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Massage Today
April, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 04

Does Your Staff Support You or Weigh You Down?

By Jenn Sommermann, LCMT

One of the most challenging aspects of being a business owner is managing staff. Interviewing, hiring, training, overseeing, motivating and sometimes firing staff, can take countless hours.

Some wonder if it is even worth it. It can be a very lucrative part of any practice, if handled correctly. But it can also be a nightmare, especially if the staff member doesn't work out well and puts a burden on the practice. Getting the right staff member in the first place is the key to success. In the scheme of things, most of the energy should be spent on the hiring. It isn't about a warm body to fill the therapist's spot; it's about the right person. The concept of team is critical when you are looking to bring on a therapist. There are many things to consider.

As I mentioned, hiring is step one and where a good part of your energy should be spent. I used to conduct a verbal interview with a candidate first. This was level one and in the interest of not wasting anyone's time, a verbal interview weeded out most folks. If I was impressed by the verbal interview, a second hands-on interview was conducted. The interviewee had to perform a 40-minute massage on me and teach one exercise. If there was a tie between candidates, a third massage interview was performed on one of my staff members so they could have a voice in the decision process. I was never trying to replace or duplicate my hands. Moreover, I was looking for someone to "complete" the existing practice; a team member who would fit with the model I had established. To me, the team concept was far more important than finding someone who could perform an identical massage to me.

Another criterion important in my hiring process was the candidate's business etiquette and professionalism. Dress code, hygiene, timeliness and speaking voice all played a roll. Manicured hands tell a lot about how someone cares for their "tools." It was also an indication of how they would care for my equipment. My office was run in a very specific way and it was very successful. I needed a therapist who was willing and able to follow my format, accurately and with pleasure. Notice again, the focus was not on technique. I trusted the technique was there and short of giving a lousy massage, I opened myself to the possibility that there are enough clients for everyone's style.

Once hired, training started right away. It has been my experience that therapists want a fair wage and as much autonomy as possible. Even though they were working under the umbrella of my practice, I allowed them to feel like they were running their own business as independent contractors. The training that occurred was largely based on how I ran the office, what the expectations were, how to chart client notes, and shared marketing efforts. Again, there was not much emphasis on technique because I wanted the therapist to feel as if they could do their own thing.

After a certain amount of time and once I had gained confidence in the therapist, I let them fly solo. I stopped reviewing their notes and allowed them to schedule their own appointments. This gave them freedom and flexibility, creating a further sense of autonomy. With this vote of confidence came years of loyalty, as my therapists often commented that working for me was the best of both worlds.

Weekly staff meetings kept motivation high. However, there were times when one therapist could bring the entire staff down with negativity. You know what it is like sometimes. The phone doesn't ring so you obsess about it. The more you obsess, the more the phone doesn't ring. It is a vicious cycle. Basically, what you focus upon expands. If the negativity is left to perpetuate, it can grow and spiral out of control. One person can have a large effect on an entire practice. Nip this in the bud. If necessary, single that therapist out and train them to stay positive. Remember, this is a team sport, and if that person cannot commit to a positive attitude, they may not be the right fit for the practice. In this case, do what you have to do. That might mean this therapist needs to find employment elsewhere. It may sound harsh but, remember, this is your business. Your income depends on it.

Most of my staff worked out well and stayed with me the entire time I had my group practice. Some even remained after I sold my business, because the new owner followed my business model. I am proud that I was able to provide an environment that warranted loyalty and dedication. It was my greatest business success.

That being said, I did have to terminate someone once. It was one of the hardest things I had to do, but it was absolutely necessary to the success of my practice and the success of my therapists. If you find yourself in this case, talk to someone. Rehearse what you will say so you feel confident going in. Be kind but be firm. Remember, this is for the team.

A good staff can make your life much easier. If you put the time in to find the right people, you will feel supported and can be quite successful. If you find you have made a poor decision or the therapist is not the candidate you anticipated, cut your losses early. Don't linger with this decision, as it can affect the entire team and business model. Ultimately, you want a staff that can support you, lift you up and, when appropriate, fly solo. A staff that weighs you down is bad for everyone.

Stay focused.

Click here for previous articles by Jenn Sommermann, LCMT.


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