Invest In Your Staff

Staff training, development and education are a must for fitness facailities in order to achieve long-term financial service and program-based goals.

Most fitness facility managers will tell you that their most important resource is their people. In fact, a 2007 study,4 which detailed feedback from 20 managers at high-performing fitness facilities, illustrated the importance of ongoing staff training, development and education. Accordingly, 40 percent of respondents listed staff training and development as the primary critical success factor to their organization. If this is the case, then why is it that fitness facility managers spend far too little time cultivating their greatest resource? The answer lies in the scarcity of time and resources, which forces managers to emphasize the life-blood of their organization - revenue - in order to secure short-term success. However, this emphasis is misplaced, as managers then fail to capitalize on building the foundation for long-term sustainability: competent, proficient employees.

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 coaching

Fifty-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 education

Ongoing 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 building

There 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 success

As 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.

The Top 10 Errors New Managers Make

By Martin Seidenfeld, Ph.D.

When fitness center employees are noted to be good at their work, managers may decide to promote them into supervisory positions. But, although excellent at their hands-on work, these employees usually have little or no experience or training in managing other people. They tend to make some common mistakes. Here are the 10 most common:

  1. Being too authoritarian. New power can go to employees' heads, and they can become overbearing and domineering. Some relish the idea of being "boss," and become strict and over-controlling. Their dictatorial style quickly leads to their being feared, and virtually assures that staff members will react to them passive-aggressively.
  2. Being too undemanding. Fearful of not being liked, some new managers hesitate to ask their employees to do what they're supposed to, and fail to require them to perform up to snuff. Ultimately, this style of supervision leads to poorly run operations, lowered staff morale and a sense among employees that "anything goes."
  3. Being fearful of being disliked. We all, to some degree, want to be liked and accepted. When newly promoted managers have too strong a dose of this need, they may hesitate to give undesirable assignments to staff members for fear that they will not like them or will become angry. This can result in new managers assigning themselves the least-desirable tasks in an attempt to avoid garnering negative feelings from employees.
  4. Becoming friendlier to some employees than to others. Like all humans, new managers find themselves feeling closer to some employees than to others. So, they tend to have lunch with them and spend more time with them - resulting in other employees feeling left out and thinking their supervisor plays favorites. This can lead to resentment and an unwillingness to give maximum effort to the job.
  5. Focusing on doing, rather than leading. Because new managers were good at their previous work, e.g., as a trainer, they want to keep on doing that job. Also, they realize that they don't know a whole lot about managing other people, so they keep doing the technical work they love and are good at - but neglect managerial responsibilities.
  6. Failing to delegate. By definition, a manager is someone who gets things done through others. Because managers are superior workers, they know that if they perform a specific task alone, it will get done quickly and up to their own high standards. They reason that if they delegate it to an employee, they will need to take time to train that employee and the task might not be performed to their level of excellence. But, by failing to take the time to delegate and train others, new managers end up doing various tasks long-term, and feel overburdened.
  7. Failing to reprimand. When employees violate a rule, such as by being late, they must be reprimanded. Failure to do so condones the improper behavior. Other employees may feel, "If Jim can get away with that, why shouldn't I?" This results in a general laxness and poor discipline. There is also a loss of respect for the manager for allowing an employee to "get away with" breaking a company rule.
  8. Neglecting employees' motivation. Managers must continually strive to improve their employees' motivation so that they become more involved with their work and love it. This means coming to understand what motivates each employee to do his or her best. Without strong motivation, employees may become apathetic and just go through the motions.
  9. Setting a poor example. Supervisors must understand that their behaviors and attitudes will be emulated by their employees. If they tend to ignore rules, e.g., by coming in late or not strictly following the dress code, they are practically inviting their employees to do the same. Supervisors must be aware that their general work ethic and how they behave will be imitated by their employees.
  10. Failing to exercise true leadership. Managers must be true leaders. This means taking the time to get to know each of their employees, training them to perform better, motivating them to love their jobs, and setting a great example of hard work and personal integrity.
Moving from being a worker to being a manager is not easy, and not all who are promoted will make the cut. But, by being aware of these common mistakes made by new managers, those promoting and those being promoted can increase the odds of success.
Martin Seidenfeld, Ph.D., is a psychologist with more than 30 years' experience as an organizational consultant, clinician, author, university professor and seminar presenter.
1. Dymock, D., and C. McCarthy. Toward a learning organization? Employee perceptions. The Learning Organization 13(5), 525-536, 2006.
2. Johnson, L.K. Helping new managers succeed. Harvard Management Update 13(2), 4-5, February 2008.
3. Latham, J., and J. Vinyard. Baldrige User's Guide. John Wiley & Sons Inc.: Hoboken, N.J., 2005.
4. Slover, E. A case study: Why commercial health and fitness facilities achieve defined key performance indicators (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Phoenix, 2007). University of Phoenix ProQuest Digital Dissertation Database, 2008.
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