Management Talent Shortage

If the fitness industry is to evolve and forge a profitable future, it needs to identify and develop the next crop of leaders.

A number of current leaders in the industry report that their No. 1 challenge involves finding professionals who possess the attributes and skills needed to manage a department, facility or group of clubs. Where are those who are adequately prepared to fill the demanding leadership roles and responsibilities that exist at all levels of the industry? If the fitness industry is to evolve and forge a profitable future, it needs to identify and develop the next crop of leaders.

Why the shortage?

This shortage of qualified management talent is, in large part, caused by the way the industry has done business over the past five to 10 years. In particular, there are three variables that, individually and collectively, inhibit the development of leadership and management talent. The quick buck. The fitness industry has created an environment in which the majority of young professionals in the field choose personal training as a career path. The short-term dollars that can be generated as a personal trainer far exceed the short-term income that can be earned by pursuing a more traditional management track. Human resources void. The industry has not adopted a human resources model of career development that places an emphasis on internal career development and education, thereby providing young professionals with the educational opportunities that will enable them to learn and put into practice the attributes and skills essential for becoming a great manager. Telescopic management. The fitness industry has evolved into a commodity-driven venture, rather than placing the focus on having club-based management talent. This approach manages business from afar, with a small corporate pool of professionals who direct employees at the club level. Collectively, these three variables have resulted in a shortage of qualified professionals who have the leadership acumen to take over the management of individual departments and fitness centers.

An action plan

Fitness facility owners and operators can undertake several steps to help forge an environment that is conducive to developing the next generation of management in the industry. Establish management track positions. Management track positions provide financial incentive for employees to enter management. Facilities need to establish entry-level positions that are part of a management track, and provide increasing levels of financial incentives for employees who perform at each step of their development journey. Cross-train and cross-utilize employee talent. Instead of pigeon-holing new employees into the role of personal trainer or other similar position, make sure that each new employee, even personal trainers, are properly trained in the various jobs that exist in the fitness center (front desk, fitness floor, sales, etc.). Furthermore, require them to serve in a variety of roles as part of their job descriptions, and then schedule accordingly. Also, make sure that they are compensated fairly for their various efforts. Establish employee development plans. Every employee should have a professional development plan that identifies their long- and short-term career goals. Such employee development plans should also detail the attributes and skills each employee needs to acquire, and the action steps for mastering them. Establish a management mentor program. Ensure that every employee has a mentor, preferably someone in a leadership role who has mastered or is in the process of mastering essential leadership and management skills. Foster an environment of learning. Provide opportunities for employees to attend classes and workshops that will expose them to leadership and management skills. Whether it's sending them to health/fitness industry conventions or having them participate in distance learning programs that focus on fitness management, the key is to encourage employees to do whatever is necessary to acquire the essential managerial attributes and skills. Reward employees for their journey. Provide an environment that rewards employees who embark on the journey toward becoming a manager. Such a reward should involve more than money. Instead, it should be intrinsically gratifying, such as giving these employees the opportunity to lead and make decisions about the business, rather than just performing a single job. These six steps are just a few of the actions that owners and managers in the fitness industry can take to ensure that they are helping to develop the leaders that the industry will need in the future. Industry leaders must make a firm commitment to provide a "rewarding" career path for those individuals who decide to confront and conquer the challenges inherent in sound leadership.
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