Invest In Your Staff
Edward M. Slover
To achieve success, managers must balance "production time" and "investment time," and understand that investing time in developing "human resources" leads to increased performance and productivity. The importance of investing in ongoing staff training and development cannot be overstated, and the financial benefit is realized almost immediately. Research illustrates that competent employees are happier in their jobs, perform at a higher level and contribute more to the organization.1 The key is to employ a variety of staff training and development methods that give each team member the best chance for success in the attainment of organizational goals.
One-on-one coachingFifty-five percent of the participants in the fitness center management study emphasized the importance of conducting frequent one-on-one coaching with employees. Every encounter with a team member, formal or informal, can be a coaching opportunity. These can include scheduled, weekly coaching sessions or impromptu conversations at the front desk. In either case, coaching sessions must include both production-focused (goals tied to revenue generation) and investment-focused (personal/professional growth) dialogue. For example, production-focused coaching may include developing performance improvement plans that outline the daily actions required to achieve financial goals, such as achieving the benchmark for sales from fitness assessments performed, capitalizing on clients scheduled to quit the facility or gaining new training clients. Conversely, investment-focused coaching may include developing monthly action plans that allow managers to help a team member to hone a skill, such as role-playing sales dialogue for membership tours, learning to develop safe, accurate weight-management programs to enhance a client's results, or cultivating interpersonal communication skills.
Managers are the ones who are in control of their organization's performance. If exemplary performance is the focus, and they use production-focused and investment-focused coaching, success is sure to follow. If they focus on developing a team of superstars, managers can capitalize on the critical success factor needed to thrive as a business entity. Managers should emphasize areas that each team member needs to improve on, continually assess competency and proficiency, and then measure their progress versus historical performance to identify opportunities for improvement.
Further, it is essential that each coaching session be viewed as a priority so that each team member will do the same. Communicating your role as manager in assisting them achieve each goal serves as a critical element in the effectiveness of one-on-one coaching sessions. Do not hesitate to highlight that their professional development is important to you. This serves to keep the lines of communication open, which fosters relationships of trust and integrity.
Create a vision for your facility, and cultivate an environment that allows your team members to progress in their work, as day-to-day tasks can become mundane. Charge them with alternate tasks that contribute to bottom-line results or enhance member satisfaction. Be sure to emphasize the psychology (the "why") and not just the protocol (the "how") of the work performed. Constantly remind your staff why their work matters — that their efforts help change lives for the better.
Continuing educationOngoing internal and external continuing education allow you to ensure the highest degree of competency possible. As service-driven businesses, fitness facilities must maximize each member interaction by delivering timely, accurate information from qualified staff. Formal training plays an important role in this pursuit,3 as it gives you insight into the strengths of your team, and opportunities for improvement. You must learn to identify and capitalize on the existing strengths of individual team members, while engaging in practices that will "whole-up" limitations.
The critical component to developing a team aligned with the mission and vision of your organization is to train them yourself. For example, Ritz-Carlton provides 80 percent of its training and education in-house.2 Ritz-Carlton firmly believes that, to cultivate employees who will deliver exemplary customer service, each employee must learn directly from leaders within their organization. Within fitness facilities, this approach should take the form of weekly team meetings that have a singular focus: enhancing performance and productivity through education. Such meetings should include topics such as sales techniques and role-play, the development of exercise protocols or what it means to provide exceptional service. During these meetings, avoid "housekeeping"-related topics, such as payroll or time-off requests, as it detracts from the atmosphere of learning. Each meeting should consist of a formal agenda and clearly defined desired outcomes, as such training and development initiatives should lead to tangible results, and not be diminished to knowledge for its own sake.
There are many external continuing education programs available. It is important for you to evaluate the course content and reputation of the partnering organization, and all expenses associated with pursuing this type of initiative. Primarily, the course content should empower team members with enhanced skills or applicable information that provides value back to your organization (e.g., enhances the member experience). It should also align with the underlying philosophy of your organization to ensure it supports your overall mission and does not undermine the culture you have created. Further, you will need to account for travel, lodging and food-related expenses, which is in addition to the program cost itself, and the "lost" time of not having team members at the fitness center. If the benefits outweigh the costs, external continuing education programs serve as a credible staff training and development tool.
Team buildingThere are innumerable sources of information from which managers can learn "best practices," but sifting through all that is available can be a daunting task. This is further exacerbated knowing that you, typically, do not have an appropriate amount of time to dedicate to developing staff training programs. Despite your best intentions, most opportunities for staff training and development, such as weekly meetings, devolve into a review of "housekeeping" or protocol-related issues, rather than actual learning. How can this inherent challenge be resolved?
First, focus on team building. While the notion of "team building" fills the pages of best-selling management and leadership books, the fundamentals can prove essential to success. Forming teams creates a sense of belonging and an acknowledgement that the work being performed transcends punching a time clock. This enhances the meaning and value individual team members find in their work, as most everyone desires to be a part of sharing in success with others. Further, there is an element of "social pressure" that serves as an accountability of sorts, whereby team members strive to elevate their own performance to ensure that they do not let other team members down. A little time and energy spent in this area goes a long way in achieving desired organizational outcomes, especially as it relates to achieving production-oriented goals.
One of the best resources you can use in team building is your high-performing, experienced team members. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, leveraging the skill sets and competencies of high-performing team members frees up time for you to focus on business operations, or to emphasize leadership coaching initiatives, such as one-on-one coaching. Second, experienced team members can serve as mentors by allowing employees to learn from their expertise. This may include working one-on-one with team members who need more work in defined areas, or providing a broader education during team meetings. These mentors can demonstrate their best-practice strategies first-hand, such as new member conversions during fitness assessments, instructing on the varied resistance training protocols for specific client populations and/or teaching appropriate nutritional strategies. This not only proves invaluable to team member learning, but it also enhances the meaning and value in the mentor's work, and serves as a way to build teamwork throughout the organization. This dynamic serves as a critical step for you in cultivating a culture of learning.
Foundation of successAs a fitness facility manager, you can employ numerous methods related to staff training, development and education. Immaterial of the approach, the most important element to remember is that you are consistent in the execution of training initiatives, as it will make or break your success in developing highly qualified, competent team members. Ultimately, people want to get better and be part of something special. Do not ignore your charge as manager to build the appropriate foundation to ensure the long-term viability of your business. Your team's success is a reflection of you. Train them every day, and your fitness center will reap the rewards.
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