You bet it was!

But at that time, I was far more concerned with getting ahead financially, than I was worried about working hard. We ran back to back private lessons from noon until 9:00, and group classes from 4:00 until 9:00. All classes started on the hour, and ran for 50 minutes.

This is a key point. Whether you run hour classes or 50 minute classes, it doesn’t matter. But, you need to keep a ten-minute period at the end of each class. That is the most important period of your day. Those ten minutes between your classes are the time you run your business, sell your merchandise, upgrade students, and make your renewals.

At times, we would even allow a high ranking student to teach the class during the stretching and warm-up period, thereby giving us an additional 15 minutes, where business could be taken care of with no problem. Often, this would be a black belt, not on the staff. Or, perhaps even a brown or green belt.

I had several teenage kids around 16 and 17 who were excellent instructors, and I also had several professional people among the high ranks, such as doctors or lawyers, who jumped at the chance to teach class for just a moment. As a matter of fact, some of them were so gung ho to get out there and teach, that I bet I could have charged them for the privilege. In fact, later on I’ll explain how I did.

I’m sure that you have many high ranking and equally enthusiastic students in your school. Teach them how to run the very beginning of your class. The stretching period, or the intro period, or the basic period. Then, use that period to do business with your students who finished the previous class.

The problem that instructors bring up to me again and again when I recommend lean staff – again – paid staff. You can take all the free staff and people willing to help you for nothing, that you can get. What we’re talking about here is paid staff.

Now, how do you handle a phone? If an instructor has trained himself properly on telephone techniques, he should be able to get on and off the phone when it rings in the middle of class in less than 60 seconds. This thereby overcomes the most venomous of objections about the single instructor and that of interrupted classes.

Whatever you do, if you are running a school on your own, or are lacking in help, do not put an answering machine on when you are teaching class. That is business suicide, plan and simple. If you’re not in, and a prospect is looking through the Yellow Pages, he or she will go right down the page to the next school listed.

Do not let a mother or parent answer the phone and say the wrong thing, and sound very unprofessional. Instead, make sure that anyone who answers the phone, even if it’s a parent, is trained to do so professionally. Never let an untrained assistant or student answer the phone.   Yet, as I call around the country, these things happen to me every single day, and I shake my head in wonder that these schools are actually open.

What would you do if you needed work on your car, and when you called the first garage in the middle of the business day, the answering machine came on, and the mechanic said, “I’m sorry. I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m working on a car.” Or, if a customer picked up the phone and you asked how much a tune-up was, only to be told, “I don’t work here, I’m just a mother waiting for my car, and the mechanic’s up to his knees in grease right now.”

I can tell you exactly what I’d do, and I’m sure it’s exactly the same thing most of you would do – hang up and call the next person. Here’s how to handle the phone when you find yourself alone, teaching class, without any qualified help to answer it. It happens to all of us sometimes.

Firstly, most of the phone calls you take are from friends, advertisers, and existing students who have questions. With these people you can always simply ask them to call you after class. Give them a specific time – ‘John, do me a favor, please. I’m in the middle of class. Call me back at 6:02.” That takes five seconds of your time to accomplish, and you’ll be back in class before they’ve even finished doing the 20 front punches you’ve just called out.

In my school, the phone would ring anywhere from 3-5 times an hour. Most of these were from students who wanted to know the time of their private lesson, or change it to another day. These questions were quick. When they called, I simply prefaced every sentence with, “I’m in the middle of class right now, but let me see if I can help you quickly.”

That way, it let them know in advance I had to be brief, and they understood. If I could not help them inside 60 seconds, I offered to call them back at the end of class and, writing down their name and number, made sure they did.

Then there was the information call. If you figure that you get 30 calls per month, that works out at only one information call per day, so it’s much less of a problem than most instructors make it out to be. If you use the basic method that I do, whereby it is to get the prospect to come in for an information kit and a short, free trial lesson, it’s very easy to get on and off the phone in 60 seconds without much hassle:

“I tell you what, Bob – I’m right in the middle of class right now. So, let me suggest this – the best thing for you to do is to come by the school and pick up our free, 8 page information kit to answer all of your questions. At that time you can also take a look at the facilities, meet the staff, and we’ll even give you a short trial class so you can actually see what it’s all about. What would be a good time for you to come in? Would 4 pm be good, or would 7 pm be better?”

I can’t tell you how effective this simple statement has been for me, and for the people that I work with, over the years. It sounds like you have their interest at heart. That you do indeed want to provide them with all the information they need to make a good decision.

The point is, to develop a way to get the prospect down to your school without spending a good 10 or 20 minutes on the phone answering useless questions. In fact, the longer you stay on the phone, the less likely it is that they show up at all.

Now and again, even if you are fast, someone is going to complain about you leaving class. I had this problem happen to me several times – even though I got handling the phone in 60 seconds or less down to an art form – still occasionally, I had complaints. And here’s how I dealt with them:

Mother: “That phone rings a lot during Johnny’s class. You should get a secretary or something.” Here’s what I said: “You know, that’s a great idea. In fact, I’m looking into doing just that – and it will only cost $400 a week. Would you mind paying an extra $10 or $20 per month, if I use the money for a secretary?”

At that point, the parent usually says, “Er…” at which point I say, “I’ll tell you what – do me a favor. Why don’t you make up a list of other parents willing to pay an extra $20, and we’ll hire someone next month. One of two things will happen. Either she’ll do nothing, which is the case 99% of the time, or she will actually come back with a few parents who are willing to pay more. In that case, go ahead and get the extra staff, since it didn’t hurt the bottom line.

Let’s talk about how to take care of trial lessons when you find yourself short on qualified staff. Because our schedule was so tight, we moved away from the long time tradition of two or three 30-minute intros. We simply didn’t have time. Instead, we developed the 15-minute sign up, whereby a student took a 7-10 minute intro, followed up by a 5-7 minute sales conference.

We set up our programs to make signing up easy, and would follow up after their first test, usually in 4-6 weeks, with the option of upgrading to the Black Belt Club program.



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