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ABC 2011: How to Help Young Employees Succeed

Rob Bishop and Barry Klein have taken some flak lately for writing about the shortcomings of employees between the ages of 18 and 30. So it may have come as a surprise to attendees of the Athletic Business Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday morning that the co-owners of Elevations Health Club in Scotrun, Pa., really do want to see workers between the ages of 18 and 30 succeed.

"We're not ogres," Bishop said during a 90-minute session titled "Your Young Trainers Are Brilliant - For People Who Know Nothing." "We're just trying to give them the skills they need to succeed at our company."

"In fact, nothing makes us happier than watching our young staff members develop," Klein added, after feeling the need to "pre-apologize for what we are about to say. It is a bit odd when you paint an entire generation with one brush, and in a lot of ways, it's not fair."

Drawing on real examples from their two facilities - "We can put an actual employee's name to each of these," Klein said - the duo presented seven ways facility operators can help their young workers be more effective and (dare we say) more likable employees. "You know what you want them to do, so tell them," Klein said, adding in most cases they will welcome such solid and specific information.

1. Aspire to "aggressive friendliness." The first 10 seconds of a conversation determine the rest of that conversation's direction, so make sure employees say the right things first. Bishop and Klein suggest using the Willy Wonka approach when dealing with customers (or potential customers) for the first time: "It's wonderful to meet you."

2. Teach better communication skills. The old adage, "It's not what you say but how you say it," applies. When writing, demand that your employees use correct punctuation, spelling and grammar. Remind them that there is a difference between e-mails written for business purposes and e-mails they send to friends. If employees don't know the answer to a patron's question, they should find out and get back to that person - not shrug it off with an "I don't know." That leads to...

3. Demand accountability. Accept no excuses. If an employee arrives looking like he didn't sleep the night before because he was out celebrating his 21st birthday with friends, inform him that he should have found a replacement for his shift ahead of time. If a personal trainer is 10 minutes late for an appointment because her son's school bus was running behind, suggest she schedule appointments later if she's going to have trouble honoring previously arranged times.

4. Create self-awareness. Holding employees accountable for their actions - and forcing them to take steps to avoid repercussions of those actions - also can help them realize areas in which they may be under-performing. A 22-year-old woman's sarcasm may not seem so clever to a 44-year-old man. In fact, it's more likely to anger customers than amuse them. So call employees out on the kind of behavior that sends the wrong message to customers. Bishop explained that one employee was not even aware of what he considered her constant eye-rolling when asked to perform certain tasks on the job. He pointed it out to her, and her eyeballs now stay focused. 5. Teach responsibility. "If you find a problem, you own it," Bishop said, stressing that staff members must make efforts to fix what is broken. Some younger Elevations employees aspire to own health clubs some day. "If you're not willing to take a plunger to a toilet, you're not ready to run a club," Klein said. "I've plunged plenty of toilets, and Rob plows our parking lot in the winter."

6. Encourage everyone to be a salesperson. The actions of every employee in every department affect membership sales. Have meetings to discuss how front-desk workers should respond to pricing questions and objections, and make sure everyone can explain to a potential new customer what makes your facility tick, such as "We're a large facility with a small-town feel." There's no need to explain why they should join; simply make them want to ask more questions. Once young employees know the club's reason for existence and why they need to promote that, it will be easier to…

7. Ask them to take ownership. Explain the business reasons for doing what you do, so when a new member asks why your facility charges an enrollment fee, the 19-year-old kid behind the desk doesn't say, "Because we can." The success of the facility depends on the actions of everyone - from the part-time students looking for a summer job to the older veterans who rely on the facility's success for their livelihood. Encourage them to make their own decisions, and then help them learn from any resulting mistakes. Said Klein, "Younger people do respond well to more responsibility, so give it to them."

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