What is a crisis? The traditional definition of "crisis" is a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger, or a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.
The way I define "crisis" for the purpose of this article is a change or decision impacting members that will necessitate high levels of precise management.
It's no surprise that the impetus for this topic is COVID-19. The coronavirus is certainly a crisis and one that has wreaked havoc on the fitness industry. Coronavirus may be the most serious crisis we have faced together as an industry — and as a global community.
That said, fitness facilities face other impactful crises every day. In November 2018, Stevenson Fitness faced its biggest crisis since opening — the massively destructive Woolsey Fire.
I'll never forget it because I had presented for the first time at AB Show 2018 in New Orleans. I woke up to dozens of voicemails and text messages from family and friends telling me what was happening. It was devastating. While the club didn't burn down as a result of the wildfire that ultimately consumed nearly 97,000 acres, our facility was damaged and closed for an extended period of time. It was a challenging period that forced us to manage members while dealing with a natural disaster. It was a great learning experience for our team, and we were able to navigate through the chaos and come out on top.
Here are four tactics we applied that dramatically helped us when dealing with that crisis. These tactics will help when dealing with the current coronavirus crisis, as well as crises that may occur in the future.
Overcommunication is never a bad thing. When I say "overcommunication," I am suggesting you talk to your members a lot and in a variety of mediums. Hang posters, distribute flyers, post on social media, circulate emails, send texts, make phone calls and engage in face-to-face conversations.
Overcommunication also means being proactive in order to control the narrative. The minute the fire even remotely placed our club in danger, we started communicating. We let members know that we were monitoring the situation and would take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our members, staff and facility.
Communicate early, often and in diverse ways to make sure that your message is heard by all members. Communicate with your team the same way. They need to get all the same information, as well as possible coaching and training on how to communicate with members.
2. Be transparent
While there may be sensitive or confidential information during a crisis, it is best to be as transparent as possible. Transparency is another tactic that allows you to control the narrative. When you are transparent, you build trust and keep members from making assumptions and creating their own narrative.
Transparency includes communicating that you don't have all the answers. We didn't know how long the fire evacuation would last. We didn't know how long it would take to do the restoration work to deal with the smoke damage. It took a while to figure out when we could reopen. In a state of flux, we simply communicated that there were a lot of unknowns. We also let members know that as we received more information, we would relay it quickly.
The coronavirus situation is full of unknowns, creating fear and uncertainty. The more transparent you can be, the better — even if it includes admitting that you aren't sure of things, but you are on top of it. Transparency is key.
3. Manage expectations
When it comes to trying to resolve a crisis, you must manage members' expectations. Think "under-promise and over-produce." It is very easy to be overly optimistic with the goal of pacifying members. It is human nature to do this, but it is not good business practice.
Once the mandatory evacuation was lifted for us, members wanted back in. That was their expectation. Members couldn't see the bigger picture. We couldn't let members back in because there was still a lot of heavy clean-up and restoration work to do. We didn't know how long that would take, so we were transparent and made sure to manage expectations.
We hoped to be open within a week, but we didn't say that. The last thing we wanted was to say that and then fall short. We gave a very conservative reopen date that gave us wiggle room in the event we encountered a speedbump or roadblock. We were able to open sooner than projected, which made members happy. Be aware of managing members' expectations in all stages of a crisis.
4. Create positives
Finding a positive high point or silver lining can be a challenge during a crisis, but if you can figure out ways to do this, it helps the coping process tremendously.
When we were shut down during the fire, we were obviously useless to members from a facility standpoint. We wanted to figure out ways to still honor our mission statement and "empower them to live healthier lives." We decided to use social media to post workouts and recipes for home-bound people.
Since the gym couldn't be used by members, we opened it up for firefighters to rest and shower. I was personally blown away by how grateful the firefighters were to take a hot shower. It was a great way to do something positive in a very dark situation. Although we didn't do it for this reason, we got great press nationally and, more importantly, in our local community.
Apply this to all current and future crises. What can you do to add some light to the darkness? Post workouts? Facilitate donations? Find that silver lining opportunity.
The Woolsey Fire was a very challenging time, but we were able to handle it through overcommunicating, being transparent, managing expectations and creating positives during the crisis. Hopefully, this will help you manage the current coronavirus situation or any other crisis you may face in the future.
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Athletic Business with the title "4 tactics for confronting a crisis." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.