This One Thing Will Put an End to the Owner-Instructor Power Struggle

Instructors have a vision for growing their classes. Owners have a vision for keeping every new and returning client happy.
Laura Munkholm
10 min read

What I learned from years of hiring and managing employees

Instructors have a vision for growing their classes and keeping their students engaged. Owners have a vision for growing the overall studio and keeping every new and returning client happy. Sometimes, the two are in perfect alignment, and, sometimes (or, perhaps more often than not), there can be some tension. Differing viewpoints between owners and instructors can be great when they contribute to innovations that help businesses move forward, but when bickering leads to bottlenecks, that’s when real problems begin. Tension between instructors and owners can detract from the client experience and cause fissures between your student community, impacting your ability to attract and retain clients.

So what can you do about it? Well, here’s my take.

After years of working in sales and recruiting, I made the switch to studio management and launched my own consulting business as a support system for the leaders of the wellness revolution. I worked with hundreds of studio owners, helping them build thriving businesses.  I realized quickly that the wellness world needed a better tool to run their businesses and manage staff, so over the past year, I’ve been working with some of the best minds in software to create Walla, a new studio management platform. Thanks to these combined experiences, I’ve learned a thing or two about putting an end to unhealthy owner-instructor power struggles that can hold back a studio’s growth and engagement. It all starts with hiring.

I’ve seen many disastrous hiring decisions made, the aftermath of which can affect businesses for months. When I left recruiting, I was excited to finally be in charge of my own hiring at my yoga studio. I was convinced that I had the formula down and that I’d never make the mistakes other hiring managers had made. Spoiler alert: I was totally wrong. Not only is the fitness industry completely different from corporate America, I underestimated the time and energy commitment each new hire would take. I learned the hard way how brutal the process of hiring new talent can be. To ease the headache, for me and my clients, I decided to keep track of what worked and what didn’t.

It all starts with hiring effectively. Here are the five key takeaways I learned in my review:

Takeaway #1: Weed out unaccountable candidates immediately with these four steps:

Step 1: Ask screener questions

Your time is precious. Don’t waste it worrying if candidates are going to show up, or if they can follow directions. In your job posting, ask three screener interview questions for the fitness trainer candidates, such as:

  • What three words would your friends use to describe you?
  • What makes you passionate about fitness?
  • Why do you want to work at this studio?

The questions can be anything, the goal here is to see who actually listens and answers the questions. Even if someone’s resume looks perfect if they don’t follow directions and answer all three, toss out that resume.

Step 2: Ask interviewees to confirm they’ll come to the interview
Once you invite someone for an interview, ask them to email a confirmation to you the day before the interview. If you don’t hear from them, they’re out.

Step 3: Ask candidates to take a class at your studio before the interview
Give them a week to do so. Part of the interview can be about their experience that day. Then you’ll really find out how passionate they can be about what you do. Your call if you want to give it to them for free, but I like the idea of them paying for a class, or better yet, buying the intro offer so you can ask them about the process.

Step 4: Pay attention to who shows up on time for their interview
If someone is late, they probably are late in general.

Bonus: Keep track of the answers people gave in step 1 to the three three screener questions. You will start to see trends amongst the “A” candidates’ answers and their behaviors throughout the rest of the interview process.

Your business probably looks completely different than it did a year ago, but that doesn’t mean you can’t replenish and grow your studio membership base beyond pre-COVID numbers. With the right customer win-back tools, anything is possible.

Takeaway #2: Believe in the power of group interviews

Think about the time investment it takes to interview five candidates. That’s five hours or more of your time, with a likely second round for your top two candidates. So, seven hours—not counting reviewing resumes. Yikes. A group interview, on the other hand, can fit in six to eight candidates in 60 to 90 minutes. Not only will group interviews save you time, but the strongest candidates will also truly stand out, making your job even easier. You can do this with instructors OR desk staff.

Takeaway #3: Ask unconventional questions in the interview

Surprise your candidates! Ask interview questions of the fitness trainers that they won’t expect, such as:

  • Tell me about a blunder you’ve made…what was it like? How did you recover?
  • What annoys you most in the workplace?
  • How would you change or innovate the approach our desk staff takes when greeting new and returning clients?
  • What would your at-bat song be? (or something equally as silly, but disarming)

Tip: ALWAYS end with the question “There is only one job available, who in this group should get it? If you are looking for an instructor who is a team player and follows instructions well, you might be looking for an answer that might not be about them. If you are looking for an instructor to help you build your studio and lead customer retention efforts, you better believe that the right candidate says “ME” loud and clear.

Takeaway #4: Ask for references

Many hiring managers overlook references because they think they will always be positive. For the most part, they’re right, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot about a candidate from chatting with their former managers. Plan out thoughtful questions that can help you understand who the candidate really is, such as:

  • What drives the candidate?
  • Here is the job description that they would be taking on. What will they be best at? Where will they need a little more training?
  • What would you do to get the most out of the candidate?

You will be amazed at how much you’ll find out about a person when you speak to the right people and ask the right questions.

Takeaway #5: Create a supportive onboarding process

When staff members aren’t supported with a committed training process from the start, the likelihood of them sticking around for more than a few months is dismal. Here’s what you can do to set things up right from the get-go:

  • Provide a training manual.
  • Have current team members be part of the training process to help integrate new hires into the studio family.
  • Schedule one-week, one-month, and quarterly check-ins.
  • Create systems that will help you review your instructors’ performance.
  • Have new hires take classes at your studio, so you know they can speak to your product.
  • Keep an open door and listen, that way new instructors know they can ask for the support they need.
  • Encourage instructors to engage with the clients and train them how to do so effectively.

Related: How to Create and Maintain the Culture of a Studio

Hiring can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating for you or your team. If you follow these guidelines, you can make it an exciting part of your studio business because you will be hiring people who will help your studio grow.

Remember: Each time you bring on a new team member, you are offering your clients a chance to connect with someone passionate about what you do. Hiring the right people empowers another person to sell and educate clients on your services and allows you the time and opportunity to make more money.