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Industry • Perspective

Managers as Mentors: Reinventing the Salon Management Paradigm

Industry expert Shanalie Wijesinghe explains how this new approach to manager-staff relationships boosts employee retention rates

While the Great Resignation is certainly making itself felt across the beauty industry, the truth is salons have struggled with retention for years. 

It’s always been hard to keep great employees. Now, it’s just much harder. 

But as challenging as this period is, there is undoubtedly a path forward for salons — and that path includes a new approach to management. Salon managers need to adopt a mentorship role with their staff members, especially for Gen Z and millennial employees, if they want to cultivate a cohesive team.

This article digs into the why and how of this new paradigm, giving you everything you need to know to start boosting staff retention through better manager-staff relationships.

Why mentorship is so important for staff retention

Research has shown that mentor relationships can dramatically affect employee performance and retention rates. A study of over 1,000 workers across five years found that mentees were promoted five times more than those who weren’t mentored — and had 47% higher retention rates. Other studies have shown similar results: 

Research like this (and my own experience) have convinced me that the widespread implementation of mentorship in salons could significantly impact career satisfaction and employee retention in our industry. 

I remember having lunch one day in 2010 and watching a receptionist abruptly leave, never to return. We have all seen something like this happen (or at least have heard similar stories). Perhaps that receptionist was doing the best thing for them, but I can’t shake the notion that if our salon had a mentorship program, they might have been able to see themself there longer. At the very least, we could have known what prompted the departure and learned from it.  

Instead, our salon missed out on both opportunities.

How to shift to a new leadership model

In many salons, staff and leadership are not allowed to maintain close relationships. In some cases, it can almost feel like they’re different species. But this concept of company hierarchy, known as “Manager’s Island,” no longer meets the needs of the workforce we’re navigating today. And yes, there are stacks of research to back this up as well: 

Implementing the changes demanded by this research begins by advocating to company leadership. Armed with a business case for a policy change, forward-thinking managers can create a tremendous impact within their salons. In my experience, very few leaders will balk at new policies if they can be credibly connected to improved performance. 

The second step is to change how managers handle their time. To break down the “Manager Island” mindset, managers need to maximize their time with staff. In doing so, they collapse communication barriers, make each team member feel cared for, and cultivate a more connected culture.

Why one-on-one’s are key to the new paradigm

Perhaps the most important way managers can embrace this new approach is by implementing regular one-on-ones. Once again, the data supporting this approach is overwhelming: 

If you’re interested in adopting this powerful method, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Meet with all your employees. While it’s tempting to spend all our time trying to help those who are struggling (and that’s important), top performers need attention as well. We rely on our top employees to share the culture, keep the fire burning, and inspire the rest of the staff. 

  • Meet more than once per quarter. Many of us use the quarterly review process to dig into the numbers, but how many of us know long before the end of the quarter that a staff member will not meet their goal? More one-on-ones mean you can provide feedback and guidance regularly and resolve issues early on. It also shows your employees you care about their development.

  • Prepare beforehand: Take note of some topics to discuss ahead of time to show that you are prepared and focused. It’s best to stay light on the agenda to make sure your team member can be heard too — as long as you’re connecting regularly, this should come naturally.

  • Ask good questions: During the one-on-one, ask questions that promote discussion around personal, professional, support, and performance development. Here are a few examples:

    • “How’s life outside of work?”

    • “Any wins in the past week you want to share?”

    • “How can I help you with your current projects?”

    • “How do you want to grow or refine your work?”

Agree on action items: Take notes during the conversation and share them with the team member. Talk through what you’ve written down, and come to a consensus on the meeting’s key takeaways and action items. This step will ensure that they leave the session with something valuable, and you both have a reference point the next time you talk.

Join the innovators club

Mentorship has been used for decades by some of the world’s most successful companies to improve employee satisfaction, retention, and performance. It’s a well established practice in the self-care industry too, but typically in the form of apprenticeships that teach service-related skills rather than leadership and business development.

It’s time to bring mentorships to new and future leaders too, carrying over the same spirit of collaboration and continual improvement into business development. The self-care businesses that do the hard work of implementing this approach now will be true innovators — and will soon become talent magnets.

Looking for more ways to become a better boss and leader? Our Manager’s Handbook to Salon Operations has everything you need to level up. Get your free copy now

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