MA Business Success 68: How to Deal with Difficult Staff Issues

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Phil Britten: What up, team? Welcome to Martial Arts Business Success. My name is Phil Britten, and we have...

Graham McDonell: Graham McDonell, as always.

Phil: ...and always, right here, on the couch where all the action happens to give you guys the tools, the tips, the strategies on how you can build your business which ultimately gives you the life that you desire. That's why we're in business, isn't it? So, mate, we've got a good one here today. Now, if you're a business owner of martial arts and you have multiple staff then you're going to want to be listening or watching this. If you don't quite have staff yet and you're thinking about it, you want to be watching and listening to this because this is the stuff you're going to be dealing with very, very soon. So Graham, dealing with staffing and problems, what are the types of problems that they may have or we, as business owners, may have with staff?

Graham: Goodness. Well, this is a doozy. We'll try our very best to be short, punchy with it because this could go for hours. But I guess the idea quite that comes to mind, and it's maybe even just a statement, you know, don't take our kindness and friendship for weakness. And that means that, as a good boss, we want to be approachable, we want to make sure we are a great leader but that doesn't mean that we are not an authority and don't take the piss. I was actually just in a conversation with the team earlier today about, I guess, your three T's, your three levels. This is just a reminder for you, as a business owner, to set that expectation for you straight away. I know we often say, as an employer, where you're boss first, you're instructor second, and you're friend third.

Sometimes the issues that come around with bad staffing issues are problems of them taking advantage of, you know, having extra sick days and just rocking up to work late, or not taking the job to the Nth degree that we expect, is because they blur the lines a little bit between, "You're my boss, you're my friend," or you know, that sort of social aspect. So being very, very clear first and foremost, and this may be for some of you guys who are looking to employ a new staff, setting that expectation of, "I am the boss, and when I say that, you have to jump and you have to do what's required." Number two is, "I will never stop being your instructor, your mentor, your leader," and friend is right at the bottom of that list. Yes, be friendly with your team, but not so much so that they forget what happens when they walk into the office.

Phil: Absolutely. Yeah. That's a really good point, and it is hard because in martial arts, you know, we all get to do something that we love. With martial arts, it's not like we're just a nine to five, either. Part of being in martial arts is that we do social events, and, you know, you hang out with not only your staff on a social basis, but even your staff hang out with the students on a social basis as well. So it does become tricky, and I think that does flow downhill, meaning if we have that same rule, I guess, for our staff, then they should also have it for not only their staff but also the students, as well.

Graham: Yeah. Look, there's something that Dave Kovar pointed out when we spoke to him a little while ago, and it's about expectations, and it's also about setting that boundary. So sometimes we've had staff that have just, you know, taken the mickey, the kind of sick days on a Monday when we know that they've had an event or something over the weekend. So it's reframing and making sure that you turn around and you sit them down, and you have a really kind of prompt chat with them straight away. Don't kind of leave it lingering and festering, you've got to deal with it straight away. Again, that reframe is like, "Maybe I wasn't clear on my expectations, so I have to take ownership over that but I expect you to be on time, turned up, unless your legs and arms are hanging off of you, you come to work."

So it's one of those things, you as a business owner or martial arts instructor, you've got to, I guess, understand what level of expectation that you want for your staff and communicate that well. "We're all different," you know, is something that I'm happy to say with our team when they first come in for their induction. "Legally, I will pay you 38 hours. I expect you to do 138 hours. We are not a check-in and check-out business, we are a lifestyle, but we'll also make sure that the time you put in is rewarded down the track." So they're the things that I clearly explain at the start, what's expected, so that if there's ever any discrepancies or any issues, I can kind of go back and go, "Look, this was explained. This is the standard. Maybe you've forgotten about the standard we expect." And then obviously, take the role and action from there.

Phil: Absolutely. Something that comes to my mind, and we say this all the time and I'm sure we've said it in previous podcasts as well, is that what you tolerate, you get. And bad performance, whether it be multiple sick days, lack of results, or performance, or whatever it may be, if you tolerate it you'll get more of it. And performance and poor performance, and that type of thing, it's like cancer, it spreads very, very quickly. And once you start letting one person do it that person will go more but then it will get spread to the next employee, and next employee. And we all heard the saying, "Chinese whispers." It happens in various aspects of running a business. I think that's an important thing to remember, is that what you tolerate is what you'll get, and another sort of preframe is what you focus on is you get.

So if you're always focusing on the negative, or focusing on this and that, et cetera, then you'll get more of that. So I think that's important to remember, that when we're looking at staff, and we're looking at building a business, that the thing about having employees come with you long-term and build a great culture is that you actually have to be quite firm. You have to be firm, you have to be fair, and inspire and all that sort of stuff, but at the end of the day, if your staff can know or think that they can push you and you won't fire them, or you won't reprimand them, then they're going to continue pushing to [inaudible 00:05:57] and you're going to have your hair pulled out and all sort of stuff. So I think that's very, very important to remember.

Graham: Yeah. Look, I guess we've had the ability over the years of employing lots and lots of different people. We've had some people stay with us, which is fantastic, so it's a great sign that we're doing well. We've had some people move on. Now, we haven't had to physically fire too many people. What we've done...

Phil: Physically fire? Or you mean verbally?

Graham: ...well, when I say physically, out the door now, no joke. But seriously, when we talk about actually sitting someone down and saying, "Look, your time with us is now finished. Okay? You are seriously not the right fit for this company and our business." We haven't had to do that too much. You know, I could only think of maybe one or two cases where that's occurred. What we have done, though, is been very clear with what's expected in the job role, and a lot of people have realized themselves, on their own back, that "Jeez, I don't fit this role, therefore I think I'm going to move on."

So we've been very, very clear with the expectation and the standards we expect, and then what that does is allows that person to really kind of understand with performance reviews, KPIs consistently. So from a bad performance, really important to make sure, as you pointed out before, mate, is make it very, very clear what you expect and have them understand that they're not reaching target, therefore they're more likely to seek employment elsewhere. I guess that's the thing. And look, it really does remind me again, too, about how to reframe that negative behavior, you know, or get negative results. Someone may have a bad attitude, where you just need to really have a good chat with them, it could be done in a one-on-one situation, it could be done in a staff meet.

So, for example, we talk about the scattergun approach. And what I mean by that is we know there's a particular behavior trait that we're not happy with. Rather than singling out that one person, what we do is we speak to the group about things that we've just observed. And guys, remember, as a professional business owner, and I'll use an example, "Fellows, we want to make sure personal hygiene is number one, so make sure that you're showering straight after training, make sure that you're wearing your aftershave, and again, grooming. Guys hair needs to be neat, facial hair needs to be groomed, and whatnot," knowing there's probably one or two people in the group that smell and have beards that are untrimmed. So what it does, it allows you to correct that behavior and get a general consensus, we're on par. If they repeat offend, well then you obviously need to have a quiet chat with them and really let them know.

Phil: That was my, sort of, next question, is what if the behavior or the situation becomes a repeat performance, and it happens again, and again, and again? You've done the scattergun, maybe you've had the one-on-one chat, what level do you go next, Graham?

Graham: So we've got a couple of steps there where we've got a, I guess a performance improvement sort of letter, and it's not necessarily a written warning. This is stuff that we do on a continual basis. When we have a sit-down, one-on-one, we'll actually say that, Phil, for example, "You're unshaven, you know, the uniform's not neat, we need to make sure this is rectified, da-da-da," and write it out. That's given to you. So that means you just know that there's some areas to improve. If it's not done again, and there's some lack there, there will be a written warning, and that is simply something, as a professional company, we need to document extremely well behavior issues or performance issues, because the last thing you want to do is have somebody move on and then you get Fair Work Training or whoever else coming and knocking on your door going, "They were unfairly dismissed." And if you don't have a paper trail or notes documenting that behavior, it's your word versus theirs, and as a business owner, unfortunately, you're the guy that probably won't win in that situation.

Phil: So talking about, you know, what's a good outcome, what's a bad outcome, I think the good outcomes, there are various good outcomes. One being, the good outcome is we reprimand in certain levels, we scattergun, we do the individual chat, we do a notice or whatever, and the performance is lifted and they do a great job. Therefore, every party is happy, the employer and the employee. What's also a good outcome is that you've identified through these chats is that that employee is not actually satisfied, and you're either going to relocate them somewhere else in your business or remove them. And it sounds a bit harsh, but in actual fact, you're doing them a favor as well as you, as well.

And it just comes back to that what you tolerate, you get. There's nothing worse than someone not enjoying their job but staying there because of insecurity or fear of what might happen, they'd not get their paycheck, they don't know what job they're going to. Being comfortable in a role, it has its pros and cons. So a good outcome would be one, they stay, their performance lifts, they do an amazing job, and that's great. Win-win. Another good outcome is that we've identified that the position is not where their strengths are, therefore they're limited in their performance. So either relocate them and they're satisfied, we are too, or we identify that this job, this position, this industry isn't right for them, as well. What do you think would be, you know...would you agree with that, Graham?

Graham: Look, I think that you've hit the nail on the head, and I was just going to sort of say, that [inaudible 00:11:11] watch it, we've had some examples where we've had a phenomenal instructor grow and develop, and then for some reason they've gone through a change in, you know, age, just something's happened in their life, and their passion for martial arts teaching has changed. Now their performance was well below what we expected of them. So for us, to just flicker and get him out the door was wasn't the option that we sort of chose. We thought, "Look, we've invested so much time, we respect him as a martial artist, as a person. Let's see if we can find him another seat on the bus. Let's find him another job role to do."

And we were able to reframe that person and put him into a different role, which now they've blossomed, they've done a phenomenal job with that, and what it just shows you, as a business owner, bad performance doesn't mean that they're a bad person. It just may be that that role that they're in, or something in life changed, and that's a really important thing for you, as an owner, to ask the question, "What's happening behind the scenes? What's causing this sort of results to occur?" And hopefully, you can be that great person to have a phenomenal employee for long-term because you've not just got rid of them, you supported them through a challenge in their life and then found them a job role that they are, you know, going to succeed and exceed all of your standards and expectations. So certainly there's some great things there, but as you said, mate, refine or at least look at what role they could potentially go into to. And if you don't have a role for them, well then you need to explore what's next.

Phil: Absolutely. Well, I hope for you employers out there in martial arts business, who have staff, this has been of help for you. If you don't have staff, I hope we haven't scared you off. By building your empire and building your business, look, with every pro there becomes a con, and you know, if we looked at our position today to where it was five years ago, it's completely changed. Now we're less of the instructor and even a boss, and now we're more human resources. You definitely learn about yourself and people more as you grow in your business as well. So make sure, please, gang, if you have enjoyed this podcast or watching this video, please give us some comments. By all means, send some questions in, we're always looking for new questions so we can help you with the answers and help you build that business that you dreamed of. Thank you very much, gang. We'll see you next episode. Ciao.

Graham: Take care

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