Policy enforcement can be a pain. Hardly anyone likes doing it, which is why it doesn't always get done. However, now more than ever, enforcing policy is vital.
While a little dramatic, that comparison illustrates the point. Staff will be more successful in addressing these situations when given direction and an opportunity to practice through repeated role play.
Here are six steps staff members can take to make enforcing policies a less painful process:
1. Introduce yourself and your role in the organization.
While it may seem like a given, I have seen many staffers simply approach members and tell them to stop doing something. This can come across as confrontational and off-putting. An initial introduction allows the staffer to build rapport and makes the moment feel less like an attack. It also lets the member know that the staffer is an authority figure. As an example, a member uses a piece of equipment without wiping it down. Initiate the conversation by saying, "Hi! I don't believe we've met. My name is Chris, and I am a part of the front desk team. What is your name? [John] Nice to meet you, John!"
2. Let the member off the hook.
Start by saying something such as, "I'm sure you didn't know," or, "You probably weren't aware." This will let the member know you are not mad; you are simply there to educate and inform. Truth be told, the member is likely aware of the wrongdoing and is just trying to get away with it. Nonetheless, the educational approach can keep the member from becoming defensive.
3. Explain the policy.
Clearly explain what was wrong with the member's action or inaction, and what the future expectations are. Make sure to be succinct and clear in the explanation. If possible, avoid the word "policy" — no one likes that word. In our example, steps two and three of the process combine to sound something like, "John, I am sure you had no idea, but we do require that all members wipe down the equipment immediately after use."
4. Clarify the why.
An explanation is not enough. It should be followed by a good reason why the policy is in place. Members are much more receptive when there is a legitimate reason behind a policy. People, in general, are more responsive when they know their behavior negatively affects others. When possible, use phrases such as, "because it puts other members' safety at risk," or, "it interferes with other members' experiences." In our example: "Wiping down equipment is essential to ensure your safety, as well as the safety of your fellow members. Safety is our priority. If each member does his or her part, our facility will remain as clean and safe as possible."
5. Give alternatives or options.
Instead of just taking something away, give something back, if possible. Follow explaining the why with, "What you can do is A, B or C." In the specific case of COVID-19 policies, you may not be able to give an alternative, but you can show them exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. Step five in our example would be, "We have placed disinfecting sprays, gloves and towels in several locations [point them out] around the facility to make it as easy as possible to wipe equipment after use."
6. Thank them.
It may seem silly, but a simple "thank you" goes a long way. This gesture shows members your appreciation for their willingness to listen and comply. It's also just plain polite. Finally, it is helpful to give members the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. To wrap up our example, "Thank you so much, John. We really appreciate your understanding. If you have any questions or need anything at all, please don't hesitate to ask."
Following a process like this does a few significant things. First, it ensures members are following your essential protocols and policies. Second, it creates the best member experience possible in a challenging situation. Third, and possibly most important, it empowers your staff with a system to do their job better and more effectively. Certain staff who might be hesitant may now have the confidence to act. The staff member who was willing to act, but may have lacked the right touch, now has a game plan. One final piece of advice: Make a list of your most violated policies and role play those repeatedly with staff.
With all staff on the same page and projecting a unified front for your brand, your patrons will become more cognizant of behavioral expectations and their importance — and be much more likely to exhibit respect for them.
This article originally appeared in the July | August 2020 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Now more than ever, policy enforcement is vital." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.