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The 'Issue' Is Staffing

The 'solution' is to hire the right people, provide them with the direction to succeed and celebrate their successes.

What drives the success of your facility? Is it your equipment, programs, classes, amenities? While all of these things may contribute to your facility's success, the actual engine of your fitness center is your staff. Your staff are the key to attracting members, making them feel welcome, providing motivation, creating fun and excitement, and helping them get results.

So how, then, do you staff for success? First, create a roadmap for hiring that shows that your staff's qualities reflect your membership's needs. Second, be sure that the roadmap also includes a management philosophy that instills in your staff a friendly, helping, empathetic attitude. And, finally, invest in your staff: Treat them well, train them well and reward them well.

Hire fun and caring superstars

Robert Heinlein, an American science fiction writer in the 19th century, has been famously quoted for years as saying, "Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig." Anybody who has spent time hiring staff can attest to the truth in this statement. Therefore, when hiring, first determine what types of members your facility attracts. This will help you to conduct an inventory of the qualities you seek in employees. And be sure to hire employees who actually possess those qualities - not those whom you think can be taught those qualities. In other words, as Mike James, general manager at the World Bank Fitness Center in Washington, D.C., says, when hiring, "Get the right people on the bus!"

When members come to the facility, it's likely that this is the stress-relieving part of their day. So, says James, "Be positive. Our members face negativity all day." In fact, says Don Foxe of Beach City Health and Fitness in Hilton Head Isle, S.C., "The healthiest thing a person can do is laugh." Therefore, if you want to create a friendlier environment, you have to hire fun, versus proficient, personalities. By doing so, you're creating a win/win for members and your business. "People who have fun on the job are more creative, more productive, better decision-makers and get along better with co-workers," James says.

Also, be attentive to your members' needs and how your staff interacts with them. Foxe suggests you ask yourself, "Do my staff members match the facility's demographics?" "Do they represent the facility well?" "Are they developing relationships?" "Do they seem as though they really care?" Says Foxe, "The first thing a potential member [both men and women] will see is the most attractive woman in the room." Your staff's goal should be to open their eyes to the fact that most of the members are just like them - not like that most attractive woman. In addition, express to staff that they should use their natural empathy to the facility's advantage. "If someone is injured, for instance, have someone on staff who has experienced something similar talk to them," says Foxe.

Reward for staff retention

Building a strong company culture focused around treating employees well is crucial to success. A blog posting titled Treat Employees Well on the website provides two links that connect to lists of keywords that you would expect to be related to job rewards. The first list of keywords includes things such as retirement benefits, competitive wages, bonuses, time off, health care, onsite benefits, etc. The second list includes such words as respect, dignity, career growth, advancement, opportunity, flexibility, convenience, teamwork and supportiveness. The point, says the blog's author, is that a better work culture is what will keep good employees at your company. Whereas, the employee who is motivated by money will leave your company as soon as he or she can get more money somewhere else.

So rather than just throwing money in the form of wages at employees, invest in professional development. It's not just for their benefit; it's for yours, as well. Research studies support the link between learning and performance and retention, according to Jordan Shenker, executive director at the Carole and Marcus Weinstein Jewish Community Center, Richmond, Va., who adds that when people have the opportunity to learn and grow, they are more productive and more loyal. Shenker points to a 2001 Saratoga Institute study that showed that only 12 percent of employees who received training as part of their jobs left the company, as compared to 41 percent who left who did not receive training.

Aside from paying competitive wages and furthering career goals through training, there are other ways you can reward employees. Foremost, be sure that they get the recognition they deserve. Take the time to personally thank and compliment them for a job well done. Make sure that you communicate as much about your facility's business as possible so that they can make the best possible contribution to its success. And, include your employees in decision-making opportunities. This makes them feel like they are a part of the team.

It's all in how you lead

Employees don't automatically know what you want and expect from them unless you communicate your vision. "A leader shares the big picture with staff and makes sure they get it," says Ruby Newell-Legner, a certified speaking professional based in Littleton, Colo. And, leaders communicate that information clearly and respectfully.

While there is no easy solution to all that goes into hiring, training and retaining staff, this special section delves into three specific areas: 1) Training, development and educational initiatives that can increase staff retention, 2) health insurance coverage options that can attract and retain staff, and 3) unique staff certifications that can help broaden your program offerings.

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