Canadian Music Trade - In Depth

Energized, Empowered & Effective: Get the Most From Your Team

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2019 issue of Canadian Music Trade

By Shanine Cook

NAMM University covers a wide array of topics relevant to MI retailers during The NAMM Show and Summer NAMM. The staple categories of sales, marketing, management, finance, and so on are explored from timely and topical lenses year-in and year-out, and the topics of the sessions offer valuable insight into the most pressing issues facing the industry at any given time.

The 2019 NAMM Show had no less than five NAMM U sessions dedicated to hiring, exploring topics related to the recruitment, selection, and management of retail employees, music teachers, and more.

While the discussion of effective hiring is far from a timely issue, it’s one that carries a significant potential impact on pretty much every facet of your business. According to BankersTrust, hiring the wrong employee can have a “huge impact” on your business, incurring direct costs like time and resources during hiring, salary and benefits, etc., but also indirect costs like decreased productivity for your entire staff, increased disengagement, wasted time, etc. Having one team member underperforming can have a ripple effect on your team, potentially hurting motivation and morale.

As such, think of your team as a long-term investment, and approach any decisions related to it with the same weight. You want someone that performs at a high level, boasts leadership skills (or the potential to develop them), is a self-starter, and who isn’t afraid to challenge convention.

For some targeted tidbits of advice, we’ve rounded up a few of the presenters with staffing-focused sessions from The 2019 NAMM Show to share some ideas on this ever-important subject.


5 Tips for Hiring Great Teachers

Eileen Tan, 7 Notes Yamaha Music School, Frisco, TX


Eileen Tan is the director of 7 Notes Yamaha Music School in Frisco, TX, and presented “Music Lessons: 5 Tips on Hiring Great Teachers” at The 2019 NAMM Show.

“Knowing how to hire the right teachers can affect your bottom line,” she states simply. “I’m really passionate about this topic. When you hire the right team, it helps you build a successful brand and reputation.”

Tan refers to herself as “Eileen the music nerd,” and moved to Texas after closing her school in Richmond Hill, ON. “I’ve had my share of pitfalls,” she admits, “so I I’ve been able to learn from those experiences, and now I’m in a position where I can share what I’ve learned, and how failures have turned to successes.”

According to Tan, hiring the right people is about asking the right questions. “People won’t volunteer information if you don’t ask them,” she shares. It all starts with the job description. Be specific, but make it exciting. The more descriptive, the more likely you’ll find the right fit.

When it comes to screening, Tan advises doing some telephone screening before inviting in any interviewees. Make it clear it’s not a job offer, but during the conversation, evaluate their reaction and tone. Are they excited and motivated? Are they conversational?

She says the telephone screening is a great way to ensure the candidate checks the vital boxes. Can they legally work? Can they work the hours you need them? Will they work for the compensation level you’ve allotted?

When you do invite candidates for an interview, Tan suggests blocking off a good amount of time so nothing feels rushed, and keeping it conversational to build trust. Inquire about their teaching philosophies and values, their thoughts on your curriculum, and gauge whether they have the necessary emotional intelligence and ability to relate to others, which is key to effective teaching. Of course, you can also have them play for you to get a quick idea of their abilities.

That should give you the information you need to make effective decisions.

The 5 Most Important Questions to Ask a Prospective Hire

Brian Douglas, Cream City Music, Brookfield, WI


Brian Douglas of Cream City Music in Brookfield, WI, presented “The 5 Most Important Questions to Ask a Prospective Hire.”

Going through an interview process can be nerve-wracking – not only for the one looking to be hired, but potentially just as challenging for the owner. “As a small business owner, getting it right as often as possible is important because of the time it takes to find the right person and to train them,” shares Douglas. “Having to go through and repeat the hiring process costs time and money – things a lot of small business owners don’t have a lot of.”

Douglas is someone who knows the ins and outs of his business, and has a unique vantage point having previously been an employee before taking over the store.

“We had to learn how to run a business. So, in this case, I had developed an interview format with my team over time that we really liked that comprised these five components,” says Douglas. They are:

  1. Introductory, Icebreaker-Type Questions
  2. Individual Character Assessment
  3. Workplace Character Assessment
  4. Critical Thinking & Communication Skills
  5. Personal Accountability Assessment

“I [have] chosen five of my favourite questions out of those five components that we have in the interview process that any retailer can take and anybody that’s doing hiring in a music retail situation can use,” he continues.

A few examples of the questions related to these categories are, for introductory questions, why are you leaving or why did you leave your current or previous employer? Douglas says their response offers a sense of their values, disposition, career goals, and what they need from an employer. It’s also a question that can elicit some red flags, which go a long way in making a decision.

For the individual character assessment, Douglas suggests asking the candidate when they’ve been most satisfied in their life. This shines a light on their personal values, and gives a clearer sense of whether your company can provide them with the challenges and opportunities that will keep them happy and engaged in the long-term.

Douglas’s critical thinking and communication question is his favourite of them all: What’s 25 x 25? He says the question is designed to catch the candidate off-guard so you can witness their adaptability first-hand. How they handle the question, he notes, will offer insight into how they handle unexpected situations that might arise in day-to-day operations. “Pay attention to how they respond. Do they easily answer? Do they get uncomfortable? Do they whip out their iPhone?”

Bottom line, using these or your own questions related to Cream City Music’s five hiring components will offer a thorough picture of your candidate, their abilities, and their potential with your organization. They’ve worked wonders for Cream City Music, with Douglas reporting they’ve only seen “positivity across the board.”

Strategies to Engage & Keep Your Best Employees

Jaimie Blackman, Jaimie Blackman & Co., Staten Island, NY


Jaimie Blackman believes that creating a “culture of caring” is not only essential to doing good business with your customers, but also creating a good and nurturing work environment for your staff.

Blackman acknowledges that caring is a non-financial component of your business; it doesn’t show up on a balance sheet but is still a key performance indicator (KPI). “Just because it’s a non-financial item doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a financial impact,” he says.

In his NAMM U session, “Strategies to Engage & Keep Your Best Employees,” Blackman shared three websites that can help retailers with the topic: First,, a great resource to help develop your non-financial KPIs. Second,, which offers free customer satisfaction surveys that retailers can put right on their websites. “Another really great non-financial driver is customer satisfaction,” he notes. “Wouldn’t it be important for a music retailer [and its employees] to know how their customers feel about them?”

Finally, his own website,, which identifies and elaborates on the “pain points.” “This is an opportunity for an owner to ask each employee: What keeps you up at night? What do you think needs to be fixed? What’s not working in our company? There’s a financial impact that the owner can contribute and what’s really cool about that is you can have several different employees working in the same job and each one has a different pain point,” says Blackman. “All of this is geared to caring and having conversations. The Gallup poll of 2018 specified that only one-third of workers are fully engaged. The reason is because owners are using a performance management style that dates back 100 years. It’s ruled by compliance – I give you a cheque, you have to do what I tell you to do. Does it work? Why doesn’t it work? Because workers’ experiences and expectations, they want more. They’re looking for opportunities, purpose, passion, more engaging conversations with the owner… They want a coach more than a boss.”

Blackman is confident asserting that people are your most important asset, not your inventory. “There are A, B, and C players,” he states. “What I’m finding out from the owners I’m working with, is that they have too many C players. These people hold the owner hostage, emotionally hostage,” says Blackman. “You have to make sure that you’re retaining your A players, but all of your attention keeps going to the C players. Meanwhile, the A player has one foot out the door. You have to create positive peer pressure to engage and motivate your B and C players and at the end of the day, [if] your C player is not competent and they can’t be motivated, [or] they just don’t have the skill set for the job description, you have to either change the job description or just say it’s not working for you. You have to move them out.”

Digging deeper and allowing yourself to connect with and listen to your staff and customers will only ensure your business is thriving. As Blackman says, “You have to get under the hood a little bit.”

Casting A Wide Net

The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) says that when you’re hiring, it’s ideal to cast as wide a net as possible to engage potential recruits. With the tools at our disposal these days, it’s never been easier to put your job posting in front of potential employees, or to even target specific segments of your applicant pool.

Here’s a brief overview of some of the strategies you can employ to attract a wide and qualified pool of applicants. Check out the full article at

1. Word of Mouth – According to a 2016 survey by online payroll service provider SurePayroll, conventional word-of-mouth referrals are still the top means for small businesses to find qualified job candidates despite the slew of modern recruitment tools at our disposal. It offers candidates a good idea of your company culture and what might be expected of them in the role.

2. Online Job Boards – You’ve heard the ads for sites and services like Workopolis, Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter, Craigslist, etc. These sites have proven themselves to be effective, though there’s typically a cost of entry. There are free options, including federal and provincial government job banks and likely some similar initiatives at the local or regional level.

3. Social Media – You can use social media in any number of ways to find and attract employees. Announce openings on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and you can engage employees and partners with their respective networks. The BDC also suggests following relevant social media discussions to proactively spot promising candidates that you can directly invite to apply for job opportunities.

4. Your Own Website – Pretty straightforward.

5. Print Ads – In some cases, magazines, newspapers, or trade publications can be effective means of zeroing in on potential applicants.

6. Your Customers – Especially effective in a niche market like MI retail, using your customer mailing list or just directly engaging them when they’re in your store can attract candidates that are already familiar with what you do.

7. Outreach Organizations – Particularly in larger urban centres, there are organizations that specialize in helping underemployed demographics – including immigrant or Indigenous workers – that can help correct hiring barriers, widen your pool of candidates, and educate existing employees about the importance of diversity in the workforce.

8. Professional Associations – Particularly for specialized jobs like teachers or repair technicians, relevant professional associations often host job boards or have other means of communicating new opportunities with their members.

9. Other Options – Consider reaching out to local schools and colleges, training programs, co-op or internship programs, job fairs, or staffing firms.

Asking the Right Questions

According to the BDC, asking the right interview questions is “the most important tool for finding the best people to hire.” That said, how do you know which questions are the right
ones, and how do you evaluate your candidates based on their answers? The key is preparation. Screen out any unqualified applicants, then arrange your interviews. Consider a brief phone interview ahead of any in-person invitations to further distill your options.

Here are tips for some types of questions to ask. Check out the full article at

1. Job Ability – Prepare a list of questions that will determine who has the ideal skills, credentials, and experience for the specific job. You want a candidate that can help grow the business, stay motivated, display good judgement, and be compatible with your team and company culture.

2. Personality – Questions about someone’s personality can reveal how well they’ll work with your team and in your work environment. Ask about their favourite books, mentors or role models, or how they might deal with conflicts specific to the job. The BDC warns, though, that you avoid hiring decisions based primarily on a given candidate’s “fit” with your company culture, which could leave you open to a discrimination complaint.

3. Ask for Their Questions – You gain valuable insight by asking the interviewee if they have any questions for you. Well-prepared candidates will ask thoughtful questions that communicate their expertise, readiness to work, and desire to succeed.

4. Employment Assessments – Consider written, oral, or other tests of the candidate’s specific abilities – especially ones that are specifically relevant to tasks they’d be completing as part of the job.

5. Avoid Discrimination – Make sure you’ve got a good handle on what constitutes employment discrimination and avoid such questions. These pertain to marital status, ethnic origins and race, religious convictions, political beliefs, age, sexual orientation, disabilities, or family status.


Shanine Cook is a freelance writer based in Hamilton, ON.

Author image
Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Musician, Canadian Music Trade, Professional Sound, and Professional Lighting & Production magazines. He also hosts the Canadian Musician Podcast.
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