What it Really Takes to Get Your Salon/Spa Team on the Same Page

September 26, 2021 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

“We need to get everyone on the same page.”

It’s a good bet that you either said or thought this statement. But the big question is how often do you say it or think it?

What conditions create the urgency to get your team on the same page? Conditions typically center on inconsistency in the execution of tasks, productivity issues, poorly defined expectations, conflicting agendas, indifference, and general performance frustration.

When leaders say, “We need to get everyone on the same page, it’s a leadership issue – not a “they” issue.

Leaders are the authors and keepers of the “page.” That “page” embodies the company’s vision, mission, and game plan. In these days of teamwork, inclusiveness, and a sense of ownership, the team plays a vital role in getting everyone on the same page.

FACT: The ultimate accountability for executing what’s on that page rests squarely on the shoulders of leadership. But as we know, all it takes is a distraction or two to divert a leader’s attention away from what’s important.... Read More

Salon/Spa Front Desk Staff: Don’t Talk “Team” and Treat Them as Something Less

August 16, 2021 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

In last week’s blog post, “Why Retailing Must Be a Team Sport,” I listed a bunch of responses to the question, “Who gets the retail commission on walk-in retail sales?”

The one response that smacked me in my “culture reflects leadership” brain was, “Hire a receptionist and pay zero commission.”

First, the days of a “receptionist” disappeared decades ago. Working at the front desk as a guest services provider is an essential and massively demanding position at salons/spas.

Second, and more importantly, the “pay receptionists zero” commission on any retail is nothing short of treating your front desk/guest services team as second-class employees.

FACT 1: A well-trained front desk/guest services employee plays a key role in driving your company’s overall productivity rate, prebook rate, first and existing client retention rate, retail sales, upselling, gift certificate sales — and the coordinated operation of your salon/spa.... Read More

When You Keep a Bad Employee for the Money He/She Brings In

May 30, 2021 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Everything was going great. You couldn’t be happier with this employee.

Maybe you hired this employee right out of school, trained them, and helped them build that “big book.”

Maybe you hired this employee for their experience. And maybe because of the clients that would follow them to your business.

But over time, things changed. Teamwork was replaced with attitude, indifference, and entitlement. They would come in, do their clients, and leave.

At company meetings, they would radiate an unsettling funk that everyone could feel. In the break room, it was non-stop complaining about anything and everything.

You had a few quasi-fierce conversations with them about their attitude to no avail.

So why not fire them? The answer is obvious. They’re busy as hell and bring in a ton of money.

As a salon/spa owner, you can relate to the above scenario and likely have your own “employee from hell” stories.... Read More

Why Do You Pay Commission?

April 11, 2021 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

This is not a simple question. Commission has been the defacto pay method at salons/spas forever. For most, “commission” is the way it’s done.

The most common response to the question is, “Commission motivates them to perform and sell.” But does it really?

Commission’s origin is actually in sales-based businesses and industries. If you sell something, you get paid a percentage of that sale. Products, cars, equipment, systems, real estate, services, etc.. The key difference is that the one earning commission doesn’t make or deliver the product or service being sold.

The salon/spa industry is very different because the individual doing the “selling,” or providing the actual service, gets the commission. That seemingly simple difference is far from simple — it’s massively different.

Stylists, estheticians, barbers, massage therapists, nail techs, and other service providers are primarily attracted to our industry for its creative and therapeutic aspects — not because they’re passionate about “selling” or making a commission on what they sell.... Read More

How to Keep Salon/Spa Employees Motivated to Achieve Goals

March 28, 2021 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Goals are essential in business. Achieving those goals requires leadership, information flow, determination, and accountability. More importantly, goals demand teamwork.

There’s something about goals in the salon/spa industry — and working to achieve those goals — that too often creates more frustration than wins.

To illustrate, here’s what an owner posted on Strategies Salon, Spa Business Idea Exchange Facebook discussion group:

Goals — I love them. But not everyone is driven by them. It’s like an elevator trying to motivate employees to hit a goal. I coach. Motivation goes up … then down … and, after another meeting to get their heads back in the game, it goes back up again.

We do bigger staff meetings at the first of every month. A quicker mid-month meeting to keep everyone on track. Then we do one-on-one’s every month plus a 15-minute one-on-one mid-month to check on goal progress.... Read More

Is Your Salon/Spa Business Flawed By Design?

February 28, 2021 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

A salon/spa business begins with an idea that quickly evolves into a vision with amazing opportunities.

Once that entrepreneurial seizure grabs hold, you’re willing to “bet the ranch” on building your vision.

If you were an experienced service provider at another salon/spa, it’s likely that part of your plan involved clients following you to your new business.

You hire some service providers, some with followings, and pay them some form of a commission (straight, sliding scale, level pricing, product charges, etc). Why? Because that’s the way it’s always been done.

From the day you open the doors, the prime objective is to “build” your service providers. The reasoning is simple. The faster you build “them” … the faster your company grows.

The energy of a newly opened salon/spa is exciting and empowering. Sustaining that energy is the biggest challenge — especially for owners that are more skilled at doing services than leading a business.... Read More

Why “Who Gets the Credit” Hurts Your Salon/Spa Culture

February 21, 2021 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

The salon/spa industry’s longstanding approach to compensation is built on one seriously simple method: If a service provider delivers a service, or sells a product, he or she gets a piece.

In order to get that “piece,” the salon/spa must determine “who gets the credit” for the service or product sale.

Here are the four most common “who gets the credit” challenges:

  1. One or more service providers work on one client and each expects to get “a piece” of the ticket.
  2. A front desk/guest services employee sells a retail item to client at checkout. The service provider has a fit because he/she didn’t get the credit.
  3. Front desk/guest services employees disengage from closing or selling retail because the credit and commission automatically goes to the service provider.
  4. A service provider says, “I’m not doing [insert service/product sale] unless I get a piece.”

These four challenges may seem extremely basic, but they’re far from it. Why? Because the moment an employee feels short-changed or cheated, it contaminates your culture and spreads like wildfire.... Read More

What it Really Takes to Achieve Your Salon/Spa Vision

February 7, 2021 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Question: Is your salon/spa vision truly worthy of the commitment and effort it will take to achieve it?

That’s a pretty deep question with some profound implications. Why? Because in just a sentence or two, your vision statement embodies the company you want to build.

FACT: A vision is nothing more than words. Only the leader can bring life, meaning, and purpose to those words.

Here’s a great example of a leader bringing his vision to life:
In 1983, Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy. Steve Jobs aggressively pursued John Sculley to become Apple’s CEO. (Sculley was vice president of PepsiCo from 1977 to 1983.)... Read More

10 Reasons for Salon/Spa Owners to Stay Positive

January 31, 2021 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

For owners, staying positive in these uncertain times is something you need to keep working at. 

Of course, you’re weary of dealing with this pandemic. It’s been a tough ten months and COVID-19 is going to be with us a while longer.

When you’re dealing with cancellations, no shows, reduced capacity, client fears, employee quarantines, and tight cash flow, staying positive is a challenge. 

As an owner, your ability to stay positive cannot be underestimated or ignored. Why? Because the owner’s positivity establishes the company’s sense of urgency and performance expectations. So much so that the culture and performance of a salon/spa business is a direct reflection of the owner’s level of positivity.... Read More

Ten Characteristics of an Awesome Front Desk/Guest Services Employee

October 4, 2020 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

They used to be called “receptionists.”

Smile. Be pleasant. Answer the phone. Book appointments. Check clients in and out. What could be easier?

FACT: If you want to experience the most demanding position at a salon/spa — work the front desk for eight hours on a busy day.

Today’s front desk/guest services employees are an integral part of driving salon/spa growth, productivity, client retention, retail sales, and just about all essential critical numbers.

In celebration of these hard-working individuals, we give you the top ten characteristics of an awesome front desk/guest services employee:

  1. Servant’s heart with a commander’s brain: A service-intensive business like a salon/spa is a balancing act between customer service and business efficiency. The servant’s heart is the ability to make clients feel cared for. The commander’s brain is to ensure efficient client flow between service providers and maintain client scheduling on the appointment book with a focus on driving productivity.
  2. Ability to anticipate needs: All salons/spas want to deliver extraordinary customer service experiences. But going through the motions of checking in, checking out, answering the phone and booking appointments is far from extraordinary. In order for extraordinary customer service experiences to consistently occur, front desk/guest services employees must have the ability to anticipate client needs. For example, they should be able to “read” a client’s stress level with reassurance and extra personal attention. Anticipating needs unlocks the door to extraordinary customer service experiences.
  3. Attention to detail: How many Mrs. Smith’s are in your database and they’re all the same “Mrs. Smith”? How many appointments are made with an incorrect phone number or no phone number at all? How many appointments are scheduled incorrectly? How many missed prebooks and retail sales occur during the course of the day? It doesn’t take much to disrupt the flow of business, upset a client, miss simple opportunities, or stress out a service provider. Botched data, indifferent “it’s good enough” thinking, or incorrect appointments can quickly sabotage your business. The best salons/spas make attention to detail a non-negotiable.
  4. Task and systems oriented: Everything … repeat everything … at the front desk is task and systems driven. Even if you replaced your front desk with a technology solution like iPads or tablets, locking into tasks and systems is even more important. Operations Manuals and documented procedures, and the training to support them, are essential. For this very reason, individuals that are task and systems oriented are a must. Anything less is a compromise.
  5. Multitasks wisely: There are people that pride themselves at being multitaskers that appear busy as heck but get little done. An awesome front desk/guest services employee excels at establishing priorities, often in the moment. This means that the most essential task at the time is being addressed — most often to avoid a potential problem or upset client.
  6. Cool under pressure: The phone is ringing. Clients are waiting to check in while other clients are waiting to checkout. You’re on the phone with a client that wants to book multiple hair and spa services. Service providers are running behind and waiting clients are getting upset. If this scenario sounds like a nightmare to a candidate, it’s a bad fit and he/she won’t last long in the position.
  7. Never compromise a system or procedure: Consistency at the front desk means thoroughness. It means being accountable. It means understanding how vital systems and procedures are to customer service and the performance of the company. Awesome front desk/guest service employees earn trust and respect by doing their work and making it appear effortless.
  8. Essential for driving overall productivity rate: Front desk/guest services employees are responsible for the most precious commodity of salon/spa business — hours available for sale on the appointment book. It’s not just one column, it’s all columns. It’s everything from up-selling services and filling white space, to keeping clients off the waiting list when the time and skills are available. The hallmark of an awesome front desk/guest services employee is an impeccably managed appointment book.
  9. Ensures service providers prebook and recommend retail: It’s the service provider’s responsibility to recommend prebook services and retail products to clients. It’s the front desk/guest services responsibility to lock in prebooked appointments and “close” retail sales. This cannot happen if front desk/guest services employees don’t receive or ask the service provider for prebook and retail recommendations. The transition from service provider to front desk checkout must be seamless. Awesome front desk/guest services employees help keep service providers on task by requiring prebook and retail recommendations.
  10. Valued member of the team: Just like service providers, front desk/guest services employees are vital to achieving true teamwork. They are not second-class citizens simply because they don’t do services and lack a professional license. Most of all, they should not be regarded as minimum-wage/low paid employees. Any employee that meets the previous nine characteristics is a valued member of the team.

Here’s my challenge to you: How do these ten characteristics match up with your current front desk/guest services employees?... Read More

A Time for Gratitude

December 22, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

At Strategies, we’ve been coaching and training owners of salons, spas, medspas, barbershops, and every other industry related business for over 26 years.

As coaches, we spend our days celebrating your successes and helping you overcome challenges. We love to inspire you and we deliver tough love when situations dictate.

And like you, I am the owner of an employee-based service business. The only difference is that you provide hair, skin, nail and massage services. We deliver leadership and best business practices through coaching and training.

You see, building a successful service business, beauty or business coaching, requires passionate and dedicated people.

Sure, you can go it alone, but there’s a difference between building a “private practice” and something capable of growing beyond your wildest dreams.

Our employees bring life and meaning to our vision. In return for their hard work, we provide growth opportunities in many forms.... Read More

What Motivates Salon/Spa Employees

December 14, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Michell Bartlein, owner of Savoye Salon Spa, located in Green Bay, WI, and Team-Based Pay Award Winner, posted the following in our Strategies Salon Spa Business Idea Exchange discussion group on Facebook:

We are very selective who we allow on our team. I find myself struggling to discover what makes service providers tick and be motivated. Am I focusing on the wrong area?

I want to grow our team but struggle with the graduates coming out of cosmetology school. So, we decided the best thing to do is to go visit the schools, right?!

Yesterday a team member and I went to a school and did a presentation on “Life After School.” We presented a 50,000-foot view of need to knows including an overview of the different pay systems. The students were very engaged.

I also figured that this would be a great test group to help me better understand the next generation’s thinking. I gave them three simple questions to answer.... Read More

Where Your Salon/Spa Would be Now?

October 27, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

“A business moves at the speed of its leader.” That’s what Strategies Coach, Daryl Jenkins, says when an owner asks how long it takes to implement change.

There is so much truth to Daryl’s statement because every salon/spa owner is a unique collection of thinking and behavior, strengths and weaknesses.

Owners have their own tolerances for financial risk taking. In the coaching business, it’s pretty common to work with owners that have amassed a mountain of debt. Likewise, we work with owners that strictly manage debt and many that are debt free.

When it comes to decision making, there are owners that weigh every detail multiple times before making a decision.

Some owners procrastinate on decisions hoping the problem will fix itself or just go away. Business problems never fix themselves.

Of course, there are those owners that make decisions based what they feel in their gut. Sometimes, gut decisions work out. Most times, that “gut feeling” is just gas.... Read More

“Me” Service to Become “Team Service” – Part 2

September 15, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

In Part One of last week’s blog post (read it here), I detailed why the industry’s pervasive “I/me/mine” attitude is the major obstacle to teamwork and the delivery of extraordinary customer service.

More importantly, I detailed what feeds the “I/me/mine” mentality. Because owners obsess over how much each individual brings in, the message being sent is that their “I/me/mine” numbers are all that matter.

  • Teamwork is compromised. Customer service is compromised. Team service doesn’t stand a chance.

Read Part One for my recommendations on how to shift your salon/spa from “Me” thinking to “We” thinking. This is a prerequisite to team service.

If you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal? Clients at my salon/spa are free to see anyone they want.”

My response is, “Are they really?” When clients call to schedule an appointment, the first question they’re asked is, “Who with and what day and time?” That’s “Me” service, not team service.... Read More

Team Service: What It Is and Why It Works

April 15, 2019 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Teamwork in a salon/spa is a beautiful thing to observe.

Everyone shows up at the daily huddle on time and prepared to hear the game plan for the day.

The front desk team welcomes clients with a smile, gets them checked in and guides them off to begin their services.

Service providers have that same welcoming smile and begin the process of consulting and delivering professional services.

It all looks great, but there’s an embedded thinking and behavior that undermines the client service experience.

Yes, an assistant can prepare and help deliver the service, but that’s not team service.

Yes, a colorist may do the color and a stylist the cut and finish, but that’s not team service. Why? Because that colorist and stylist automatically become THAT colorist’s and THAT stylist’s request client.

Strategies has been teaching and coaching Team Service for over 25 years because it is the foundation that a Team-Based Culture and Business Model is built on.... Read More

The 10 Characteristics of an Ideal Front Desk/Guest Services Employee

September 17, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

FACT: Front desk/guest services employees are key players in salon/spa growth, productivity, profitability and brand identity.

The days of the “receptionist” to greet and check clients out are long gone.

In today’s systematized salons/spas, the front desk is as much a command center as it is a check-in/check-out point for clients.

Beyond the givens of providing customer service, scheduling appointments and ringing up service and retail sales, the responsibility of driving salon/spa critical numbers is paramount.

Service providers may “do the work,” but front desk/guest services employees organize the work, sell the work, and exercise extreme influence on pre-booking, client retention and productivity rates.

These efficient multi-taskers must also be technologically savvy to fully utilize the power of today’s modern software applications.

There is no doubt that finding the right fit for these key positions can be challenging, but just as much as any skilled service provider, they must be hired, trained and retained.... Read More

The Great “How to Train Salon & Spa Talent” Debate

March 12, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Salons and spas are technical skill and customer service based businesses.

The services you offer, the products you sell, and the customer experiences you create, represent your brand.

Services are delivered via the skilled hands and knowledge of your employees. Extraordinary customer service experiences are delivered by your employee’s thinking and behavior.

The challenge is that skill and experience are a difficult variable to control.

  • Young professionals fresh out of school may have the rough skills and passion, but they lack the experience necessary to refine their skills and feed their passion.
  • Service providers with years of experience are no guarantee of quality work … especially if their drive and passion to advance their skills has faded.
  • Hiring a service provider that can bring his/her large clientele is a tactic to acquire cash flow, but there is no guarantee that the work meets your salon/spa’s standards.

So the BIG question is, how long does it take to train not only NEW talent, but to keep experienced talent at the top of their game?... Read More

Salon & Spa Scoreboard Mania! Inspiring Team Engagement

June 12, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

In last week’s blog post I stressed the importance of Financial Literacy training for employees.

This week, I want to stress the importance of focusing on the total salon/spa goal and keeping team engagement high through scoreboards and huddles.

FACT #1: If you want teamwork and team culture, leaders must unite employees around the salon/spa service and retail goal.


Because that’s the goal that covers payroll, pays the bills and provides growth opportunity for all. And yes, profit too.

FACT #2: If your approach to goal setting is by individual service provider, the result is employees competing against each other, not beating the competition. More importantly, you’re “building columns on the appointment book” … not a team-based effort or culture.

Scoreboard Rules:

  1. Scoreboards are done every month
  2. Scoreboards are updated daily
  3. Scoreboards and daily Team Huddles are inseparable
  4. Never post/update a scoreboard without a Team Huddle
  5. A scoreboard without a huddle is “invisible”
  6. Team Huddles are done the same time every day
  7. An employee that is late for Team Huddle is late for work
  8. Numbers 3, 4 and 5 say the same thing … Huddles are that important
  9. If you flunk scoreboards and daily Team Huddles … you have a leadership and accountability issue in your company

So, what better way to demonstrate the power of scoreboards and teamwork than by sharing a collection of scoreboards created by Strategies’ coaching clients and their staff.... Read More

Salon/Spa Scoreboards: Getting Everyone on the Same Page

August 29, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

At the top of every salon/spa owner’s wish list is, “how do I get everyone on the same page?” The only truly effective way to get everyone on that elusive same page is to have them all looking at that same page … at the same time.

For years, I’ve listened to owners say, “scoreboards and huddles won’t work.” The excuses range from work schedules that are all over the place to an outright fear and/or refusal to share the salon/spa’s true revenue goal for the month.

  • It’s like they want everyone to work really hard together for a goal that’s hidden behind a curtain.
  • Others only want to give individual goals in hopes that it all adds up to a company win. But that’s nothing more than growing columns on the appointment book … not growing a dynamic team-based company.

A simple information-flow acid test... Read More

Owning an Employee-Based Salon or Spa

July 18, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Owning an Employee-Based Salon or Spa

There are many voices that say, “Commission salon/spas are a thing of the past.”

What I don’t understand is why “commission” … a method of compensation … is used to describe an employee-based business.

The voices predicting the demise of commission salon/spas mostly come from those involved in booth rental and suites (independents that rent and those that need to rent space). Ads for suites all tout the same theme …

“Be your own boss.”

Yes, suites are the new shiny thing and getting lots of attention, but they target the talent at employee-based salons/spas to fill those suites.

Commission salon/spas are easy targets because the hook is: “Why make 40% or 50% when you can keep it all?”... Read More

Everyone is Accountable for Salon & Spa Customer Loyalty

June 20, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Everyone is accountable for customer loyalty.



Yes, customer loyalty begins with leadership and that’s where the problem can begin.

Leaders are notorious for going on those infamous rampages when a customer quits the salon/spa or when customer retention rates go critical. The no-compromise question to ask is, “Where is the accountability and how far down in the salon/spa does that accountability go?” Playing the blame game is a compromise and totally unacceptable.

The no-compromise leader places accountability for customer loyalty in the hands of every company employee.

It cannot be any other way.

For this level of accountability to exist, employees need to understand just how accountable they are. What I’m talking about here is a team-based business culture.

In a team-based business culture, ALL employees feel the pain of a lost customer. They feel the pain when a customer has a problem that could have been avoided.... Read More

10 Ways Every Salon/Spa Employee Can Start Stepping Up

May 2, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You see a client in the retail area that needs help

…but “it’s not my job to help.”

The lone guest-services staff is slammed with the phone ringing, clients needing to checkout and clients waiting to check in. You know how to check clients in … but you walk away.

There’s a pile of dirty towels that need to get washed … but “someone else will do it.”

You use a coffee mug, leave it in the sink and walk away … when the dish soap and sponge are right there. You didn’t have 15 seconds to clean your own coffee mug? Who was going to clean that for you? Your mom?

The trash can is visibly full … but you jam your handful of trash in and walk away. How much effort does it take to empty a trash can?... Read More

It Takes 100%+ Team Effort To Hit Goal

April 4, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Nothing saps the energy, moral and confidence of a team than repeatedly falling short of goal.

Leaders get frustrated and, too often, the blame game and finger pointing spirals an already bad situation deeper into the fiery pit of hell.

An easy solution is to lower goal to make it easier to hit. But lowering goal to match current lackluster effort only reinforces more lackluster effort.

It’s not where the goal bar is set … it’s setting the level of effort to meet or exceed goal.

Service and retail goals are revenue targets that your spending budgets are based on. (Revenue goals and spending budgets are non-negotiable. Got it?) Repeatedly coming up short of goal means fewer dollars to fund operations. It doesn’t take long for cash flow to become tight and eventual financial panic to set in.

At Strategies, we coach the importance of having realistic monthly and annual goals. Monthly service revenue goals are based on the following formula:... Read More

Rethinking Your Salon or Spa Appointment Book Strategy

February 29, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Are you scheduling appointments or just filling orders?

Whenever a salesperson is referred to as an “order taker,” it means that salesperson lacks the initiative and experience to truly engage, discover and understand the needs of the customer.

The order taker goes after the “what do you need today” low hanging fruit and moves on.

A true salesperson, on the other hand, asks questions, listens intently, identifies problems, provides solutions, educates and builds relationships.

I’m not suggesting that order takers don’t work hard, because they do. They cover a lot of ground and talk to a lot of customers. It’s hard work collecting all that low hanging fruit.

The true salesperson covers less ground, but collects the mother load of fruit on the rest of the tree … simply by taking the time to understand and fulfill needs. And they often get all the low hanging fruit, too.

In the salon/spa business, it’s all about selling time …  the relentless quest to fill up the time-slots on the appointment book.... Read More

Why Teamwork Is Your Salon or Spa Best Staff Retention Tool

December 14, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Everyone wants to be part of something – to belong. Team momentum and excitement are infectious. Teamwork pulls people together in the most positive and inspiring way. When your salon/spa’s team spirit is strong enough, even your self-proclaimed diehard loners and change resisters will find themselves subtly seeking a way to align with the team. Call it teamwork, camaraderie, or your family at work, the effect teamwork has on staff retention is the magic that every company can, and must, strive to achieve.

Throughout my working years, I’ve been part of three teams that stand out. With two of those teams, I was an employee. Of those two, one was a salon and the other was a publishing company. We were truly tight as co-workers, and relentlessly focused on goals and vision. Both companies had inspiring leaders who kept us on task and totally accountable for our actions and results. We were proud and WOW, were we ever productive. In both cases, when our teams’ fearless leaders moved on (one was promoted and the other turned into a jerk) the team energy and focus left with them. For me personally, I yearned for the involvement, camaraderie and growth I experienced on those teams. So much so, that without the team connectedness, I found myself looking for other opportunities beyond the company. In both instances, my searching led me to start my own companies.... Read More

How To Keep Long-Term Staff Engaged

September 28, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Employee turnover is the age-old nemesis for all business owners. Recruiting, the hiring process, training and skill development are time consuming and costly. The real wildcard in the recruitment process is hoping that the new hires will adapt and fit into the company’s unique culture. At the other end of the spectrum are your long-term staff members. These employees have been with you through the good times and the not so good times. They’ve seen you at your best and, most certainly, they have seen you at your worst. They know the game, get their work done and represent the heart and soul of your company.

Like any long-term relationship, long-term staff members can present a unique set of potential challenges for leaders. At the top of the list is resistance to change. Because senior staff members typically require less oversight, they tend to settle into their routines and their own modified methods of getting their work done … better known as settling into their comfort zones. Once their comfort zones are furnished and landscaped to their liking, very often, even minor changes to workflow, work schedules or the introduction of new systems, is met with resistance.... Read More

Making Peace with Performance Reviews

August 10, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Do you do quarterly performance reviews at least once a year? That’s a line from my No-Compromise Leadership book that always gets an unsettled chuckle. Why? Because there’s something about conducting performance reviews that causes them to be avoided, conveniently forgotten or dreaded. For many leaders, the thought of scheduling performance reviews is the equivalent of sentencing themselves to hour after hour after hour in purgatory. If you regard once a year as bad enough, quarterly performance reviews are going to be pure torture. But no matter how you view the process, avoiding performance reviews is a massive leadership compromise.

All leaders want to have a dynamic, efficient and productive business with a culture dedicated to delivering relentless quality. They want engaged employees who believe in the vision and purpose of the business. And more than anything … they just want employees that do their job. But what leaders want, requires that leaders also do the most essential part of their job – to coach and inspire employees. Performance reviews are simply part of the work of leadership to bring out the best in those they lead.... Read More

Choosing Your Business Model: Employee or Independent Contractor

July 20, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

A business model is best described as a schematic that defines all of the working features, components and capabilities that will drive the business. If you want your business to deliver consistent quality and growth potential, those elements must be built into its business model. If you want your business to deliver flexibility with minimal management oversight, those elements must be built into that business model. Just like a Ford F-150 truck will never perform like a Ferrari 488 GTB, a business model can only perform the functions it was designed to deliver. A McDonalds will never perform to the standards of a Chef Gordon Ramsey restaurant.

An independent contractor (booth rental or suite) business model will never perform like an employee-based business model. The two business models are diametrically opposed and, by design, conflict with each other. The employee-based model generates revenues through a coordinated process of delivering services and products to the company’s customers. The independent contractor model generates revenues through rental fees collected from independent contractors that service their own customers, add-on services for independent contractors and potential retail sales.... Read More

Being the best team member

June 22, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Being the best means that every team member is committed to doing “whatever it takes.” Once the performance bar to be the best is set … it becomes every team member’s performance bar. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that fellow team members hold up their portion of the bar – even if it means holding up more than your share when another team member can’t. There is nothing idealistic about what it takes for a team to be the best. “No compromise” is the team mantra.

Here are my ten No-Compromise Leadership tenets for being the best team member:

  1. Be your best: You made it on the team because the team believed in your potential. Now it’s time to show up and perform. Now it’s time to deliver. The team didn’t hire you to be late, to procrastinate, to give excuses, to test the rules, to avoid work or create drama. The team doesn’t care if you’re a Millennial, Gen Y, Baby Boomer, black, white, gay, straight or transgender … the team wants to be the best and expects you to be, and bring, your best everyday. And if your current best is not enough, the team will help you, train you and coach you. Anything less than your best is a compromise.
  2. Help others be their best: Everyone brings special talents and skills to the team. When another team member is struggling, it is your responsibility to reach out your hand and help in any way you can. If it’s a skill or performance challenge, coach and train your fellow team members. If it’s a confidence issue, help them find their strength and belief in their abilities. Teams that want to be the best excel at helping and supporting each other. Anything less is a compromise.
  3. Step up or step out: No compromise means, “If it needs to be done – get it done.” Being the best team member means stepping up without hesitation. It means putting yourself out there to take on a challenge or fix a problem. When an individual continually steps back to let others carry the load, it’s time for that individual to step out. When a team wants to be the best, it cannot tolerate any weak links. Anything less is a compromise.
  4. Ask for help sooner: Being the best means the pace is fast and the focus is on the road ahead. If you’re struggling and falling behind, ask for help sooner rather than later. The team will adjust, support you and get you up to speed. On a great team, asking for help is an expectation, not a sign of weakness. In fact, asking for help sooner is the key to maintaining a fast pace. Ask too late and the team has to decide to stop or drop you. Anything less is a compromise.
  5. Respect and trust: It is every team member’s responsibility to honor and respect, not only their team members … but what the team stands for as well. Lack of respect, in any form, is a compromise. Lack of respect to the rules, policies and standards is a compromise. And nothing wrecks teamwork faster than distrust. The moment one team member has reason not to trust another; the team begins to self-destruct. It is your responsibility to earn trust everyday by delivering what you promise, by doing your job and by protecting the integrity of the team. Anything less is a compromise.
  6. Say something: People are people and sometimes they drift outside the rules or accepted behavior of the team. It is everyone’s responsibility to respectfully call out another team member when his or her actions or behavior compromise the integrity of the team. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “This isn’t how we do things here.” Too often, team members wait for the leader to address it. Teamwork is about shared accountability and stepping up. Say something. Anything less is a compromise.
  7. Live your role: Everyone brings unique talents, skills, thinking and behavior to the team and their role and position on the team. It is your responsibility to live your role to the best of your ability each day. Not everything can be defined on a job description. Living your role means being passionate and committed about your work. Living your role is about ensuring that your personal link in the team’s chain is strong and can be counted on when put under heavy load and stress. Anything less is a compromise.
  8. Oldies and newbies: Senior members on the team have a responsibility to each and every newbie’s success. Senior members are the keepers of the vision and protectors of the culture. Senior members’ skills and processes are finely honed and time tested. Senior members are the essential “pay it forward” part of the team. Newbies are the future and newbies bring energy and fresh thinking to the team. Yes, senior members learn from newbies too. For a company and a team to endure, getting the oldie/newbie dynamic right is a non-negotiable. Anything less is a compromise.
  9. Loners should be alone: Some people are loners and don’t play well with others … especially on teams. Some loners can adapt and find their place on a team. Loners can be talented and amazingly high achievers, but when their performance is achieved at the expense of teamwork, team performance will suffer. Loners that are allowed to occupy a place on a team will always be the elephant in the living room. Allowing a loner to continue on a team will create a double standard that will degrade the performance of the entire team. Team players belong on your team. Anything less is a compromise.
  10. Beyond your wildest dreams: The very nature of a team that is striving to be the best lifts everyone to a place of extraordinary opportunity. One of the major benefits to individuals that play on dynamic teams is how quickly they can progress to achieving their full potential. Career paths expand rapidly. Income potential increases. New skills and responsibilities are within reach. It is all possible because the team that wants to be the best is really a group of individuals that discovered the power of shared accountability. Anything less is a compromise.

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Of course it is your company, but

June 8, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

myway-highwayAs a leadership coach, the best way to gain insight into how a company is run is to talk to employees. They willingly share the good, the bad, and the ugly about the culture of the company, its structure and its leader. Because the purpose of venting is to clear the air, I always get an earful of all the stuff that owners do that drives their employees crazy. Business owners are entrepreneurs that believe enough in their vision to put everything on the line to make it a reality. Owners are passionate. Owners can be intense. Owners are often stressed. And when under stress, some owners play the “it’s my company” card to get their way.... Read More

Time to remix and drink your Kool-Aid

May 11, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

kool-aidAs kids, we loved to drink Kool-Aid. Just water sweetened with sugar, tart fruit flavors, artificial coloring and absolutely no nutritional value, it was just fun to drink. Maybe that’s why “drink the Kool-Aid” became a metaphor for a group’s shared belief in some intangible thing. If you drink the Kool-Aid, you believe and instantly become a group member. If you don’t drink the Kool-Aid, you’re with the non-believers.

When we were kids, mom mixed the Kool-Aid … and it tasted good. In business, leaders mix their own Kool-Aid for their followers to drink … and that first sip tastes so good. It tastes so good because the mixture embodies the leader’s vision, passion and drive to create a company that stands for something special and unique. That Kool-Aid captures the imagination of like-minded people. A dynamic culture evolves that is innovative, energizing and seemingly invincible. To be part of such a company, or group culture, is a privilege and a life experience that resets and raises your belief in your own potential. And it all started with a sip of Kool-Aid.... Read More

Do not be a business maintenance man

March 23, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

maintenanceMan2When I was a young man starting out on my first job, I thought to myself, “I want to be the manager.” I was always fascinated with business and what made it work. I love the energy that comes from a team of people working together and believed that I had the ability to “manage” a team. From the beginning, I worked closely with the manager to learn everything I could about being a “manager.” I learned about handling money, scheduling for productivity, setting goals, inventory control, filling out reports, performance evaluations and keeping everyone on task.

Holy crap … I wasn’t learning how to be a leader – I was learning how to become a business “maintenance” man. I mean no disrespect to managers, nor am I suggesting that managers do not lead people. My point is that the primary role of a manager is to ensure the successful operation of a business or department and to make sure that the work gets done. Yes, a manager is responsible for hitting goal and ensuring growth … but the work of leadership is something different – something uniquely special. FACT #1: A leader in maintenance mode is stuck. FACT #2: An enlightened manager can rise to become an extraordinary leader.... Read More

Culture shifts live or die with clarity and information flow

February 23, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

I’ve witnessed more attempted culture shifts during which the leader charges off in a new direction only to discover that his culture is still locked on the old heading. That occurs when employees lack the clarity on why the company changed course. There was no detailed mission plan or map to follow. There was no information flow to share progress or challenges. In such cases, it doesn’t take long for the change initiative and culture shift to sputter and fizzle out. Yes, culture shifts can collapse in an instant.

It is vital that you understand the complexities of the task ahead. Rest assured, a culture shift will occur in your company. It will require tremendous energy and relentless focus from you and your leadership team, most being expended in the early implementation stages. It’s the equivalent of turning a massive aircraft carrier around. All of the forward momentum of the ship must be shifted in a new direction … and maintained until it aligns on the new course heading. More importantly, that wide turn and new heading must be free of any navigational hazards. Yes, in business you must be prepared for the unexpected, but plotting the best course that is free of hazards certainly improves the odds of achieving your goals.... Read More

How to get employees to embrace ownership thinking

February 9, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

Some owners are happy when employees just do their job well. Get the work done. Follow the rules. Make clients happy. Don’t waste resources. Be on time. Take initiative within the confines of the “employee box”. This “just do your job well” approach is the traditional owner/manager/supervisor/worker hierarchy where people and groups are ranked according to status or authority. Each group or level places people in a “box” with set levels of authority. There’s nothing wrong with this approach and very successful companies have and will continue to emerge from this most traditional approach.

The limitation of the box level approach is that it constrains and contains the creative thinking of people within their designated box. At the worker level, the box is all about output and productivity and very little about creative thinking and decision making to do the work more efficiently. Creative thinking and decision making is reserved for the uppermost boxes that are often the most distant from the work. This approach leaves a vast resource of untapped brain power at the most critical level … where the work is actually being done.... Read More

The Conversation

October 20, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

conversation#1As a business coach, much of my work centers on guiding leaders through the wonderful, wacky world of human thinking and behavior, both of those they lead and their own. Dealing with financial stuff is easy. It’s math. Spend less than you bring in and there will be profit. Revenue projections and budgets are mathematical assumptions that we fondly refer to as “wild-ass guesses.” But it’s the leader’s thinking and behavior that brings the numbers and profits to life. System and procedure design is easy too, but it’s getting people to buy into and live the change that tests one’s ability to lead. And to truly become a No-Compromise Leader, you must master and engage in “the conversation.”... Read More

The Team-Based business model ROCKS

September 29, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

TBPC_groupOn September 21st-22nd, Strategies held our first annual Team-Based Pay (TBP) Conference in Chicago, IL. It’s amazing that 158 business owners and leaders gathered to learn, to be inspired and to celebrate this thing called “Team-Based Pay.” Heck, it’s just a pay system. But labeling it “just a pay system” is a shortsighted conclusion that discounts what a company can achieve by rewarding the right overall individual and team performance. Team-Based Pay isn’t about the “pay” … it’s about achieving excellence by defining and rewarding excellence. It’s about building a team-based business model that is void of the “I/me/mine” commission mindset.... Read More

Keeping your business in balance

September 22, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

in-balanceI was boarding a 20-seat commuter plane with six other passengers. We took our assigned seats, most of which were toward the front of the plane. Just before the captain started up the engines, he came into the cabin and asked a few of us to take seats further to the rear. “We need to balance out the plane,” he explained. Given the explanation, I was happy to move to an aft seat. In the process, I found it interesting how immune we frequent flyers on commercial jets have become to flight dynamics. I know I never give it a thought.

But on that tiny plane, I was reminded how performance and safety depend on the proper balance. That captain knew that had he not balanced the weight, he would have had to over-compensate on the controls to keep the plane flying straight and true – especially during takeoff and landing. As captain of your business, how often do you find yourself trying to overcompensate when things are out of balance? You know exactly what I’m talking about.... Read More

Perfect teams are like fuzzy benchmarks

September 8, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

fuzzy_numbers2Every leader has a story of that “perfect team” of people. The stories are always about a shared passion to achieve the near impossible – to overcome all obstacles. There’s camaraderie, mutual support and knowing that everyone has your back. And then there’s that sprinkle of magic that gives each and every team member the belief that, together, they are unstoppable. But gradually over time, members of the team move on and replacements are brought in. The legacy of greatness remains, but that magic and electricity is different … or else absent entirely.

For leaders, it is a privilege to lead such a perfect team. But how does such a team come together? Is it by chance or by design? Perhaps the real question is, can such a team be persistently and consistently replicated? Perfect teams are like fuzzy benchmarks. You know the stats they’re capable of producing. You know the required skills and can articulate how all the players should seamlessly interact. You think you know all the ingredients … but it’s getting that mixture just right that eludes you.... Read More

A NO-COMPROMISE LESSON: When it is time to shake things up

August 11, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

shake#1The body language of the employees I was about to address oozed negativity and resistance. You could cut the tension in the meeting room with a knife. As the business owner prepared to introduce me, my mind was in rapid creativity mode, crafting my opening for this launch of a major change initiative that included a new compensation system.

It was show time. “Good morning,” I began. “As your consultant, I have examined every conceivable aspect of your company, and I’m happy to announce that absolutely nothing needs to change.”

As I stood silently, allowing my words to sink in, almost in unison the employees responded with, “You’ve got to be kidding. Everything here needs to change!” With the ice broken and everyone in agreement that significant changes were needed, I was able to proceed.... Read More

Teamwork: Hard to get, easy to lose

July 28, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

teamwork3Business leaders toss the word “teamwork” around like some boundless, renewable resource. Well, it’s not. In fact, teamwork is a precious commodity revered by those who have achieved it and envied by those who want it. You can refer to employees as team members, use scoreboards and do huddles every day, but these exercises are no guarantee that teamwork will follow.

FACT: Teamwork is an outcome. It is the culmination of a multitude of complex forces, systems and accountabilities that merge into one truly dynamic state of being called teamwork. In this teamwork state of being, the collective energy of individuals harmoniously synchronizes to achieve the extraordinary. 
It’s much like achieving a true meditative state. One must learn to quiet the mind until a “oneness” with the world is achieved. This meditative state is difficult enough for individuals to master. Consider the added complexity of groups of individuals – all possessing unique personalities, ambitions and job functions – coming together to achieve that state of being we call teamwork.... Read More

How Thinking & Behavior Patterns Shape Your Culture

July 14, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

A person’s thinking and behavior patterns make them extremely predictable. That’s how you know certain employees are going to be late for work, that their projects will miss deadlines, and how they will react during a tough conversation. It’s why some people are detail oriented and highly organized while others are “big picture” and all over the place. It’s why some people work for a paycheck while others work to build a career and make a difference. It’s why some people fit your company culture and others do not.

For leaders, the challenge is to harness all those patterns of thinking and behavior into one highly functional and impressive tapestry. That tapestry is your company’s culture. Some patterns fit. Others don’t. Some patterns fade over time and need to be replaced. Some patterns act as support, holding things together. Some patterns lose their integrity causing the patterns that surround them to also lose theirs – that is, if you’re not paying attention.... Read More

When it is personal, it matters

July 7, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

MS-TeamStrategies-v2aOn June 28-29, five riders on Team Strategies departed the UMass Campus in Boston and began a 155-mile, two-day ride to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. This was the sixth time I did the MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride. As in past years, I managed to convince two new riders to join our team. I tell them it is an experience of a lifetime that they will never forget. I tell them the hills aren’t too bad on Cape Cod. And I tell them that we’re riding to raise money for a worthy cause. One of the new riders was Ronit Enos, a salon owner from Hingham, MA. The other new rider was my nephew, Adam Ducoff from New Jersey. Rounding out our team were Sonny Rapozo of East Falmouth, MA, and Robert Korpak, my neighbor from Old Saybrook, CT – both of whom I introduced to distance cycling a number of years ago.... Read More

Leaders think and speak as WE

May 19, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

scullingIt doesn’t matter if your title is owner, president, CEO or fearless leader – you are responsible for the wellbeing, performance and growth of your company. Just like we humans, companies are born. Healthy ones grow and prosper creating opportunities for leaders, employees and stakeholders. Likewise, unhealthy companies can suffer and die. And, like humans, companies have vital signs that can be read in the form of Profit & Loss Statements, Balance Sheets and Statements of Cash Flows. Physically fit companies are disciplined, accountable and purpose driven. Weak and sickly companies are undisciplined, rarely get things done, and wander around aimlessly hoping to trip over success.... Read More

When doing it right is wrong

April 28, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

right_is_wrongSomething went “oops” in your company and one employee immediately stepped up to save the day. It wasn’t just any employee – it was that one amazing employee who always seems to step up when things go wrong or when a volunteer is needed to go above and beyond. This employee did the right thing … but a number of team members label the employee as a “show off” or so-called “teacher’s pet.” The company has been in a funk lately and there’s grumbling within the employee ranks. Yet there’s one employee who consistently steps up and kicks butt by producing numbers and results that are off the charts. This employee is doing the right thing … but a number of team members shun and bad-mouth the employee for making them look bad.
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Thirteen No-Compromise Leadership Beliefs

April 14, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

trustWe have all seen leaders with diverse leadership styles who are successful at inspiring and creating dynamic team cultures. Some have charisma; some do not. Some seek consensus; some do not. Some have quick tempers, while others have great patience. However, what they all have in common are similar beliefs about people and what they can achieve given the right environment and culture. They recognize that the difference between ordinary people doing ordinary work and ordinary people doing extraordinary work is contingent on their leadership. They have a genuine commitment to the success and wellbeing of those they lead. Most important of all, people trust that the behavior they see in their leader is truly authentic because everything he does is consistent with his beliefs.... Read More

Ten No-Compromise Resolutions for 2014

December 30, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

2014_resolution2Here we are at the end of 2013. The New Year is a time for reflection on what was and looking forward to what will be. For Strategies, 2013 was an amazing and record-breaking year. It was also our 20th anniversary that we celebrated with parties in Chicago, Austin and at Strategies Business Academy in Centerbrook, CT – all at the same time. Using Skype video, I thanked my amazing team and Coaches for helping me change the lives of business owners around the country. And what better way to wrap up our 20th year than having the honor to be on the cover of Salon Today magazine with a feature story on Strategies? It was truly an amazing year.... Read More

Daily Huddles, Scoreboards & Information Flow

November 25, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

The worst assumption a salon/spa leader can make is that every team member is on the same page. That elusive “same page” lists gotta-get-it-done stats, including: the company’s percentage to goal for the month, productivity rate, pre-book rate, orders shipped, etc. Simply put, that “same page” is pure team progress – not individual progress. It’s what the team needs to achieve collectively. This “same page” data is so critical that it is the centerpiece of daily huddles. And yes, daily huddles are a non-negotiable in all companies.

The first reaction many leaders have to the concept of daily huddles is that they are too much of a hassle to execute, that they already share information and that employees just won’t engage in them. With the utmost respect, there is no justifiable excuse not to embrace daily huddles. No doubt adjustments will need to be made to make daily huddles work – especially when it comes to thinking, behavior and accountability. The very first adjustment is to shift from “it won’t work in my company” to “we’ll do whatever it takes” thinking.... Read More

Set Your Salon/Spa Managers Up to Win

November 11, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Mastering the skills, disciplines and nuances of leadership is a lifelong journey of personal discovery, learning from tough lessons and savoring hard-fought wins. For the owner, entrepreneur and company leader, it’s about having the tenacity to test your limits of determination and commitment to grow a company into something truly extraordinary. Perhaps the single best word to describe leadership is “driven.”

Leadership moves at a relentless pace and managers, when called upon, are expected to rise to the challenge and execute the work of the company. Even with the best intentions, it’s not uncommon for managers to find themselves in over their heads. Too often, managers find themselves on the front lines with goals to achieve, projects to implement, teams to lead … and lacking essential tools in their management toolbox.
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Chasing Consistency

October 21, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

consistencyConsistency is a beautiful thing. It’s what makes great companies truly great. It’s about a company’s commitment to getting it right not just some of the time, but all of the time. Going for consistency means that, as a leader, you are prepared to do what others will not. You are prepared to do whatever it takes and define yourself as a true No-Compromise Leader.

Consistency is about the execution of work and systems to exacting standards. It’s what defines world-class service. It’s embedded in the thinking and behavior of a company’s culture. Anything less than total consistency is a compromise. But it’s the journey to consistency that most leaders underestimate in terms of degree of difficulty and time. Consistency is something a company chases for a long time, and only those committed for the long haul stand a chance of catching it. (more…)... Read More

Six steps to winning and getting things done

September 23, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

winning-strategyIf winning in business feels so great, why does it take so much work to get people to play the game to win? If getting things done is the only way to make forward progress, why is it so difficult for us to tackle the tasks on our To-Do lists? Procrastination, resistance to change, leadership compromise, lack of clarity, and indifference exist at varying levels in all companies. But when one or more of these detractors gets out of hand, the contamination spreads throughout a company’s culture, wins turn to losses, and getting anything done becomes a struggle.

Like anything worthy of pursuit, winning and getting things done is a process. Many leaders think it’s about pushing people harder. Some think “better consequences” stimulate better performance. Winning and the collective ability to get things done rest in the leader’s ability to conduct a complex orchestra of people, resources, and systems to achieve clearly defined goals and outcomes. Pushing people to work harder and do more without the right training, systems, and understanding of the goals and outcomes is a recipe for stress and dysfunction. Throw in some really cool consequences and you have the perfect cocktail for demoralizing people and wrecking a culture.... Read More

Twenty lessons from 20 years of Strategies

September 16, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

kick-butt2It was twenty years ago on September 13, 1993 that I started Strategies. It’s amazing how memories and flashbacks come rushing back at these milestones. And that’s exactly how I view Strategies’ 20th anniversary… as a milestone. It’s time to look back at the accomplishments, enlightenments, wins, losses, and of course, the lessons I have learned as the founder and CEO of my own company.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for understanding how business works and what it truly means to be a leader. In many ways, I started Strategies to create the perfect job that would allow me to achieve my full potential by feeding the passions that drive me. It’s been one hell of a ride and just so we’re all clear, my ride is far from over. Yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished at Strategies, but I have yet to achieve my full potential. There are a few more books to write, a ton of classes to teach, and many more leaders to coach. (more…)... Read More

Six reasons to go Open Book

September 9, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

company_financesI’m writing this Monday Morning Wake Up on September 6th in St. Louis, MO. I’m here to speak at Jack Stack’s 21st Annual Gathering of Games. It’s my fifth time speaking at this conference, which is the only one devoted entirely to the open-book business model. The first edition of Jack’s book, The Great Game of Business, was published in May 1992, one year before I started Strategies. To this day, it is my all-time favorite business book. To me, open-book management just makes sense. It’s how I run Strategies, it’s what we teach in our courses, and it’s what we coach our clients to do.... Read More

The three rules of implementing change

August 26, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

make_happenIn business and life, it is a given that change is relentless – that adapting to change is not only the key to success but essential for survival. Yet, implementing change, even minor change, is seldom met with open arms. The constant companion of change is resistance. Let’s face it – it can be difficult to let go of what has become comfortable, familiar, and predictable and step out into the unknown. We humans are simply creatures of habit. We love our routines. When we encounter change, we get uncomfortable and begin working as quickly as possible to adapt to change so that it becomes routine and comfortable again.... Read More

Twelve characteristics of a great employee

July 8, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 7 Comments

great_employeeLeadership is about growing a company into something extraordinary. It’s about getting results, hitting goals, taking calculated risks, and creating profit. It’s about structure, discipline, making tough decisions, and, when necessary, leading your company out of a crisis. Leadership is many things, but it’s really about people. And it’s that people thing that gives leaders a true sense of fulfillment … or drives them crazy.

Imagine what it would be like to lead a team of perfect employees. Everyone would show up motivated and on time. Customers would be delighted beyond belief. Change initiatives would be as easy as flipping a switch. Competitors would be in awe. Of course, this scenario is pure fantasy. Even if you had a team of “A” employees, the combination of skills, personalities, thinking, and behaviors would still require a leader capable of bringing them all together to achieve a common goal. (more…)... Read More

Why individual incentives compromise team performance

June 3, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

As a leader, you are responsible for harnessing and orchestrating the talents and capabilities of employees into a high performance team. To do so requires an ongoing commitment to training, coaching, evaluating, mentoring, and inspiring individuals to achieve their full potential – so in turn, your team can achieve its full potential. Yes, people work for money, but studies consistently show that money is not the prime motivator for job satisfaction and impressive performance.

Individual financial incentives motivate employees in the short-term picture, but emphasizing financial rewards leads employees to focus on personal gain at the expense of teamwork. Avoiding the short-term and producing the right outcomes over the long-term requires preparation. This means planning, discipline, and execution. Preparation shapes and defines your company’s culture. Preparation pulls a team together into a cohesive entity capable of achieving the extraordinary. It’s about the team, pride, quality, and winning. (more…)... Read More

What it really takes to be the best

May 27, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

the_bestGrowing a great company has nothing to do with luck. It has to do with your leadership ability to surround yourself with the best players; to innovate, execute, and make good decisions; and to manage cash while capitalizing on opportunities. Throw in a healthy dose of accountability and being the best just may be within your reach. And if you do become the best, you’ll quickly discover that it takes just as much hard work to stay at the top of the game as it did to get there in the first place.

Every company starts out wanting to be the best, but things happen along the way that keep pushing that coveted title further and further beyond your reach. A few years of bad decisions, cash-flow challenges, and dealing with toxic employees can sap a leader’s mojo and self-confidence. When a company’s thinking and behavior is stuck on average – i.e. not actively pursuing the extraordinary – the outcome, as expected, will continue to be average. (more…)... Read More

Set employees up to win – not fail

April 1, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 5 Comments

simplifyEmployees get set up to fail more often than you think. It’s never done intentionally – it just happens. Tasks are poorly defined. Desired results are sketchy. The chain of command looks like a pile of broken links. Training is inconsistent and inadequate. There are leaders that actually expect employees to know what they’re thinking … and to execute their nonverbal commands perfectly.

Some employees try their best to deliver what they perceive they were charged to do and get chewed out when their performance doesn’t match unspoken expectations. Others give it half an effort knowing they can’t win. The end result is always a demoralized team and de-powered culture that is capable of so much more. Once a pattern of getting set up to fail settles into a company’s culture, getting things done takes more time, money, and resources. The company springs leaks that it cannot plug up fast enough.... Read More

Dealing with change resisters

March 18, 2013 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Every moment of every day, change is all around us. Seasons change. Weather changes. Our bodies change. Our lives change. Likewise, business changes. Every day, new businesses are born – some grow, prosper, and endure for a long, healthy life, while others stumble and die. The one constant we can be sure of is that change is relentless. Some embrace it with open arms. Some wait to see what the new reality looks like and then jump onboard. And then there are the change resisters that hold onto the status quo with a white-knuckled grip.

Contrary to popular belief, change resisters don’t exist to drive you crazy – even though they can and do. Change resisters simply deal with change differently than most. They lock into patterns of thinking, behavior, systems, and cultures that become their “normal.” They get good at functioning in their “normal.” They know everything about their “normal.” And then change comes along, often with a wrecking ball, and starts knocking down their “normal” to replace it with something new and foreign. Their natural response is to protect their “normal” by resisting change. (more…)... Read More

Where’s that fire in your gut?

August 27, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 10 Comments

No. I’m not referring to heartburn. I’m referring to that deepest level of passion that pushes you to fight for what you believe in, to achieve your wildest dreams – to captivate the imagination and spirit of those around you. If quantum physics is about manifesting thoughts into things, passion is about personal conviction and energy to achieve the extraordinary. Without passion, manifesting is nothing more than daydreaming. When I get an idea that ignites and feeds my deepest passion, get out of my way because something big is going happen. You can join me on my journey if you’re committed to work hard and go the distance. Stay home if you’re looking for an easy ride.... Read More

Six ways to boost salon/spa promotions and events

August 2, 2012 | By Eric Ducoff | No Comments

Successful promotions and events play a pivotal role in every salon or spa’s bottom-line health. The added influx of service clients and retail/gift certificate sales — not to mention the often deeper-discounted purchasing opportunities presented by manufacturers and distributors — are simply a “no brainer” to take advantage of. The good news is, most salons and spas do offer promotions throughout the year. The bad news is, many of them are often poorly planned, and do not take full advantage of the opportunities presented to them.

But lets get back to the good news. Executing killer promotions in your salon or spa doesn’t have to be daunting. All it takes is some effective and creative planning.

Here are six ways to help you get the most out of your salon/spa promotions:

  • What’s your plan? It seems like every year, we’re hit with more and more promotional opportunities: Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Back-to-School — these are just the tip of the iceberg. In order to make sure that you and your staff are ready for each promotion, it’s imperative that you get your plan down on paper. You need to define what supplies are needed, who does what and when it needs to be completed. All that information then needs to be transferred to a main promotional calendar that the entire business lives by. Better yet, enter the dates into your computer or smart phone so you get automated reminders!
  • Make a date out of it! Promotions don’t just have to be centered around holidays and distributor/manufacture deals — make them an event! Schedule special dates throughout the year that will appeal to different demographics within your client base. Ladies night, mom’s night, guys’ night, or even a Super Bowl night — get creative and get your staff involved in the planning.
  • Don’t forget to sweat the small stuff: Remember we mentioned how critically important it is to get everything you need for a successful promotion down on paper?  Dedicate a quick meeting with your team to brainstorm each and every item needed to ensure upcoming promotions or events are a success.
  • Budget, budget, budget! That last thing you want to do it is put time and effort into a promotion or event, only to find out that it actually lost money for your business. Yes, there are times when it does make sense to chalk one up as a “marketing expense”, but at the end of the day, the name of the game is driving increased revenue. With that said, the most critically-important step for any promotion is to plug it into your cash-flow plan to see if the business can afford it — and to forecast how much return you will get on your investment.
  • Who pays for it? Although it can be sore subject, it’s one that needs to be addressed beforehand. If you are on a commission-based compensation structure, your staff needs to be made aware how they are going to be compensated if the business is promoting discounted services. Will their commission be based on the standard full-price (thus costing the business even MORE money to run the promotion) or will they be expected to invest in the promotion by taking a percentage of the lower promotional price. Luckily, if you are using a Team-Based Pay or salary/hourly model, this is a moot point.
  • Get staff involved: One of the best ways to get your team members excited about upcoming promotions is to involve them in the planning process. They’re creative — use that resource!

Want to ensure your 2013 promotional and marketing plan is down on paper before January rolls around? Don’t miss Strategies Salon/Spa Game-Planning Retreat on September 30 – October 2, 2012 at the Strategies Business Academy in Centerbrook, CT. Learn more here.... Read More

The power of keeping salon/spa staff focused

July 26, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Maintaining a sense of urgency is a management responsibility not to be taken lightly. Complacency can quietly infect even the most successful businesses. It usually begins during a period of smooth sailing, when the “business as usual” mentality sets in, leadership relaxes, and the urgency that previously inspired growth and performance wanes. Personal agendas take a precedence over the business’ goals and needs. The team loses focus.

Perhaps more than any other, the salon/spa environment is a fertile breeding ground for complacency. At most salons and spas, a “pecking order” keeps gridlocked and overbooked technicians in square opposition to new technicians trying to get established. In the middle is a mix of rising stars and underachievers…and those who are simply satisfied with their present level of performance and income. If an owner or manager, by choice or necessity, spends a lot of time behind the chair, the grip of complacency tightens. Efforts to rally staff enthusiasm are hit-or-miss. Conflicting personal agendas and a lack of leadership blur the business’ focus.... Read More

Four ways you create what you do not like in your company

July 2, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 9 Comments

Leaders have this innate ability to see all the little things that are wrong in their companies. Call it a blessing or a curse, leaders see what many employees do not. From employees taking shortcuts and not following the system or rules, to lackluster customer service, dress code issues, bad attitudes, and poor follow through, it all shows up like blips on your leadership radar. It’s all the little stuff drives you crazy. And just when you think you’ve fixed one issue, another one pops up in its place. What’s that all about?... Read More

Anatomy of a Team-Based Pay conversion

June 25, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

I just returned from Oklahoma City where I converted Richard and Jan Hill’s three Eden Salon & Spas from commission to Team-Based Pay. I’ve been doing TBP conversions for over 35 years. I have done them for salons, spas, manufacturing companies and high-end retail stores. And for over 35 years, I have been at the epicenter of the often heated debate between commission and non-commission believers. My usual response to, “I don’t believe in TBP,” is, “It’s not a religion – it’s a compensation system.” Then again, if I’m perceived as some “TBP Guru” on a global crusade converting commission companies to TBP, then perhaps their perception is somewhat true. Commission believers see their method as a prime motivator to perform. TBP believers see their method as a means to create a dynamic culture.... Read More

Five reasons information flow needs to be better and faster

June 18, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

Think of “information flow” as the signals your brain sends and receives to engage in a conversation, drive a car, process data to solve a problem or to respond to a threat. Millions of bits of information and instructions are processed every second to create the coordinated ability to multitask and get results. Any disruption in the flow of information can be life-threatening. A company functions very much the same. The objective is to get results through the coordinated efforts of teams of people. Just like your brain, your company needs massive amounts of information flow to deliver consistently excellent results. Extraordinary results require even more.... Read More

Six strategies to get the team your company needs

May 21, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

There is something different about an individual who plays to be indispensable. There is an unmistakable level of engagement and tenacity that keeps such people at the forefront of darn near everything in their sphere of influence. They give it their all, play hard, and play to win. More importantly, they play hard because they want to. They take ownership in creating the right outcomes – without being asked. “Indispensable” means that you wouldn’t want to run your company without them.

On the flipside, there are players on your team who are dispensable. They occasionally, rarely or never step up. They show up, do their job and go home. They expect more for doing the same average performance, and even for doing less. In more deteriorated cases, their view and relationship with the company becomes adversarial, or at best, indifferent. It’s a scary question: How many dispensable players do you have on your team? (more…)... Read More

How to harness the power of momentum

May 14, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

True forward momentum pushes through any obstacle. It has an implied efficiency because once an object achieves a certain level of forward momentum, it requires less energy to maintain that speed. By connecting the physics of an object in motion (a piece of matter) to a business in motion (an idea/concept), you gain a unique perspective on how momentum can work for a business.

A start-up business requires massive amounts of energy to gain enough forward momentum to sustain itself. Once it achieves a level of sustainable momentum, you can dial back the throttle a bit and allow “physics” to work for you. In essence, the leader is “piloting” the business by adjusting throttle to maintain its forward momentum. Achieve a certain level and the company can easily break through obstacles such as competitors, cash crises, loss of key employees, bad decisions and other issues. However, every obstacle the company breaks through chips away at its momentum. If the leader fails to throttle up the company’s sense of urgency to overcome the obstacles in its way, it will lose its energy and eventually stall. (more…)... Read More

Why fundamentals matter in your salon or spa

May 10, 2012 | By Daryl Jenkins | 2 Comments

I am a big baseball fan. One of the reasons why is because of the great lessons the game teaches us. For example, when a team isn’t playing well for an extended period of time, the manager focuses on the fundamentals of the game. These are the basics such as batting, fielding and throwing. He doesn’t try to get them to do fancier plays or hit only homeruns because that usually makes matters worse. Without the essentials, the great plays don’t happen with consistency, and homeruns, if they occur, can be meaningless. It’s the fundamentals that win games.

The same holds true in business. As a salon and spa consultant, I can’t tell you how many ads, plans and promos I hear about from companies that are looking to increase the number of new customers to their businesses. At the same time, their new customer-retention rates are dismal. So let’s get this straight: They want to spend huge amounts of money to ask new customers to come in to see how ineffective they are at retaining them for the long term? That’s expensive and crazy!... Read More

When employees fall off track

May 7, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

It’s something that happens slowly over time and is often barely perceptible as a growing problem. You hire or promote someone into a specific job in your company. It’s a suitable fit, and you feel good that a key position in your company is producing the intended results. But as time passes, subtle changes occur. Certain areas where the employee once paid close attention appear to be less of a priority. Work patterns are showing telltale signs of inconsistency. Projects or responsibilities that the employee once sought out are now avoided. Finally, that little voice in your head asks, “What happened? How did this person’s job turn into this?”... Read More

Creating a foundation for salon and spa growth

May 3, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

You’d never open a salon without the proper tools — state-of-the-art scissors, top-of-the-line blow dryers and, of course, fabulous, effective products. Similarly, no one would try to run a spa without massage tables, pedi chairs and wonderful scrubs and lotions.

Unfortunately, many owners do try to run their salons and spas without the proper business tools needed to be profitable and successful.

Many salons and spas struggle with cash-flow and figuring out what’s coming in (and going out). Without a clear financial picture, it’s impossible to plan for steady growth, as expenses always pop up. Many owners (maybe even you) start using their personal credit cards to pay the bills — even to cover payroll. It’s impossible to build a strong business without a realistic cash-flow plan.

Numerous other owners and managers grapple with staff concerns, from hiring to pay design to performance evaluations. Some owners have leadership issues, uncertain how to translate their vision to their employees so that everyone is working toward the same goals. Proper communication is one of the first steps in building a successful business, yet it is one of the basics that many salon and spa owners believe they don’t have time for. A culture where employees want to do their best, stay and grow is one of the hallmarks of a thriving, profitable business.... Read More

How to Ensure Salon/Spa Policies Are Followed

April 30, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

Companies evolve over time and so do their policies and procedures. New policies are written to prevent certain issues from reoccurring, to fend off potential problems before they happen, and to maintain a semblance of organizational order and efficiency. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll just call them the laws of the land. There are laws for performance, attendance, compensated and uncompensated time off, customer service, execution of work, chain of command, performance reviews – you name it, there’s a way to create a law to control it.

But as your book of laws gets thicker, keeping watch over and holding everyone accountable to your laws grows in complexity. That’s why companies need managers and HR departments. Without a control mechanism, even the most commonsense laws will fade, allowing problems to spring up like weeds in an unattended garden. To succeed, laws need an accountability factor. It doesn’t matter what size a company is, someone must be accountable to protecting the laws of your company land. Even if it’s a simple reminder to someone that keeps ignoring a basic law like what time work begins, accountability must be ever present.
... Read More

Five strategies to find and keep your strength

April 23, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Let’s face it, it’s hard to be on your leadership game every day. In fact, it’s shortsighted to even think it’s possible. The work of leading a company is a constantly moving and shifting target. It’s supposed to be that way because “current reality” is something you only have partial control over. That’s why you often find yourself fighting those inevitable fires. Put one fire out over here and another ignites over there. Such is the work of leadership.

Even in the best-run companies, there are times when the fires seem to ignite faster than you can stomp them out. You feel like Davy Crockett at the Alamo hopelessly outnumbered and fighting off Santa Ana’s Mexican army using your rifle as a club. Leadership battles wear you down. Too much current reality wears you down. The question is: What are you going to do to find your strength? If you continue to forge ahead when your batteries are warning that “10% remaining until shutdown,” you will find yourself making bad decisions, communicating in ways that tear down rather than lift up, and most likely being the source of new fires. (more…)... Read More

Five ways to stay energized in your business

April 19, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

Feeling a little blue? First-quarter sales not quite what you were hoping for? Just a little worn out by the day-to-day routine? Try these tips to recharge your batteries and get reinspired about being a leader:

  1. Know it’s not always going to be easy. There are going to be tough days, difficult decisions, cash-flow challenges, people who call in sick. Have a plan for how to deal with the days when you’re frustrated, angry, sad or aggravated. Start now by making a list of “Things I Love About My Salon/Spa.” Add to it regularly; revisit it often.
  2. Plan for the long term. Identifying where you’re going in a few months or years can help you keep your eye on the prize. Staying focused on your ultimate goals for your business will remind you of the big picture. Take time to review where you’ve come from, too. We can get bogged down in the everyday grind and forget how we’ve grown, how much better we’ve gotten.
  3. Involve your team. Your business can never grow without the energy of your staff members. Look to them for ideas, support and suggestions. And be sure to offer lots of appreciation. Your staff has lots of options about where they work. They chose you. Doesn’t that make you feel good?
  4. Don’t put off tough decisions. The mental drain from not doing is far greater than what’s involved when you make a decision and act. Thinking everything over and over and over (and over) before making decisions is exhausting and sure to sap your energy. Gather the facts, follow your heart, and take action.

Find the joy. Every day. Think about what went right, who went beyond the usual call of duty, which customer was especially happy. Can’t think of anything? Try harder. Ask your staff for the highlights of their days too. Jot down notes as you move through your day, just so you won’t forget. Laugh together with your team, share stories, do things just for fun.  Take a few minutes for yourself – even on the busiest days – to take a walk, breathe deeply, read the cartoons or watch a funny online video. Don’t underestimate the importance of self-care – exercising, eating well, getting sufficient sleep, connecting with friends and family.... Read More

Five strategies for staying focused on customer service

April 16, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

You’re in a restaurant, waiting for someone to take your drink order. Scanning the room, you see plenty of employees. Finally, the waiter arrives and takes your order. You’re hungry and would like some of that bread that the party at the next table, who were seated after you, is enjoying. After a long wait the drinks arrive, and you order dinner (still no bread). The long wait and empty water glasses are in stark contrast to this restaurant’s reputation. You finish your meal and just want to go home. Now you’re waving your napkin trying to catch your waiter’s eye for the check. To avoid having to wait a minute longer, you have your credit card out to give the waiter when you ask for the check. Great food. Bad service. Zero peripheral vision.... Read More

Is your Salon or Spa Culture Delivering Happiness?

April 11, 2012 | By Bruce Hourigan | No Comments

I am a huge fan of shoes and an even bigger fan of Zappos.com. Therefore, it’s hard to believe that it took me until two weeks ago to read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.

I’m in the process of hiring a slew of new employees and figured that now was a good time to review ways to keep my culture strong and vibrant in the midst of change. Boy, did I not know how it would affect my company in the following week!

It took me just a few days to read the book. I loved it, of course, and was inspired to initiate a culture-oriented project for my staff. The timing was perfect with all our new hires and our 29th anniversary in business. At our April team meeting, I told my staff about a project they needed to complete in four days, in order to present to the entire company. The project? In one page or less, describe the Visual Changes culture.

The three must-haves:

  • What does it mean to you?
  • How would you describe it to a stranger?
  • Why is it important to you?

I don’t know about your team, but mine is filled with procrastinators. The night before it was due, most of my team was texting me about their assignment, some with questions, some with complaints, some with tears and others with fears about if they were doing it right.... Read More

Six strategies to building your dream team

April 9, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

If you agree with the statement, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” then you understand that even the slightest imperfection can result in catastrophic failure. Under intense loads, the integrity of every chain link is tested. Just one flaw, just one microscopic crack, and ships run aground, property is damaged, momentum stops, lives are lost. We trust that every link will do its job and perform to expectations.

I used two powerful words to describe the expectations of a chain: integrity and trust. If the integrity of one link is compromised, we cannot trust that the chain will hold. If the integrity of multiple links is compromised, the chain will never perform to its full potential – the chain cannot be trusted. From outward appearances, the chain may appear perfectly fine, but the flaws and imperfections are there. Eventually, the chain will fail.... Read More


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