Conducting regular, thoughtful performance appraisals is key to establishing a high-quality group exercise department.
Conducting instructor evaluations—both before and after hiring—is an important part of your role as group exercise director. Insightful evaluations ensure that you hire the right instructors to start with and also give your regular staff members the feedback they need to constantly improve their teaching skills.
The best way to hire the most qualified instructors is to evaluate them before they become part of your team. How you conduct an audition is a matter of preference and logistics. Each of the following methods has its advantages and disadvantages.
Attend (or Simply Observe) One of the Instructor’s Classes at Another Facility. This option gives you the opportunity to observe the instructor in an actual teaching situation. Of course, the manager at the other facility may not welcome you, since she may perceive you as a competitor plotting to steal from her talent pool.
Have the Instructor Cover a Class at Your Center. This scenario allows you to see how the instructor meets the needs of your members. Of course, unless you already have a clear idea of an instructor’s skills, letting that person loose on your members could be disastrous!
Hold a Mock Class or a Group Audition. Have prospective instructors take turns leading each other while you either participate or look on. “This way, the instructors cue and teach in almost normal circumstances,” says Carol Scott, the IDEA 2003 Program Director of the Year and national group fitness director for Equinox Fitness Clubs in New York. This format may not be an option if you need an instructor right away, however, since quickly assembling a group of applicants could be difficult.
Hold a Private Audition. Evaluate one instructor while she teaches you or an imaginary group. While this option allows you to really focus on desirable skills, it may also make applicants especially nervous, which could affect their performance. In addition, one-on-one auditions don’t show you how a candidate interacts with a roomful of exercisers.
Before an audition, tell applicants what is expected of them. This step puts them at ease and helps the audition run smoothly and efficiently. For example, if someone is applying to teach step and kickboxing, you might ask her to demonstrate 5 minutes of each format, plus an example of a typical warm-up and one or two strength exercises.
Start with a clear picture of the qualities you are looking for. (See the Sample Instructor Evaluation on page 8.)
Even if you can tell within the first few minutes that an instructor does not fit your needs, see the audition through and then tactfully communicate your decision, saying something like, “Our facility isn’t a good match for you at this time.” Compliment the applicant on his positive qualities, and offer parting words about areas for improvement.
When I auditioned instructors at FitCity for Women, I’d sometimes tell those I didn’t hire that they were welcome to come back in 1 or 2 years, once they had gained more experience.
Mentoring a less-skilled instructor who has a willingness to learn and a passion for fitness can pay off. “If instructors have potential in terms of attitude, initiative and drive, I offer to coach them,” explains Monique Hebert, the group exercise director at Franco’s Athletic Club in Mandeville, Louisiana. “They shadow veteran instructors and begin teaching small parts of classes.”
Performance appraisals shouldn’t stop after you’ve hired an instructor. Even the most veteran teachers benefit from regular feedback. The frequency of evaluations may depend on how many employees and classes you oversee. As with auditioning, how you choose to evaluate instructors is a matter of preference. “We try to evaluate all our instructors twice a year by either taking a class or watching them and taking notes,” says Scott.
When you participate in a class, you get the chance to experience the instructor’s skills firsthand, and you may notice subtleties that you otherwise wouldn’t. On the flip side, watching the class while taking detailed notes sometimes works better because you can really study the instructor and class dynamics. Jotting down your observations helps you remember important points and also lets you track progress for future assessments. Afterward, you can give instructors a copy of the evaluation to let them know what they do well and what they need to work on. Videotaping a class is another excellent evaluation method, since it allows instructors to scrutinize their own strengths and shortcomings.
Always inform the instructor that you plan to conduct an evaluation before you do so. Some instructors find it nerve-wracking to have the boss show up unexpectedly. Form a clear picture of the general areas you plan to assess. (See the Sample Instructor Evaluation on this page.)
Schedule time to meet with the instructor afterward to privately discuss your observations. Taking 15 to 30 minutes right after the class—when the events are fresh in both your minds— is ideal. Although sharing your concerns about teaching style or capabilities can be difficult, it’s an important part of the evaluation process. Verbalizing your feedback the right way makes the situation less stressful. Employ the “sandwich” technique for delivering constructive feedback: Begin with positive input, insert the less flattering comments in the middle, and end on a high note. For example, instead of simply saying, “Your cuing is unclear and inadequate,” you might say, “The choreography you chose was high-energy and perfect for the class. I’d like to see your cues become clearer. Let’s discuss how you can teach all those creative patterns in a way that will add to the energy you already bring to class.”
You are not the only one evaluating your instructors—members are doing so as well! Some of their comments may be glowing, while others may be so harsh you wouldn’t dream of sharing them with the instructor. As the director, it’s your responsibility to see that the constructive comments get the attention they deserve.
“We let the instructors know anecdotally when we get comment cards— either positive or negative—unless we feel the negative ones are mean-spirited,” says Scott. “If an instructor receives an unusual amount of negative comments, we evaluate her performance within a month, then provide feedback to all concerned. If we get an overwhelming positive response,” she adds, “we take note of it during a salary review.”
Hebert takes a similar approach. “If I get negative feedback from members, I participate in the instructor’s class to form an opinion about what’s happening,” she says. “For positive feedback, I post written comments on our ‘brag’ board and make a copy for the instructor. I also send out a weekly e-mail and include any accolades for the group to see.”
Remember, both before and after hiring, performance evaluations let instructors know precisely what is expected of them, which makes their job—and yours—a lot easier!