Manager Meltdowns

by Shannon Fable on Mar 28, 2011

Communication Conundrums

Regardless of how big or small your role is as group fitness manager (GFM), your success depends primarily on how effectively you communicate with a diverse audience. Each employee has a need to hear you, understand your message, store the information and act on it. Keeping employees informed can eat up a lot of time and may prevent you from getting to initiatives that could grow the business.

As we’ve established in the first two installments, communication in our industry can be tough. We’re responsible for communicating with several different groups simultaneously: instructors (who work vastly different schedules), subs, potential employees, other managers, co-workers, upper management and owners, vendors, members and more. Not only do we have to touch base with a lot of people quickly and effectively, but the areas we’re expected to master also run the gamut: front desk, membership, housekeeping, industry trends, policies and procedure, and so on. Your success (and in many ways the facility’s) often depends on your direct employees knowing, understanding and passing along information.

Considering all this, it might be tough to imagine a way to get in front of the madness. Let’s take a look at the top five manager meltdowns you might experience, along with quick fixes to get the ball rolling again.

Information Overload

As we discussed in the last installment, group fitness teams interact with members more than most departments, second only to the front desk. Instructors are looked to as the live version of a club newsletter, website, calendar and gossip column, rolled into one. Beyond the walls of your club, your instructors may be the best human billboard in your community—so it’s crucial they have the right information.

Generally, when it comes to information sharing, GFMs fall into two categories: share it when you hear it or save it for later. By sharing it when you hear it, you generate several e-mails, notes, fliers or other notices throughout the week. While it’s a great idea to pass along knowledge, your message may get ignored (selectively filtered) if it’s not pertinent right then or there; if it’s not relevant to everybody; or if it’s not crafted in a memorable way with action items.

At the other end of the spectrum is saving information for later (e.g., until the Monday team newsletter goes out). The predictability of a weekly or monthly notice provides a more consistent pattern and allows your team to prepare for input. However, the amount of information that can amass may lead to overload. Can you imagine working in a corporation that shared information only once a week, once a month or once a quarter? Sure, there are usually Monday morning staff meetings, but inevitably employees have to communicate throughout the week to make sure they’re on track. If you go this route, be short, be brief and be gone. Structure your communication so that the most important piece is first and longest and the least important is last and shortest.

Communicate when necessary, but only to those who need to hear it. Be brief, precise and engaging. Always explain how the notice affects the reader and what you expect him or her to do with the information (file it, announce it, just for a laugh, etc.). To prioritize, ask yourself: “What would I want to hear, and what would make me want to act?”

Delivery Duplication

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all the places you must check to see if you’ve missed something? You have work e-mail, home e-mail, texts, cell phone, home phone and work phone. Add to those the social media frenzy and it’s no wonder so many feel frazzled.

Consider how your instructors feel if you spam them in the hope of getting through to them. Will an e-mail, a follow-up phone call to those who don’t respond quickly to e-mail, a sign on the stereo and a note in the sign-in book really drive the point home? Or does this approach simply give instructors permission to ignore you? The more places you post the same information, the less impact it has. Why? Your employees want you to contact them via their preferred channels. Equally important, think how much of your time it takes to communicate through all these different channels. That increases with every outlet you use—and the potential for missing a channel, getting something wrong or having your intention misinterpreted is heightened.

Determine the easiest method for you and stick to it. Clearly communicate how you’ll be reaching out, and expect compliance. Cutting down on your communication outlets will ease your workload and increase effectiveness.

Referencing Past and Present Information

Much of your information—such as upcoming events or schedule changes—is date-specific. However, there are plenty of items that are timeless. When you deal with a mobile staff that changes frequently, referencing information can become time-consuming and challenging. Consider the new employee. Sure, you give him the corporate employee handbook, but what about all the other pieces of information you’ve implemented during your tenure? This might include stereo instructions, the new schedule that started 2 weeks ago and new membership pricing. Do you have a system for providing department-specific information, or do you walk each new hire through it and hope you remember it all?

Create some type of “vault” for reference information that you know will be needed in the future for both new and present employees. This can be a folder on your computer or something printed and kept in a binder. Have a system you can trust. Create something you’ll remember to review when a new hire comes onboard, and make it easy to retrieve and disseminate.

Collaboration and Confirmation

Many group fitness events and substitution situations require collaboration, usually in the form of countless e-mails that take forever to sort through. For example, Ann sends out a call for a cycling sub Monday morning. People begin pinging back about availability with several replying “to all.” In the meantime, Jennifer has called Ann to tell her she can do it. Ann then sends out another e-mail to confirm the class is taken care of, but people still respond about availability. The instructors then go through whatever system has been provided for confirming subs. The entire process takes a string of e-mails, most of which you didn’t need to witness.

While collaboration is good, it’s taxing when it clogs up your inbox! Create a system that cuts down on the back and forth while arriving more quickly at the conclusion. Establish a “no reply all” policy on e-mail messages such as “Nope, sorry. Can’t help.” Suggest that you not be included until everything is finalized. If you were informed only when there was a problem (e.g., no sub, or an emergency) or when the sub was confirmed, think of the time you’d save!

Information Permeation

Surely it’s crossed your mind that when you send e-mails you have very little control over what actually “sticks.” After carefully crafting an e-mail to your instructors, do you have a way of tracking its penetration? Try an experiment—put a funny call to action in the center of one of your longer e-mails to see if anyone is paying attention (e.g., “If you make it this far, e-mail me back and say “I think Club XYZ rocks.”). This will help you figure out whom you’re getting through to, how far down folks are reading and what you need to do to make the information stick. Then you can address compliance issues. When messages make it through, your need for communicating multiple times decreases.

Communication is not the only hat you wear as a GFM, but it certainly takes up a disproportionate amount of time. Without completing the communication loop and figuring out a way to make information sharing easy and digestible, you may never get in front of your workload. When you work from a reactive versus a proactive place, you aren’t able to move forward on initiatives such as building community with members, educating your team or planning special events. In the next installment, we’ll tackle additional ideas for streamlining communication so you’ll have more time for the good stuff.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 23, Issue 3

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Shannon Fable

Shannon Fable IDEA Author/Presenter

Shannon Fable, Top 3 Finalist for 2009 IDEA Instructor of the Year and 2006 ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year, is the founder and CEO of Sunshine Fitness Resources, a fitness consulting firm ex...