Martial Arts School Owners
Staff Training and Development


How do we turn a basic staff into an awarding winning team? First we need to establish if we have a staff; then we need to decide how we should motivate them. Very often in Marital Arts schools there is more a lack of staff than an over abundance. During many of my consulting calls I give information to clients about how to hire staff members. So this article will cover two topics: First, how do I get staff members? Second, when I have a good sized staff, how do I motivate them?

When building a team of competent staff members you must first follow these five steps.

1. Find people who are qualified for the jobs. Don't hire a person simply to fill a position. This is a common mistake in our industry. We find someone looking for a job and we immediately place them in a position. Often they are not qualified and will never have what it takes to get that job done. It is essential that you seek out a qualified person, even if they are not currently part of your school.

2. Put together job guidelines and an employee manual. The manual should describe the positions available in the school, what is required of an employee in each position, the pay structure, etc. It is worth taking the time to develop an employee manual and handbook. You'll find it to be some of the best time and money spent.

3. Develop incentives to keep employees active. Some possibilities are commissions, long term insurance plans, and retirement plans. I realize that to many these "perks" are beyond your wildest imagination, but plan today for tomorrow's successes.

4. Start thinking big. This is really the mindset that you need to develop. Without a vision and goals, you will never get to the top. Planning ahead and setting goals are very valuable.

5. Look for the good in everyone. Overlook some things, but inspect what you expect. Do not be too lenient; if you are you will develop a trend for others to follow. Start by training your staff properly and continue to educate them. Don't immediately fire people for not doing their jobs. Retrain to try to correct the deficiency. If after repeated attempts they are not doing their job properly cut them loose.

Here's some advice on how to fire up your staff that I extracted from an article by Stever Robbins that was on the AOL Business website. Robbins, a veteran of nine startups over 25 years, co-designed the "Foundations" segment of Harvard's MBA program. He is the author of It Takes a Lot More than Attitude to Lead a Stellar Organization, and has appeared on CNN and in the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily and Harvard Business Review. He's an expert on motivating employees. Stever Robbins and his monthly newsletter can be found at

----------------Do as I Do----------------

Start with action, not words; people want results, not promises. You'll have to start by delivering change that's in their best interest, and back up your action with words, not the other way around.

A good place to start is by making a visible sacrifice for the company's common good. The role model here is Aaron Feuerstein, CEO of Malden Mills, who in 1995 kept 3,000 employees on the payroll after a fire leveled the business. His belief was that his responsibilities extended to employees and the community as well as to shareholders.

Next, give everyone a sense that showing up for work could make their lives better. At first, they won't be able or willing to believe you. You'll have to combat their lack of emotion with added emotion. Find the emotional connection people have with the company.

Some research indicates that people are most motivated when challenged to use their strengths to reach goals they think are doable. (See Authentic Happiness by Marty Seligman.) Find emotionally important goals by asking, "What's important about the work you do?" When they answer, ask, "What's important about that? What will that do?" a few times. Their answers will reveal values and passions. If they reply, "for the pay" and don't connect with any further goals, they may have no job passion to awaken. If someone's never had job-related hopes, dreams or aspirations, he or she probably won't develop them mid-career. (Significant emotional and spiritual events might do it, but that's a bit beyond the scope of this column. Business research suggests it's easier to change skills than attitudes, so your best bet may be to start hiring people with a more engaged attitude.) Watch people's faces: If they become animated or talk with longing in their voice, you've tapped into something real
Now ask them to stay in that passion and describe their perfect job. Have 'em go wild. If the past culture has been especially oppressive, you'll probably be amazed at how unwild their dreams actually are. Things like "having a desk with three drawers" may be a big deal. Ask them, "What one thing can I do to help you move closer to that dream?"

Listen very, very carefully to the answer; you're at a critical moment. They're telling you how you can send an emotional message, not just a verbal one. Whatever they say to do, just do it. Say, "I appreciate your sharing that. I'll keep it in mind." Don't promise anything; they've learned that promises get broken. Just quietly get it done. Then check back and ask about next steps. As soon as possible, have them suggest what they can do to drive the change further.

Beware the temptation of self-promotion! Don't crow about how responsive you're being. It's no big deal. Choose small things and take visible actions that people find meaningful. Actions are what people want, not words. They'll notice, and the word will spread that you're a leader who actually makes life better, rather than issues empty promises.

Once you've taken action and people have evidence that things can be different, it's time to encourage them to step up and do their part. Once they start going, your job is supporting them and helping them align their actions with the direction of the overall company.

This isn't an easy process. If people are truly happy in their work environment, don't expect them to embrace change. But if the apathy comes from bad leadership and unchanging drudgery, you can change that, and they'll get it once you start demonstrating that you're truly different.

Help the Change Take Root

Be vigilant! People will have trouble adapting to you. Even if they're psyched to take the reins, they may need help coping. I worked with a secretary who dreamed of becoming a project manager. When given her first project, she discovered she didn't know how to step up and lead. In meetings, she deferred to senior people out of sheer habit, even when the responsibility was hers as project manager. We worked to help her define her role and to acquire the project management skills to master the position. As a leader, you foster change that may push people into new territory. Be sensitive, and be prepared to intervene and help insure their success.

As people take charge, they might charge right in someone else's face. Look out for turf battles, injured egos, feelings of exclusion and other potential hot spots. When war looks likely, step in and help the participants negotiate a settlement. Get them together, help them find common goals (or remind them of the team's common goals), and then give them the responsibility for working out their differences. Be available as a resource, but get them in the habit of behaving like mature adults. Once you've tapped their motivation, it's up to you to help them grow to work as a strong team that produces solid, substantial results.

The key to evaluating perfomance!

1) Outline a Basic job description - requirements of an employee in that specific job. Set the absolute basic level they must achieve in order to stay employed then outline the level of performance you expect in order for them to progress and move forward.

2) Outline a level of performance expected – how many hours, dedication, the level in which a manager expects from the employees, how the relationships work with other employees and the chain of command.

3) Explain the idea that an employee should never ask for more money, they should make more money for the company so that the company can pay them more. Not the other way around. They want to get to the  

Achiever status - If everything goes as planned and they reach the achiever Level, then and only then they will be considered a desirable employee.

Make sure you “Inspect what you Expect”

 If certain levels are not met you need to do a sit down and discuss them with the employees.

 Always be clear in your expectation, so that the employee knows what you want. Don't expect them to think on the same level as you. Understand that you are you, and they are thinking from an entirely different perspective.

1) Consultation 2) Define the problem 3) Brain store alternatieves 4) Choose best alternative 5) Develop a plan of action. 6) Move forward with the new plans. 7) Set some time frame that you expect the changes to take place. Then 8) Inspect what you expect.
Give recognition awards I appreciate notes. Thank you's

This is an imperative step in creating synergy between employees and their relationship with the boss and the company. Recognition when ever possible is important. The key to recognition is to be genuine.

1) Determine what you what and need to be recognized.

2) Sell the program – your ideas or contests that you are proposing.

3) Control competitiveness and popularity contest

4) Establish criteria and establish the rewards if any.

5) Don't recognize inferior performance.
Develop Enthusiasm

This is the key step to getting the most of your employees. Here are three simple steps to getting your employees energized.

1) Awareness- what motivates them

2) Analysis- why do you do what you do

3) Action- get involved - knowledge without action is useless.

4) Show them the big picture

5) Get them to clearly share in your vision.

6) Understand what role you and your company plays in their lives.

7) Find out what they expect from you as a boss and company.

8) Establish a clear line of communication.


Rating your Clients

    Give me an A, give me a B Give me a C, what does it spell? Well as much as this may sound like a cheer.  It really isn’t.  For years you have heard martial art business experts talk about the rating system for students.  The question now is are you using it?   Many times a school owner’s looks out on to their training floor and can easily recognize the superstars.  The superstars are the ones that are training in your school all the time.  They are the students when you start thinking of your attendance roster you can name off the top of your head.  These students are you’re A – students but quite often there are a great deal more A – students then you would think.  

    When rating your students you must think of their category for many reasons.  Students that are rated have different potential or different challenges.  Some may look out into their class and easily be able to identify those students just at a glance, but as you know, when I talk about martial art business I want to go a little deeper then that.  What is an A – student made of, how about a C student.  The next question is what are you expectations and the clients (parent or student)?  You may say all C – students only come once per week, when in fact you would hope an A – student comes 4 times.  The C – student may love your program but due to other obligations they may only be able to come once per week.  So why categorize them as a C if they are at their full capacity and love your program. So it is imperative to figure out while speaking to the parent and or student what they want from your program.  

    With that being said, it is time to really do some heavy inventory.  We need to look at each and everyone one of our students with this mentality.  It is essential to discover who your students are. I have identified all of my students and I am very big on making sure my staff is in total agreement with me and has input on the process as well.  So we sit together and have developed a very simple system in which we take marking tabs and put them on all attendance cards.  If you do not use hard cards, which I totally recommend, then I would say print your list and highlight them with different colored markers.  The goal is to have it on paper in your main line of focus.  

The rating system of students
 A,B and C students

A = No sticker –
these are students who are doing outstanding
making all their classes and come to all our extra curricular events.
B = Blue –
Sporadic attendance or losing motivation in some way.
They are either on their way to becoming a C- student or an A – student.
C – Red –
 Low or No attendance or seem very de-motivated and ready to quit.

Systemization of Student rating

While most consultants would tell you that you must rate your clients and leave it at that. I like to go as deep as I can to give you a clear understanding of the rating system.  My philosophy is three fold – One identify the problem clients, Two – establish a clear understanding with your staff and Three – put together systems of how you are going to rectify the situation.  

For example:
A – students should not be ignored.  Even though they are still very active and doing what you want them to do, attending classes, events, buying gear and equipment and also participating in special events, you should still make an effort to really work hard to keep them their. Remember a student is one step closer to Black belt or quitting.   
B – students as we listed above need to be handled differently and of course your C – student are on high alert.

Here is a easy to follow system.

1)    Print a list of your entire active enrollment or use your hard card attendance system and highlight the A,B and C students either with marker on the printed list or stickers on the hard cards.  
2)    Once you have established the categories follow the procedures below.


For all A – students have your staff take at minimum 10 motivation cards and send them out in the mail per week.  Simply put a little note to them on the card telling them something genuine.  Do not use a general statement.   Tell them something that stuck out in your head on their performance in class.  “Hey Johnny amazing sidekick or way to go on leading the warm ups. I am so proud of you.”  

For all B – students and remember they are either on their way to A or to C.  So we need to follow up with motivational cards, and any other personal attention you can give them in class.  I highly suggest sitting down with the parents or the student or both and getting their opinion on how they are classified and find out if they feel this is the case.  If they disagree, then at that time you can ask them where they want to be and set a plan in action.  Of course you can offer private lessons (paid or free) or upgrades to motivate the student like Black Belt Club (etc.) or set some goals.  Our main priority is to make sure you are on the same team working for the same result.  The better you become at motivating your B – students the less C- students you will have.  

C – Students - are the most difficult to work with.  Although many times they have already checked out, you may be able to bring them back from dead.  This takes the most effort and is only possible if a student and parent is willing to give you the time of day.  Most of the time when a parent or student has checked out or quite often for children the student has lost motivation so then the parent follows suit.  We have a saying behind every de-motivated student is a de-motivated parent.  Of course it is essential that you work your procedures before this happens. Unfortunately at this time you may have many more C – students then you will after you master this process.  The quicker you are at adapting this mentality and systematization the more students you will have in the future.  

Allow me to close with this analogy – many times when I talk to my Next Level clients, they ask me how do I get more students.  Of course this is a confusing question.  You can market till you are blue your budget runs out and hopefully if you advertise smartly then clients come pouring through the door.  The key to a growing school is mastering your retention.  Retention in essence is marketing.  Who refers more people – of course the happy customer.  Treat all your clients as if they were as important as the President of the United States, but make sure that it is not empty treatment.  Showing a client that you have their best interest in mind also knowing what they don’t will help you to stay on top.  Remember the most difficult client is the one who doesn’t know what they need to know.  So the more we educate and assist our clients the more we will retain.  Building your clients into raving fans and motivated customers is essential.  

Why not take the time to identify your clients and rather then always being on the look out for new ones, take the old B and C clients and turn them around.  Take the time and trust me your results and efforts will be rewarded ten times over.