Well before we even start this list, let’s just for a moment talk about what it means to “inspire our staff”, because that is a little bit vague. The dictionary definition of the word INSPIRE is to “fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” I think that fits well, but it doesn’t cover everything. What do we actually want out of our staff? We as business owners and employers pay people to work for our business so that it can make money. Every employer should (in a perfect world) be bringing in more VALUE to the business than they are COSTING. We want our employees to be…
> Mission focused (the mission is the success and overall brilliance of your dance studio)
> Dedicated (similar to the above, but shown through consistence and reliability)
> Creative (whether for choreographing routines, or having a problem-solving mindset for admin solutions)
> Happy and friendly (towards customers and to fellow staff)
> Efficient (so that time and money isn’t being wasted)
> Safe (physically, mentally and emotionally)
> Well-fitted to the branding, ethos and “vibe” of your studio
> Autonomous and self-motivating
> Adaptable, tolerant and understanding (And resilient to pressure, stress etc.)
So when we compiled this list below, we aimed the solutions towards these goals. Here are “22 WAYS TO INSPIRE YOUR STAFF (TO BE MORE LIKE THE DESCRIPTION ABOVE)”
1. Have a clear mission statement for your business. What (other than making money) is your goal? Why does your business exist? What is important to you as a business owner that you want to be a priority for those who are working in your company? What differentiates you from your competition? What drives you? Is it all about creating elite dancers? Is it about shaping a generation of hard-working, kind, disciplined individuals? Is it about providing a safe space for kids to build self-esteem and wellbeing? Whatever your mission statement and studio ethos is, you need to publish it loud and clear for staff to constantly refer to. Remind them with posters in the staff room, emails, FB posts etc.
2. Lead by example. You can’t expect your team to work hard if you are lazy. You can’t expect your team to speak nicely to customers if they see you snapping at people in the foyer or bitching behind peoples backs. Every time you complain about a client to your staff, you’re creating an environment where that is normal and acceptable. Be double what you want them to be, and they will follow.
3. Set up clear expectations, right from the very beginning. Either with teacher contracts or staff expectation agreements (you will find some to edit and use in our RESOURCES library.) Raising your expectations of staff is a good thing, so long as they are reasonable and very clearly communicated. People like to know where they stand, and the most common problem I see with business owners and their staff is a lack of clearly defined expectations.
4. Communicate! As much as you wish they would, your staff cannot read your mind. For the majority of the years I ran my studio (and still a little too much now unfortunately) I ran my entire business from my own head. I delegated where possible, but even the delegation was costing me time, because I delegated small specific tasks rather than communicating and delegating entire projects or responsibilities. Now my team aren’t just told WHAT to do, they’re given an understanding of WHY. That helps empower them to make (the right) decisions on the small things. SHARE!!! Create an open document with your staff for to-do lists. Plan out the entire year and delegate responsibilities and projects to manage. Set up systems with FB groups, shared notes, Trello, Google Docs etc. so that thoughts are written down as a matter of habit, and communication is encouraged. Instructions and proper training are crucial for someone who has never done something before, or if you want it done a certain way. But if given clearly and patiently, the instructions should only need to be given once, then you have an efficient system.
5. Express gratitude. A thank you goes a long way. And the best thing about a thank you is they’re free. They don’t cost you anything. Be generous with your thanks. In person. Send a private message. On your studio FB group so others can see. With a card. There’s so many ways to thank someone and show them how grateful you are. Your team is so much more likely going to be excited to go above and beyond for the collective mission of the studio if they feel like they’re making a difference, and if they feel like their efforts are being seen and being appreciated.
6. Reward hard work, clever work and outstanding work. Rewards can be big expensive incentives that people in your business strive for, or they can be token thoughtful bonuses that simply represent your attention, appreciation and gratitude. When one of your staff does something incredible, reward it. Rewarding behaviour is not only about conditioning the person receiving the reward to do great work more often, it also is about creating an example for others around. Steve Wynn, the famously successful hotel and casino owner in Vegas, speaks a lot on this subject. Celebrating those who go out of the way to be outstanding at their job, and who do things that benefit the entire company, creates a culture in your business of constant creativity, team-mentality and improvement.
7. Celebrate together. Set some goals as a studio, and meet to strategise how to achieve them. Then when you meet your targets, celebrate together. This is a bonding experience. It helps all of your employees feel like they are genuinely part of the team, and they are connected to something greater than themselves. Go out for dinner, see a movie, do an escape room or simply have them over to the house for a party.
8. Create more prestige. How easy is it to get a job at your studio? Does the title of a “dance teacher at blah blah academy” hold any particular cachet? Obviously the more prestigious, reputable and well-known your dance studio is, the higher the level of honour it is to be an employee there - at least from an outside perception - but beyond that (or until that) what can you do to make it be a bigger deal to be a dance teacher or a staff member at your studio? What are the perks? Is it a great job to have? Is it a highly coveted job? This is important. The more highly coveted a position, the harder someone in that position is likely to work to keep that job - especially if there are others who want it. There are lots of ways to create a bit of extra “prestige” to a role. You can come up with a clever title for the position. eg. Head Teacher, Choreographer, Performance Coach, Director of Pre-School Department etc. You could have special t-shirts or jackets made up that look incredible and make everyone instantly have 5% more respect for the teachers. You could allocate car spots (where possible). You could have a staff-only area and make it really nice. You could increase wages. You could publicly celebrate your teachers and staff in your promotional materials and articles etc. Think about if there’s a studio you know that has so much prestige that staff who work there want everyone to know it, and would clammer at the chance to even just teach one class of 2 year-olds. How you could create more prestige so that your staff have more pride about their job.
9. Give them someone to mentor. We all have a human need to feel valued, and a desire to make a difference. To serve, in some way or another. Mentorship programs within your studio are the most perfect way to provide connectedness, importance and inspiration for both mentor and mentee. Pair up younger teachers with older teachers, assistant admin with managers. Formalise the process, and create a mentorship program. This will help train up your younger staff, and will give your older more experienced staff some extra responsibility. Plus it helps connect the team, and promotes a healthy and strong sense of family.
10. Share inspiration. If you don’t have one already, create a Facebook group or mailing list, or WhatsApp group chat - or whatever you prefer to use… and share inspiring choreography videos, pictures graphics, memes, lesson plans, class content, tutorials and quotes daily. And invite your staff to post stuff too. There is so much exciting content out there, and to share it helps everyone see the best of it, plus it shows that you as a boss are always thinking of the mission, the business and the importance of what it is we all do.
11. Ask for daily or weekly reports. Some studio owners like to have details reports from teachers every lesson. Others don’t even check it. Whichever management style you have, I think at least a weekly little report is a fantastic idea. Aim for something that isn’t going to take more than a couple of minutes for someone to do. Imagine getting a little summary of the week from each of your staff… “Classes went well this week. Juniors are improving. Few attitude problems in Seniors - especially from Kira and friends, but had a chat to them about showing respect. Almost finished Intermediate Lyrical routine, about 30 seconds of choreography left. Lots absent in Ballet.” Would that not just actually honestly be the most incredible thing as a studio owner?!?!?! AND it’s a perfect chance for you to then reply with a “Thank you, great job, enjoy your sister’s wedding this weekend. Don’t forget next week is Halloween week.” message. Added benefit other than you having a good regular communication and dialogue with each staff member, is that it kind of forces them to think for a minute about their week, reflect on their classes and reminds them that you’re highly invested and interested in how and what they’re doing.
12. Give a bonus. Some studio owners pay their teachers on a sliding scale relating to how many students are in their class, with certain bonuses if the class is large. (Eg. $25 per class, plus $2 per student enrolled after the first 10.) This doesn’t always work. It can be unfair to teachers who specialise in niche disciplines, or who are put on typically unpopular classes to begin with. But in some cases it does work. It can be great to have a direct financial incentive for a teacher to help grow the numbers in their class. Find what’s right for your studio.
13. Professional development. Oooh, this is a BIG ONE. When was the last time each of your teachers went and took a dance class as a student? Or did a teaching seminar? There’s more and more opportunities for professional development for dance teachers out there. Studio Savvy run regular live events, and digital seminars for teachers who work at member studios. The Studio Savvy teachers group has regular videos, inspiration and ideas. But there’s much more out there on top of this. CLI Studios is an example of a great online service that has videos to inspire and further educate dance teachers and choreographers. Organise a special guest choreographer to run a pro-class exclusively for your staff. Or find a great local open class and decide to go as a group. Find dance festivals and conventions that have classes especially for teachers. We never stop learning, and there’s no better way to inspire a dance teacher that’s feeling a little stale and “over it” than putting those dance shoes back on and reminding themselves what made them fall in love with dance all those years ago. For admin staff, find workshops, seminars and online courses at increase skill level like mastering new software, taking customer service to a new level, or building and implementing systems and processes.
14. Bond outside of work. Go to the movies. Arrange to get coffee before classes start in the afternoon. Do something fun like axe-throwing, putt-putt or laser-skirmish. Set up a “no work talk” rule for an hour, and get to know each other as people. Teaching can be a lonely profession. We’re constantly surrounded by kids, which is fun and exciting, but we don’t get much opportunity to socialise with other adults. As the studio owner, we have an opportunity to create a culture and environment where friendships can be found and the people in our team can enjoy the social side of their job as much as the creative side.
15. Get their feedback. Everyone likes to be heard. And no one likes to be micro-managed or barked orders at. There are so many ways to open a healthy dialogue, and build a workplace where every member of the team can feel welcome to put forth ideas and suggestions, without it undermining your authority as director. Sometimes, but not all the time, ask what they think. Even if you don’t love their idea and don’t agree with their take on it, a simple “That’s an interesting perspective, I’ll give that some consideration” is enough to make them feel heard, and remain in control of a decision making process. No need to defend or argue. If they see it a certain way, then there’s every chance in the world someone else might too - maybe even a customer. So every perspective and idea has value - even stupid ones ;)
16. Take them to a show. Professional development, inspiration and social bonding all rolled into one! Definitely worth the investment. Musicals are my favourite :)
17. Offer them a drink. Such a silly little thoughtful thing… but my favourite thing to do when I’ve got a spare 2 minutes at the studio, is walk around to each of the rooms and ask the teachers if they’d like a bottle of water. Usually they have brought their own, but it’s like being a good host. And every now and then, someone will have forgotten to bring their water in, and will respond to me offer with wide desperate de-hydrated eyes of immense gratitude. At the very moment I’m sure they’re feeling extra happy about their job, and probably 2% more inclined to work that little bit harder or give that tiny bit more of their heart and soul into their teaching. Thirsty?
18. Get your students to make an appreciation gift. Teacher birthdays are a great time for this, but it also works after a successful comp, after a recital or even just for a random Thursday afternoon. A good easy one is to print photo of the teacher with some students, blown up really big, then stick it onto some even bigger card, and get everyone to write little mini messages of gratitude and kindness all around it. We did another one recently where all the students had to write a short letter to the teacher telling them what made them so brilliant as a role-model and coach, and we collected them, typed them up really small, cut them into business card sized bits of paper and rolled each of them up into mini-scrolls then tied each with ribbon, and put them all into a glass bottle. The teacher loved it.
19. Make a big deal about their birthday. I know I mentioned birthday above, but there’s more that can be done. Make sure you post a birthday message for each of your staff on your studio communication group on Facebook, so that everyone who isn’t online friends with them can wish them a happy birthday. And if they’re going to be at the studio that day, organise a cake and get the kids to sing. It’s a must.
20. Speak in collective terms like US, OUR studio, WE’VE got to… etc. This one is simple. It’s a mindset, and it’s important for the “We’re in this together” culture of your dance studio. For staff it also reenforces the mentality of the to-do list is ours to share, because we all want what’s best for the business. We are all responsible. Collective terms also help not just with staff but with parents and students all feeling part of one group mission to create awesomeness and grow together. “I, Me, My may be true, but they sound selfish. When possible talk about “us” and “we”. Language is powerful.
21. Hand write a Christmas card that doubles as a thank you. I love Christmas, and though there’s usually three trillion things to think about and do in the lead up (and I don’t even have kids yet), it’s top of my list important to write a Christmas card thank you to each of my staff. I hand write them, because I think it is nicer, and they’re not long but they are thoughtful and personal.
22. Pay them properly. I could go on for hours about this. There’ll be other articles about it in Studio Savvy. The short of it is this… if you want outstanding, brilliant, loyal, hard-working, dedicated staff then it’s crucial that you pay them a wage that is fair, if not generous. $30 an hour might seem a lot to you, but if it’s 2 hours work on a Wednesday afternoon and it precludes someone from being able to take a full 8 hour shift of a “normal job” at $20 an hour, then it’s not sustainable for the employee. When you find someone worth keeping in your business, make it worth their while to stay. Simple.
BONUS… we spoke above about what YOU want from your staff. Now let’s reverse it for just a moment and think about what THEY want from their job. Is it just money, or is it more than that? I’m guessing that it is so much more. Humans crave belonging and purpose. We want to feel connected to something bigger than us. And we want to feel needed. As studio owners and business operators we have the responsibility (and privilege) of providing for our tribe. Whether you want to call the people in your studio your family, your community or your crew - it doesn’t just contain your students and your customers - it includes your staff. I’d even go so far as to say that they are arguably the most important, because if your staff are motivated, fulfilled, totally onboard and waving the flag of your studio loudly and proudly, then they happily share the responsibility of looking after everyone else with you.