Something in the world of floating have you stumped?
Graham and Ashkahn talk at length about the nuances of training people to work at Float On and how it really is different from how other companies may do it.
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Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)
Ashkahn: So, we got a fun question today. It is, “What is your general process for getting a new staff member all trained up?“
Graham: Yeah. I mean, it’s pretty rigorous. I should start by saying, running a float tank center is not the easiest thing in the world between both the customer interaction, all of the sanitation stuff, just general level of cleanliness and where to find those stray little salt crystals, all of it gets pretty crazy.
Ashkahn: Yeah, and so our training typically lasts weeks, in terms of them getting to the point of actually, actually being in the shop without somebody else being there, too.
Graham: I should say, too, one of the things that we do that not every center does is we have no real distinction between different types of staff.
Graham: So, everyone in our shop runs the front desk. Everyone also cleans the back tanks. Everyone also has to be trained up and ready to handle things like closing down, opening the shop, being there during our maintenance day. Doesn’t always end up that they actually have the maintenance shift every single week, but we train up everyone as though they would be running the entire shop.
Ashkahn: Yeah. So, there’s a few categories of stuff that people need to learn. One is learning how to use your scheduling software, so that’s a part of it, and it tends to be one of the more, I think, stressful parts for employees, right? Because you’re like, there’s someone standing in front of you and being like, “Yeah, can I pay a third of it on my credit card, and the other third, I have this tattoo that’s supposed to give me a discount,” and just so many crazy situations come up, and you almost want to get through that stuff smoothly and quickly while someone’s standing there in front of you, staring at you do it.
Graham: The stakes are big, too.
Graham: If you mess a schedule and someone comes in on the wrong day.
Graham: And you don’t have a tank for them, that’s an angry customer and lost revenue and probably a free float, so even more lost revenue, so even a tiny mess up on scheduling can be kind of significant.
Ashkahn: Yeah, so that’s one chunk that stuff needs to learn. They need to learn how to use your software.
They need to learn how to deal with the float tanks, and that ranges from the normal running a transition that you do every few hours, to kind of your deep cleans and filter changes and that whole kind of world of stuff.
Graham: Yeah. At the very least, we really make sure that people understand what’s going on, you know? If a customer asks one of our staff, “How are the float tanks treated? How is the water taken care of?” We don’t want them stumbling over things.
Graham: We want them to know exactly how we take of the water and how many filter cycles that we run it through, and everything like that. So, in our mind it’s really important not just for day to day operations, but there’s a certain sense of float tanks are a really bizarre thing, and you’re gonna get all manner of bizarre questions asking you about the details of them. It’s important that your staff knows the answers to as many of those as possible, especially the basic ones.
Ashkahn: Yeah. Then I’d say the third category is customer service. In my mind that’s kind of like-
Ashkahn: Know how to run your scheduling software, know how to run your float tanks, know how to work with customers are kind of the big things that, the topics that they gotta figure out to run the shop.
Graham: I have a whole “dealing-with-Ashkahn-day” that I train people up on. I don’t know if you do that or not. I’d say four big topics, fourth being “how to handle working under someone like Ashkahn.”
Ashkahn: That’s good. Iron fist.
Graham: Then I guess the process, one of the big things is that we don’t just throw people off the deep end.
Graham: So, there’s a lot of shadowing. In fact, when we first pull someone on, they don’t even get to work shifts alone or really touch that much around them initially.
Ashkahn: Yeah, I can kind of break down our, at least theoretical, way of training people. We don’t always exactly stick to this, but this is kind of the model that we try to stick to.
Graham: It’s pretty good. We do pretty good at following it.
Ashkahn: We do pretty good at following it, but sometimes you hire someone for a night shift or something, in our case because we’re open in the middle of the night, and it gets harder to follow this exact same course.
But Mondays are our deep clean days, right? So, those are the days that our shop is not open except in the mornings, so that’s usually where we start someone out. They come in, they usually come and just see the last transition so they get a sense of that, and then they’re there for our kind of Monday deep clean day. We go through the basics with them, which is basically how do I do a transition …
I should say that the goal in my mind is to get them to the point where they can not be there in addition to our current staff, but actually be working their shifts as fast as possible. So, that requires the normal things. It doesn’t necessarily require things like filter changes and stuff like that, so ours is set up to kind of prioritize that material. How do you do transitions, how do you work the software, and how to do basic customer interaction stuff is kind of where we start.
So, starting there, learning how to do transitions, we do on that Monday, and then going over the basics of the software, and we have some videos and stuff like that they can watch through, but at least for our software, that part’s not too crazy. It’s pretty intuitive, and not that tricky.
The first shift beyond that, where our shop is open, we have them shadow one of our kind of managers in the shop, and that’s something that I think is really nice. To me, it’s valuable to have someone being trained by one of the most knowledgeable people there.
Graham: That was a mistake that we made kind of early on, too.
Graham: Or something that we at least didn’t do as well. I’m not gonna be too hard on our past selves or anything, but-
Ashkahn: Those guys?
Graham: But is it, right? So, we used to start with a lot of, it’s just kind of whatever staff happened to be around and available during the scheduled time they were working, that was who would train them, and theoretically everyone knows how to do the job, so anyone’s equally as able to train someone new up. But in practice, just like Ashkahn said, having someone who’s actually experienced and the most experienced and really knows the ins and outs and can answer small questions and be sort of this definitive voice when uncertainty comes up has been really valuable.
Ashkahn: Yeah. So, they spend two shifts that week just shadowing our manager, so they’re going around. The manager, as they’re walking around, is telling them why they’re doing everything that they’re doing so they can kind of actually learn the ins and outs of that.
After that, they come in for another one of our deep clean days, and we get a little bit deeper into the kind of float sanitation maintenance-y side of things. That’s where we do start talking about filters and training them on how to close down at night, or open up in the morning, and kind of expanding the repertoire of what shifts they can cover.
The week after that, it’s a lot of the same. They’re kind of shadowing, and then we switch it halfway in that week to they’re still there with the manager, and they’re doing the work and the manager’s just following them around and saying, “Oh, actually, that’s not exactly how we fold towels at Float On,” you know? Kind of switching who’s actually doing the work.
Graham: Then it’s usually the week after that that I’ll put up the life size Ashkahn stand up and just sort of, they pretend like Ashkahn’s there lecturing them, and they sort of practice what’s going to happen, what they’re going to say, and that’s one of the last steps.
Ashkahn: That’s good. When I’m there, they’re very attentive. They look like they’ve been trained.
That’s where we, at that point, someone can pretty much run the … we have two people on staff at a given point in time, and during this whole training process, whenever this new person’s there, there’s three people. So, there’s the manager, another person, and then this person. So, about this three week point is where they can start doing things by themselves. So, them and another person, rather than having that third person on there.
So, this is the point where we stop kind of losing money to training, right? Up ‘til this point, they’ve been, we’ve been paying them for their hours, but we’ve been as a company not really getting any “benefit” from their working their shifts. So, the pressure’s off a little bit in terms of crazy get them up to speed as fast as possible at this point, and from here, we like to explore things deeper in kind of their float knowledge.
So, we’ll have them read our about float tanks guide, and make sure that they actually know about float tanks and the information behind them, and when a customer asks them a question, they know a little bit about the science and what they can say that has some evidence behind it, and what they can’t, and make sure we’re not kind of spreading misinformation into the world.
Graham: Yeah. We also, I guess, other things we like to train them up with in that same realm. Some conference talks that are especially good for just getting their facts straight. We usually make a task for new hires to specifically go through Peter Suedfeld’s talk from 2015?
Graham: I think it’s the 2015 talk?
Ashkahn: I think so.
Graham: It’s where he really breaks down, essentially that what we can and can’t say about float tanks. What’s been studied in the float tanks, what’s been studied in chamber REST, and that’s an awesome primer for any of the staff going through, just to know what claims that they might have heard online or from someone else that aren’t necessarily backed by science yet.
Ashkahn: Yeah. Then the other part of this, I don’t really know how to say this without this seeming like a shameless plug for our Helm software, but it really is just so fundamental to how our shop runs that I would feel remiss to not mention it. But we have task generators in our software that outline everything that needs to get done on a daily basis in our shop, and I think that makes life a lot easier for our new hires. They don’t have to commit everything we’re saying to them by memory.
This is in fact how we train them. We just make sure we go through our giant list of task generators and we make sure they know how to do every one of them, and that’s actually a really good bode of confidence that they will know what to do in your shop, because those things are popping up every day, or sometimes once a week, or sometimes once a month, but I feel pretty good knowing that could they perform or complete every task generator that pops up, they would know pretty much everything they need to know to run our shop from an operational standpoint. So, that’s a really nice guide, and then they don’t have to exactly remember what happens during opening, what happens during closing, what happens in the middle of the day. It’s just popping up for them, and they just have to go through and kind of complete it. So, that’s definitely a big part of our operations and especially our training at our place.
Graham: Yeah, and we have a living guide as well that’s totally searchable, so again, whether or not you use something like task generators, definitely having protocols and everything that needs to be done in the shop written out very clearly and kind of per shift somewhere, basically getting your documentation down before you hire people, I think is really important.
Likewise, same for having an actual, again, I use the term living guide because the second that someone tries to look something up in the guide and doesn’t find it there, then it becomes our task or one of the manager’s tasks to actually fill that in and make sure that next time someone hits a question, that the answer is there in our guide. So, everything from really common customer questions, like how many turnovers do we do in a float tank, or what’s the youngest that we can allow someone to float, all they need to do is type in “age” or “young” into our guide, and they’ll pop up with the little article that has kind of our stance on that. That goes all the way down to changing impellers and all sorts of more detailed activities that can kind of go in there, but the main point I guess along with tasks is this documentation and this knowledge base of occasionally very rarely accessed knowledge, but that’s still available to new people as they’re learning and bringing that on.
Ashkahn: Yeah, and then I guess the last part, the customer service part, this is probably gonna be the part that differs the most from place to place. It really comes down to your kind of philosophy on how you handle customer service. Ours is pretty loosey goosey. We don’t, this is one of the easier parts in terms of training people because our customer service is just kind of be nice to people, trust your gut, do what feels right, be a cool human being. We don’t really have a lot of strict policies on you can give a 15% discount to, that’s how much you’re allowed to do, or anything like that. We just kind of let people be as cool to our customers as they can be, and that’s kind of it.
So, our training’s almost more a lot of un-training, right? It’s a lot of trying to get people out of their current mindsets from their other jobs they’ve had in their life, where they have-
Graham: “Remember that last corporate job, and totally just be assholes to all the customers?”
Ashkahn: Yeah, right, and like-
Graham: Don’t, ignore that training, dude. Do the exact opposite, in fact.
Ashkahn: Yeah. Yeah. So, that’s much more what we have to do on that, and people pick that up pretty quickly, I think. It’s not the craziest thing in the world to be nice to somebody.
Graham: Yup. And again, not to say that it doesn’t require some oversight and making sure that things are going the way that you want them to, right? If there’s ever a time to … Let me back up. If there’s anything that’s a very subject part of the job, it’s customer service and how you relate to people. If there’s ever a time to kind of deal with that ambiguity and set in place what you’d like to happen, rather than letting things run their course and needing to correct them later, the beginning is totally the right time to do that.
Hopping on whatever people’s natural inclinations are, and say, “Oh, actually, we usually like to address customers a little more like this,” or, “We usually like to go up within 30 seconds of when they sit down, just to make sure that they’re feeling okay and aren’t waiting for someone to talk to,” or whatever kind of policies you decide to put in place for your own center. Right as people are coming on board, as they’re kind of doing that first shadowing of the manager, that’s a great time to set all of that in place. The wrong time to do it is three months later when you’re just checking in with someone, and they’ve already got all these habits in place, and it suddenly becomes a big deal to reprogram them and reset those expectations.
Ashkahn: Yeah. Definitely. Cool, I mean, there’s a lot to talk about there, but that feels like a decent kind of overview.
Graham: Yeah. Is there anything … I guess on the flip side, is there anything that we notice that goes wrong with our training, or if something does go wrong, how do we address that during our training process? If it looks like someone might not work out as they’re kind of doing the shadowing, what happens?
Ashkahn: Well, we do, we have kind of probation period at our shop where we hire people for the first few months, and I really try to emphasize when we hire people that it’s as much for them as it is for us, so everyone kind of knows that those first few months are just experimental. It’s like, “Hey, we’re gonna see if you kind of fit into our place, and if we kind of like where things are going, but we want to know that you also feel like you like where things are going,” because a lot of people have misconceptions about what it’s like to work in a float center. You come in, you think this is this place where you’re just gonna get to chill and hang out on a couch all day long, and instead a minute later you’re scrubbing salt out from some crazy corner as fast as you can to get something-
Graham: Suddenly you’re scrubbing the exact same corner again, free of salt.
Ashkahn: Yeah, right? So, we want to be clear with people, it’s like, “Hey, listen. If you come in and you start working here, and a few weeks in, this is not what you expected, and this is not what you like, tell us and you can leave and no hard feelings. We don’t want you to stick with this because you feel like you have to, or you’ve committed to something. If you’re not happy or fitting in here at the get go, that’s just gonna get worse. There’s no way that’s gonna get better.” So, we try to make that really clear when we hire people.
Graham: Yeah, and that kind of training period, or the … what do we call it?
Ashkahn: Probation period.
Graham: Probation period. Yeah, just makes it sound so intense. It’s really been useful in the past, too. Honestly, more so, we try to schedule also as many shifts with our new hires as with, or with as many people on our staff as we possibly can just so we have input from a lot of different people as they’re coming on board. Often times, if they’re not clicking or something’s going wrong, it’s not them misjudging the job, it’s actually just they’re probably not cut out for it and aren’t gonna work. We hear it from five different sources. It’s amazing the consistency in reports we get from our staff if someone is not working out, and it’s really easy even a week in to this three week process of training to kind of tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hey, sorry, it’s not going the direction we thought it would.”
Graham: So, getting a lot of buy in and a lot of input from the people who are actually on the ground and putting in the work with your hires is likewise I think a very important part of the process, and then just listening to that. Even if they seem like a really good person to you, if you’re hiring from all of your staff they don’t like working with this person, it’s probably a good sign that they’re not gonna pan out.
Ashkahn: Cool. So, I mean, big question. There’s a lot there. Hiring and training people is no small feat.
Graham: Yes, it’s in fact usually cited as the single hardest part of not just running a float tank center, but any job.
Graham: Is finding, training, and keeping good people.
Ashkahn: Yeah, definitely. All right. Well, if you guys have other tricky questions you want to ask us here, you can always hop on to our website, floattanksolutions.com/podcast. Put your question in there. We will answer it on the show.
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