Are You a Healthy Manager?

by Michael Scott Scudder on Jan 01, 2002

The old adage, "Do as I say and not as I do," could be a fitness industry anthem.

I have long been concerned about an irony in our industry that we seldom discuss or see publicized. As an industry we are committed to people’s well-being, convinced that exercise is a way to improve quality of life, yet we do not, as a whole, practice what we preach!

Most club owners, and certainly almost all fitness managers that I’ve met in the past 25 years, are stressed out, overworked, under-trained, ill-compensated and generally wonderful but unhealthy people. You work 60-hour weeks as a rule. You may miss your kids’ ball games to sell an extra membership at the end of the month. You skip meals to cover a missed shift. Many of you don’t even work out regularly! What is wrong with this picture? Each of the foregoing descriptions are at the root of what I call the Syndrome of Ineffectiveness.

Syndrome of Ineffectiveness

According to participants in recently conducted IDEA focus groups, the Nine Critical Problem Areas for fitness business management today are:

1. Effective and cost-efficient marketing.

2. Advertising and publicity.

3. New membership sales.

4. Existing membership loyalty.

5. Longevity and retention.

6. Workable and standardized club operating systems.

7. Being competitive in the market- place.

8. Understanding and capitalizing on fitness trends.

9. Hiring and retaining good employees.

Nowhere in any of these focus groups is mention made of the key component in running a quality fitness facility: the well-being of the management team! Interesting, isn’t it? I remember a mentor years ago saying to me, “Before you fix anybody else, you’ve got to fix yourself . . . otherwise, you ain’t believable.”

My coining Syndrome of Ineffectiveness is not meant to insult your efforts as leaders, rather it is meant to stir up a new perspective. The writer Aldous Huxley once said, “They intoxicate themselves with work so they won’t see how they really are.” This applies to those of you who work so hard that often, you don’t see the impact on yourself and thus, on your business.

In his management book The E-Myth Revisited, Michael E. Gerber says that most owners make the crucial mistake of working “in their business, not on their business.” Let’s also extend that to managers, who often have the responsibilities and accountabilities for daily operations, and are thus the “go-to” people in our industry. You get so immersed in the little “stuff” that you miss the big picture. You seldom think about the vision and the mission of your business, and of your life in business. Sadly, these signs mark the beginning of failure, yet seem to have become the foundation of the fitness management style. We have clearly beat a path straight to the Syndrome.

Gerber also states, “That’s why I keep going back to the true work of the small business . . . the strategic work rather than the tactical work. Because if you’re doing tactical work all the time, if you’re working all the time—devoting all your energy to your business—you won’t have any time or energy left to ask, let alone answer, all of the absolutely critical questions you need to ask. You’ll simply have no time or energy left to work on [your business].”

You also will burn out, get discouraged and become frustrated. This cycles down to your employees and then to your members. Soon, you won’t have much of a business to run.

This is not a nice message to hear but it’s an important one. As an industry there is a strong need to change our thinking about how we manage and live in this business. The way we execute what we’re doing is not functioning properly. Yes, we bring in more new members; but, at the same time a growing stream of our customer base flows out the back door because they recognize we’re not leading by example when it comes to wellness. We are trying to teach health, fitness and wellness without being well ourselves.

To Be? Or Not to Be?

Several years ago I decided that I wanted to teach others downhill skiing. I wanted to share my enjoyment of the winter outdoors and the exhilarating feeling of dancing down a snow-packed mountain. My old friend, Karl, the ski-meister of a well-known eastern ski area, learned of my intent and invited me to come out for a couple of “runs” with him. I was thrilled. This was my opportunity to show the pro “my stuff.”

When we went out on the mountain, he told me what he wanted me to do, and I did it (or so I thought). After two trips up to the top and down to the bottom, he stopped and looked at me for a long time, saying nothing. Finally, he opened his mouth. “Ja, you vant to be a ski teacher, but you don’t even know how to make zee turn. You ski pretty, all your own vay. I vouldn’t vant you teaching our students zees way.”

I was pretty humbled, to say the least. I had worked very hard on my skiing for several seasons. Disconsolately, I mumbled, “Well, what do I have to do?” He answered simply, “If you vant to teach, you first have to be. You have to go out and learn zee basics of being a skier. You have to make 10,000 turns . . . you have to live wiz zee mountain . . . then you be a skier.”

Well, with hats off to Karl—that’s exactly my message to you. You’ve been so busy doing management that maybe you haven’t taken the time to be a manager. My goal for this column is to introduce to you the practices of living effective management; of taking care of yourself in the process of running your facility; and of contributing to wellness in a really meaningful way.

First, I want you to be disturbed. If you are, that’s a great first step. You won’t find the answers here today. Instead, the worksheet found on the previous page poses some questions for you to seriously consider until the next column. Please invest some time in yourself over the coming weeks and try to answer these questions as honestly as possible. Together, we will work at attaining the levels of excellence you saw so clearly in the original vision you laid out for your business.

idea fitness manager/january 2002 fitness manager


Answer the following questions as honestly as possible in preparation for the next installment of this column:

1. Am I being who I want to be—in my job and in my life—as I do what is necessary to run my business? Or am I something or someone I think I’m supposed to be?

2. Have I accepted old ways of thinking, just because that’s what I was taught, or that’s the way I thought it was in this business?

3. What are my short-term and long-range visions of my industry? Of my career? Of my family? For myself?

idea fitness manager/january 2002idea fitness manager/january 2002 view

pointFor 20 years IDEA Health & Fitness Association has focused on providing better fitness programming, instruction and personal training information. Of course, we also have provided management information through our events and publications, but until now, we have not focused on management issues as our primary goal. The next 10 years will be dedicated to you, the fitness manager/owner. IDEA has joined the campaign (with IHRSA, SGMA, ACE and others) to grow the international fitness industry from its current level of 67 million club members to 100 million club members by the year 2010. How will this be accomplished?

For the past two years, IDEA has researched the needs of the fitness facility market and has identified the lack of management systems as the number one limiting factor for future growth. Our research makes it quite apparent that although the fitness industry may have the most qualified instructors, cutting-edge programming and an advanced knowledge of exercise science, the industry will stagnate and/or die unless management aggressively develops its business skills and systems.

As mentioned in the January issue of IDEA Health & Fitness Source, IDEA will introduce a new initiative this year—the IDEA P.R.O.F.I.T. System— designed to help fitness facilities develop and implement organizational systems in promotions/marketing; retaining and selling memberships; operational support; financial and expert services; Internet communications; and identifying programming trends. The IDEA P.R.O.F.I.T. System will be offered to independent fitness facilities in the United States and Canada.

Developing Systems

All successful companies must develop reliable systems to ensure the quality of service and product to each customer. For example, McDonald’s has a system for every element of their operation, which enables them to be fast, consistent and provide a high level of customer service. While the food may not be up to your healthy eating standards, it is hard to dispute that every McDonald’s franchise delivers the same “experience” each time you frequent a store. The key to McDonald’s success is the streamlined systems they’ve perfected over the years. Every facet of the operation is documented and systematized; employees are trained in standard programs that ensure quality delivery, even as each act is repeated millions of times around the world.

The value of implementing effective systems also holds true for the fitness industry. You don’t have to manage multiple facilities to understand the importance of providing a consistent experience every time a member visits your club. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is every member greeted by the front desk staff in the same friendly way, no matter who is on duty?
  • Does every member receive a personal training session or fitness assessment as part of your initiation process?
  • Do your sales personnel deliver the same messages to each prospective customer who enters your facility?
  • Is there a brand image that you communicate through advertising, in-facility promotions and training programs to staff?
  • Does every person you hire receive a similar orientation about the history of the club? Are they cross trained in other functions of the facility, customer service messages and company policy? The job of running a facility is harder today than ever before. Without systems and procedures for everyone in the club, the tendency is for the manager/ owner to put out fires every day instead of preventing the fires with systems that address the issues the right way.

You may have wondered how a company like Crunch recently created enough value to sell its 19 facilities to Bally’s for $90 million. They did it by systematizing their operation, providing cutting-edge programming and building a brand identity. The industry is growing and in some cases consolidating. Will you choose to create greater value and success with your business?

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 14, Issue 1

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© 2002 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Michael Scott Scudder IDEA Author/Presenter

Michael Scott Scudder is a mentor; management expert; marketing trainer; and managing partner of Southwest Club Services, a consulting firm based in Taos, New Mexico, and Fort Worth, Texas. He can be ...