Industry • Best Practice
Relationships and Retention: Strategies for Creating a More Connected Culture
By Shanalie Wijesinghe
Getting to know your stylists and setting them up for success will keep them invested in your business
Retention has always been difficult in the beauty industry. In 2010, I saw a stylist go to lunch and never return to the job. Client demands, long hours, inadequate pay, and even just an inability to see a path forward to growth and success merge to create an environment where a stylist ultimately seeks employment elsewhere.
These days it’s easy to blame COVID-19 or “the Great Resignation” for the difficulty in getting highly-skilled employees to stick around. But in my experience, people leave businesses because of the leadership — or lack thereof.
Successful managers aren’t just managing the books. They’re understanding the strengths of each team member and empowering them to do their best work. Read on (or watch my presentation below) to learn how you can build relationships to connect with your stylists and be the leader they’ll want to stick with for the long haul.
Mentorship is key
Developing meaningful relationships means more than just connecting with staff during quarterly all-hands meetings to discuss numbers. You need to hold regular one-on-one meetings with your team members every week, even if it’s a quick 15-minute check-in to find out what’s happening in their lives.
These one-on-ones are where you’ll learn the most about the people working for you. There’s no such thing as a personal or professional life. Each person on your team is a sum of their characteristics and experiences, shaping how they will interact with clients and perform the services the job requires.
These meetings require a deeper understanding of soft skills to determine each team member's most effective management style. Some people learn best with numbers and data, while others need to get hands-on or even fail before fully understanding something. You need to get to know your staff on a personal and professional level to understand how to mentor them and allow them to grow, in turn enabling your business to flourish.
Empower them through communication
I was promoted to a management position early in my career because I was very good at sales. If someone came in for a blow dry, they left with a base and a treatment. The salon wanted me to take over as manager, but the job didn’t come with any management training, and I had to learn much of it on the fly.
I was 23 then and had to manage people my parents’ age. I had to think, “How do I get these people to buy into what I’m saying, and how do I empower them?” One of my most significant learning moments was finding a path forward with staff members after moments of conflict.
It’s easy to get heated when staff members fail to hit targets or make mistakes, and drama starts to unfold, potentially leading to emotional moments on the floor. The problem with drama is that it’s highly ineffective at communicating lessons and helping staff grow.
In these moments, we often tell people what’s wrong, but it’s harder (and more important) to highlight what your team is doing right and ask for more. Reframe the context of negative conversations toward positive outcomes — less “this is bad” and more “you’re successful when doing this, so make an effort to do it more in future work.”
It’s important to discuss the impact of mistakes or issues with work and the behaviors that come from it. Then, discuss a path forward to prevent future errors and enable your team to grow from these lessons.
Create meaningful connections with your team
This is the fun part of being a manager. You get to know your staff and learn who’s funny, exciting, or a bit of a daredevil on the weekends. Creating that meaningful connection starts with your one-on-one meetings.
Initially, these meetings may seem formal and stuffy, but the more you do them, the lighter and snappier they become, especially if you’re addressing issues as they arise. I don’t wait for one-on-ones to pull someone aside if there’s an issue with their work. The longer you let it go on, the harder it is to correct.
Instead, I like to use one-on-ones to nurture discussions in these areas:
Personal: How’s life outside work? Did you do anything fun recently?
Performance: What are you focusing on this week or month? What do they have difficulty or success with? Where is the opportunity to grow?
Support: How can I support you? Do I give you enough feedback? How can we improve the team culture?
Development: What are some of your long-term professional goals? How can I help further your career? What do you want to learn?
According to Forbes, 65% of employees would like more feedback than they currently get. Everyone wants to know their path forward, and holding these one-on-ones will help give your employees the information they need to grow.
You will also be able to prevent moments where staff members are tempted to quit. If an otherwise solid performer is going through a rough patch, send them encouragement instead of hounding them about numbers. At the end of the day, it’s just hair — it doesn’t come before their personal or mental health. They’ll never be as bought into your business as you are, and that’s okay. But you can connect with them on a deeper, more personal level where they can buy into your culture and appreciate your leadership. That is what will keep employees invested.
Communicate on their level
As the manager, you’re often looking at operations from a bird’s-eye perspective. On the other hand, your staff doesn’t think about success in terms of “increasing revenue” or “maximizing throughput.” They know that highlights take a certain amount of time out of their day, so express your goals in terms that resonate with them.
For example, talking about quotas with a stylist might go in one ear and right out the other. However, in your one-on-ones, you might have learned that she’s planning a trip to Cabo this summer and wants to make extra money to save up. You can craft goals around those desires to help her get the money she needs to go on a nice vacation. By proxy, you’re helping your business make money by increasing sales.
Don’t say, “Add $100 more in service revenue per week.” Instead, say, “book two more haircuts each week.” They’re the ones in the trenches, and they know what two haircuts look like in their booking schedule and in terms of dollars. Break metrics down into terms your staff can visualize.
Harness technology for your one-on-ones
There’s a lot of information to keep tabs on during the day-to-day operation of a salon — more than any one person can reasonably handle without some assistance. Now, you’re likely already keeping digital notes on client preferences to craft profiles to provide personalized services at scale. You should absolutely be doing the same for your staff.
Lean on technology to help you keep notes and track employee growth. Google Docs and Evernote are two free yet highly effective tools that will allow you to create living documents to keep a record of what gets discussed at each meeting and the actionable steps for improvement. When combined with your salon management software (which tracks the hard numbers your business generates), you’ll be able to look back on where your stylists were and directly compare it to where they are now.
Tech should form a core pillar of your business, helping to automate the menial tasks so you can focus on the big picture. Instead of managing your schedules by hand, implement self-booking solutions to speed up your intake process. Direct clients to contact forms and messaging services so you’re not answering personal DMs at 1:30 in the morning. Put tools in place so you can spend more time with the people who need you the most — your team.
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