Managing Expectations

Making sure that your employees understand what is expected of them while remaining sensitive to their needs and wants is essential to running a successful grooming salon.



Do your employees know what you expect of them? Do you know what their expectations are? What are you doing to manage those expectations? These are all questions that good business owners ask themselves regularly, as they are key to maintaining a harmonious workplace and, ultimately, a successful salon.


We all have expectations—spoken and unspoken, realistic and sometimes unrealistic. As business owners face more and more competition and financial challenges in today’s grooming industry, we expect more and more of employees. At the same time, our staff will have their own expectations of what they should be getting out of their jobs and from us, their employers. With this in mind, it is our job to communicate our expectations, understand those of our employees and manage both sides of the equation.


While this may sound rather simple, at the end of the day, it can be one of the biggest challenges faced by salon owners.


Of course, some salon owners believe that they are doing a good job because everything seems to be running smoothly on the surface. However, just because you haven’t noticed a problem doesn’t mean you are effectively managing everyone’s expectations. What you can’t see, or choose not to see, can rear its ugly head one day, and unmanaged expectations will inevitably create a work environment full of tension and anxiety.


On the other hand, staying actively engaged in managing employee expectations, as well as your own, will go a long way in driving the salon’s growth. A staff that knows what is expected of them will be more efficient and effective in getting their jobs done. And when they feel that their expectations are being met by their employer, their morale will be higher and they will, in turn, work harder.


So, what can you do to make sure everything syncs up? It all starts with building a clear, ongoing line of communication with your staff. Doing so will go a long way in making sure they feel they’re doing the job they were hired for, that they’re respected and that they are a very important part of the salon team.  The last thing you want is to make your employees feel overworked, underappreciated and undervalued.


Communicating Your Expectations

Setting expectations early is key. Start with a formal written document—an employee handbook—that includes job descriptions, safety guidelines and all of the business’ policies and have each employee sign it when hired.


The handbook should be very specific about the quality of work expected, sick days, lunch and breaks, work schedules, scheduling policies and numbers, customer care, pet check-in and check-out policies, job descriptions, complaint-filing procedures, visitor’s policies, product and pet safety, cleaning procedures and the employee termination process.


Of course, you’re going to want to revise your employee handbook from time to time, and when you do, you should review it with your staff as a team. I use those reviews to open staff meetings, confirming my expectations and then letting my team express theirs. Big corporations plan quarterly reviews to check in with their employees, review their productivity based on their job description and give them a chance to make sure they are feeling OK with their direction—you should too.


In the grooming industry, training and employee development should always be a priority. This will not only create a more effective staff, it will go a long way in communicating your expectations and managing those of your team. Here, providing supervision and guidance is key—and an element that I was admittedly lacking in my own salon at one point. While I was working for Oster, I was on the road and in my office a lot, leaving me limited time at the shop.  And when I was there, I was not focused on the team as much as getting the dogs and cats groomed. While I did an OK job maintaining my team for several years under these conditions, being back in the salon more now has made me realize that an effective manager must be not just physically present, but also attentive to their staff.


Making no assumptions as the boss is also key. We often get into hot water when we assume an employee knows what we expect or even what we are talking about. In the salon, it can be hard to hear and you may get cut off mid-sentence when a customer comes in or a dog needs your attention. As a result, an employee often hears only part of your direction or thinks they heard something that wasn’t what you said. My advice is to make sure everyone understands the content and context of your instructions before moving on.


Salon owners can avoid this snag by setting aside some time to have conversations where you openly discuss what’s expected, how it might be accomplished and when to have it done. Maybe a morning get-together just calling out key points, such as “Mrs. Smith has calling hours tonight and needs Fluffy earlier than normal today,” or, “This Poodle has been diagnosed with a collapsed trachea and cannot wear a traditional grooming loop.”


All of these things are important and out of the norm.  Many times, the information does not get passed on to the entire team; it stops at the person that checked in the dog. Make it a point to share and remember to leave plenty of opportunities for questions. This is also the time for everyone to agree and commit to what will be delivered and when.


Finally, when it comes to conveying expectations, something that is very important to me is leading by example. I work very hard.  I groom as many dogs in the shop as the other groomers and typically take on most of the difficult trims.  I also find myself doing most of the dogs and cats with the worst attitudes. There’s no better way to set expectations than by demonstrating them yourself.


Maintaining a Satisfied Staff

For the most part, employee expectations are rather simple. They expect what they perceive to be a fair wage and to be appreciated for their role in your business. But while understanding these expectations is easy, consistently meeting them can be more complicated than you might think at first blush.


For example, you may be willing to give your employees a fair wage, but you may not be able to do it in the time frame they desire. This is where managing price increases in the salon comes into play, as regular, timely price increases can, in turn, make it easier to manage wage increases.


As in all aspects of life, treating all people with respect and caring about them should be a priority. It sounds simple, but staff members’ expectations here will vary based on their upbringing and environment. As a result, some employees will need more attention and encouragement from their leader than others. Still, striving to treat everyone the same is the best policy because your employees can misinterpret your relationships with others, and you don’t want to show any favoritism.


Providing opportunities for your employees is also a big part of meeting their expectations. In the grooming industry, there are a number of ways to do this. For example, with commission groomers, it’s important to not only raise your prices but also find new, innovative products to help make them be more productive and thus provide them with the opportunity to make more money. It’s also a good idea to make sure they understand you are actively marketing the salon to drive new business their way.


As a business owner, it is also important to be transparent and straightforward with your staff, even when the news isn’t good. Communicate as you are planning changes in the salon. Give a clear explanation for why you are making the change and then give the employees a chance to adjust their expectations. This is hard for most of us.


Another important element to keep in mind is that employees want their bosses to simply do what they say they will do.  It is very meaningful to be able to count on someone, especially someone in authority.  It is another one of those things that seems so easy, but can get complicated in practice. It is more than just making sure their paycheck is ready each week. It also means keeping their equipment well maintained, making sure they have the supplies they need to perform their jobs and more.


Last but not least, remember to show your appreciation—honestly and regularly.  I have a good friend named Judy Routley who, as far as I know, is the very best at showing appreciation. It seems like it just comes easily to her, but it takes time an effort. She sends cards and is always leaving sweet gestures where you can find them. But there are other ways to show your appreciation. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying, “thank you,” but there are other ways that are not so obvious. For example, inviting your staff to picnics, picking up breakfast or lunch on occasion, or buying new smocks or antifatigue mats at a trade show can all go a long way in conveying your gratitude to your hard-working staff. But whatever you do, try and do it as often as you can.  gb


Christina Pawlosky is a Certified Master Groomer, professional handler, breeder, grooming show judge and successful pet store and grooming shop owner (The Pet Connection) since 1985. For 20 years, she served as national training manager for Oster Professional Products, where she developed new initiative educational material to educate at schools and conventions all over the world. Pawlosky is currently working with Judy Hudson to produce the Grooming Professors (groomingprofessors.com)—a service through which the two industry veterans share their many years of grooming, competing, dog show conditioning and handling with groomers across the country via Facebook and through an interactive website where visitors can access webcasts and videos about everything grooming related.


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