One of the most important aspects of being a Studio Owner is our role as an employer. We create jobs, career pathways, and build communities of dancers, families, and staff. Our role as an employer involves many details including hiring, firing, training, managing, evaluating, promoting and coaching our team members. In addition, there’s payroll, benefits, accountability charts and compliance with regulatory bodies. Regardless of the size of your organization, you have a responsibility to your staff and fulfill your role as an employer.
While there are many aspects to our role as employers, one of the most common one that we fill is that of a supervisor. In the most basic sense, we supervise our employees, and they do tasks for us in exchange for pay. Some of us see ourselves as part of an endless cycle of having to tell staff what to do, getting them to commit and show up for events or things outside of their regular hours, and feel the deep frustration when folks don’t do what we ask.Repeatedly. Supervising people can be a challenge at times, in fact, it can be downright annoying when folks don’t respond or seem to care.
So, I want to offer a different approach, a reframing of the role of the employer. I want to challenge us as Studio Owners to put the same level of care that we put into our beloved students into our staff. Let’s reframe the whole role as an employer - The employer serves their staff and the staff serves the customer. Model the nurture and care that you give your dancers with your staff.
Reframe your hiring process
Screening new applicants is as much about determining if the studio is a good fit for the person as they are for your company. Instead of taking the stance of them proving themselves to the studio, approach your screening like a professional matchmaker. Think about whether the person’s goals align with the studio’s vision. Does your compensation package match the level of experience and skill you are seeking? Does your culture align with their personality? Take your time calling references, doing a pre-hire job shadow, and letting the person know what the company expects of them. You can’t hire a teacher for three classes a week and then blindside them with expectations of working extra events and camps that were never outlined in the position description.
Reframe your communications
Draw your staff into a relationship rather than a reporting structure. The owner andmanagers should set the tone for a kind work environment. Always greet your team, be genuine and kind. Ask them open-ended questions regularly, “how is the ballet class going?”, “what’s your favorite age group to a work with?”, “what training or information do you feel you need to help you in your role?”
Build a relationship with them that shows you care for the person not just filling a spot on your org chart. Recognize your staff as individuals with lives outside of their work, learn what is important to them, what motivates them, and how they like to be appreciated.
Reframe your role as a coach
Nobody wants to be given a list of chores over and over again. Rather than dole out a list of tasks, build trust and your relationship by giving them responsibility. Help them understand the vision of your studio and why you do what you do.
Your role as an employer includes developing your team. They should have personal and professional goals. Find out what their personal vision is. Do they want to learn to teach Acro? Would they like to develop skills for working with preschoolers? Do they feel passionate about starting a therapeutic or fitness program? Maybe they love to write and could start your studio blog. One of my ballet teachers was an avid writer and she wrote several blog posts for our studio. Another staff person loved video editing and created class promos. In what ways can you support your team members as they grow? As you take an interest in their development, you strengthen the relationship with your team.
Employee progression and promotions mean a new coaching opportunity for you as their leader. Take the knowledge and experience that you have with managing staff and pass along best practices to new managers or directors. Show them how to delegate so that they don’t get overwhelmed. Show them how to nurture relationships with those that they now supervise and encourage them to ask questions and support stuff rather than supervise them. Explain your company culture, and how you want to further it, ask managers and directors to look for ways to connect with staff, and ensure that they are receiving what they need to do their jobs well.
Highly skilled staff can be used to help you develop written documentation of syllabus, standard operating procedures, video demonstrations for teaching new hires, or being a mentor to less experienced staff.
Reframe performance evaluations
Whenever you do, performance evaluations, always remember to include an element of a self evaluation for your staff. Allow your team to think about their own performance in a critical way, and consider what growth they have experienced over the last review period, what challenges they might have overcome and areas where they believe they could do better.
This is not unlike promoting a dancer to a new level - you wouldn’t promote a dancer simply because they took one year of tap - you’d acknowledge their hard work and skill before allowing them to move up. Allow the performance evaluation to be a conversation about development and creating a plan with your employee rather than sticking to a strict rubric of a number rating. Schedule at least 20 minutes for your review so that you can have a rich conversation and demonstrate your commitment to each other for support and building a quality relationship that will help your studio to grow.
Reframe appreciation and acknowledgement of talent
Make sure that you acknowledge your staff and their contributions, both small and large. One of my former jobs would use each staff meeting to hand out certificates calleda Cause for Applause that simply included a five dollar gift card and a note about something that somebody watched us do that was really awesome. Staff can nominate each other for these mini awards and you don’t have to wait until your next staff meeting to acknowledge awesome things. Maybe somebody handled a crying preschooler with love and care or perhaps somebody in the office booked the most trials ever in a month or even somebody left a positive review for your school and mentioned a staff member. You could also consider a years of service acknowledgment to your staff for acknowledging their commitment and retention of students.
Reframe your thinking on time off
I save this one for last, because it can be a dreaded topic, finding subs for teachers or office staff. Remember that everyone in your work environment deserves time off for sick leave, vacation, and time for family. Just because an owner doesn’t take time off for themselves doesn’t mean that is what should be modeled for their staff.
I encourage you to plan ahead in winter months when so many people get sick with colds and flu and in the spring time with confirmations, graduations and weddings.
What would happen if you knew all of your staff, birthdays and anniversaries as well as planned vacations, and mapped it all out and found coverage months in advance? Or better yet, anticipate that you will need a substitute staff member for each person on staff, and figure out who can fill in for each other before the season starts. Develop a simple system to manage notifications, subs, and communication so that it is streamlined. What about yourself? You’re on staff too - what if you planned your vacation weeks in advance and secured subs too? What if you didn’t work when you felt ill, but instead had a back-up plan?
Think about your team and your perspective on employee relations. Do you think of your staff in a positive light? Do you grumble when someone asks for time off? Have you put as much care into your staff and company culture as you have into your intensive programs and weekly classes? In what ways can you model nurture with your team this season?
Ginger Haithcox is a born leader. She graduated with high honors from Douglass College, Rutgers University with a BA in Religion, and a minor in Cultural Anthropology and completed an array of dance, performance, and production courses at Raritan Valley Community College.
Ginger is a consummate professional, collaborative team player, and creative colleague that consistently delivers programs and products of excellence. In addition to the above, she’s the principal owner of Haithcox Business Solutions, which offers mentoring and support services for aspiring entrepreneurs.