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The 'Issue' Is Staffing and Education

The 'solution' is to recognize that while hiring an educated and trained staff is important, even more important are hiring staff members who can establish relationships with members, implementing policies to retain your best people, and developing procedures that make staff members aware of their role in serving members and keeping them safe.

"The right staff helps create an environment in the club that is conducive to keeping people there," says Sandy Coffman, president of the Bradenton, Fla.,-based Programming for Profit. In her seminar, "The Secret Lies in the Stars: Hiring the Best Staff," at the Club Industry Trade Show (Chicago, October 4-7), Coffman explained that the challenge in hiring staff is looking not just at certifications, education and experience, but also at "intangible qualities that make the difference between a competent employee and a stellar one." Stellar employees are those who identify with your members, build relationships with them, keep their safety in mind at all times and, most importantly, remain stellar because they like their job, and you, as the manager, are doing what it takes to keep them.

Certification and education are status quo

Certifications and degrees are the criteria on which new hires will always be rated. The more educated new hires are, and the more advanced certification(s) they hold, the more likely they have the knowledge to succeed in the job. In this special report, Matthew Kutz, in his article, The Role of Certifications in Professional Practice and Staffing (p.36), outlines the importance of certification, education and expertise. Yet, as Coffman says, "While education and expertise [are] more important than ever because of changing membership demographics," what facility operators have been doing all these years is "hiring people with a ton of fitness expertise and education, but no people skills." Coffman stresses that it's necessary to look outside of the certification box. "Look for emotional and psychological skills in your employees," she says. "Why are club owners ignoring these skill sets in their employees, when, in many cases, that could make the difference in their success?" Coffman recommends that managers make their point of view for hiring "service-oriented." Many people who are fitness facility members today - older adults, deconditioned, youth - require special people skills from staff to make them feel comfortable and to encourage their success. "These populations are often at-risk, marginalized, or feel uncomfortable and insecure about their bodies; they're drawn to the club out of necessity, in many cases, and all of the education in the world isn't going to get through unless the message is delivered in the right way," Coffman says.

People skills make the difference

Staff/member relationships have become a hot button in the industry. Relationships increase motivation to show up at the fitness facility regularly and adhere to exercise programs. But, to develop relationships, staff members must have people skills. Coffman outlines the following successful traits of fitness facility staff:
  • Staff should create an environment of trust.
  • They should create an environment that helps people self-motivate.
  • Staff members need to be consistent.
  • Staff should exude cheerfulness. But, she says, beware of the "too-cheerful demeanor"; relationships have a lot to do with being genuine - that's part of how to gain trust.

Stellar staff make a difference

Also in this special report, we outline the importance of keeping members happy, which, in turn, results in staff genuinely caring about keeping members motivated and safe. Guy Brown, in his article, How Staff Attrition Affects Member Attrition (p.33), explains how staff members affect facility members, and make the retention connection. And, Julie Anne Eason, in her article Due Diligence (p.40), explains how the best risk-management practices take the human being - the member - into account.

Your staff is your business

Your facility can have all of the products, programs and amenities in place to make it truly state-of-the-art. But, without staff to breathe life into your facility, you're left with an empty shell. Products don't motivate; people do. From the minute members walk into your facility, their experience will depend on their relationships and interactions with others. Make sure when hiring staff that they are indeed the types of people with the credentials and personality to make your members know that they are No. 1.
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