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Systematic Employee Performance Training

by Tracy Morgan-Handzel on Jul 01, 2002

Training improves your most valued business asset: your employees.

The customer service, information technology, sales and medical industries rely upon employee training because it improves performance, reduces costs and increases revenue. Intel Corporation, Pfizer Inc., Ritz-Carlton and The Harley-Davidson Motor Company are only a few examples of thriving companies who use training to improve the performance of their most valued assets: their employees.

In the fitness industry, however, training is not often embraced as a business strategy. Historically, education is led by mid-level troops who act independently. These personal trainers and group exercise instructors understand that knowledge, ingenuity and skill affect their ability to generate revenue. They accumulate continuing education units in their areas of expertise, gain certifications in additional areas and, consequently, grow their businesses and clientele. While these troops serve as role models for personal improvement and career progress, higher-ups are not always supportive of education as a concept and front-line troops do not have access to education as a performance-improving tool.

Fitness facility owners and managers should note that incorporating systematic training programs that focus on improved performance can bring together staff and create a culture that values a common business goal and the performance required to achieve it.

Benefits of Training

The goal of any training program is to close the gap between how employees currently perform and how they need to perform to meet company objectives. Specific objectives can include membership sales goals, improved retention rates and increased personal training participation; however, increased profitability is the ultimate goal. Training empowers employees to contribute toward reaching these company objectives.

Benefits of training include:

  • Reduced Employee Turnover Rates. Employees feel valued and understand how they can impact the company’s success.

  • Increased Customer Satisfaction. Friendly interactions and proactive behaviors prevent customer complaints. Customers remain loyal and are more likely to participate in new programs and refer new clients.

  • Increased Productivity and Efficiency. Trained employees make fewer mistakes and get more work done in a given time period. Managers spend less time solving problems, correcting behaviors, answering questions and assisting employees with job responsibilities.

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A Systematic Approach to Training

A successful training program needs to be tied closely to the company’s mission and goals. It also should be systematic. Systematic procedures allow managers to combine various elements of training to make them function as a whole. Systems provide employees with consistent, progressive methods of execution in order to meet a goal. While the steps in any given system may not always be the same, they provide boundaries and guidance so the desired outcome is repeatedly and consistently achieved with little error.

The components of a training program should communicate the value of employee performance within the organization and the importance of training upon improving it. Common components include employee orientation, performance analysis, training design and implementation, and training evaluation.

Integration via Orientation

The first step in a training program should be new employee orientation. Making new hires feel immediately welcome, valued and part of the entire operation can fuel their enthusiasm and lead them into a productive long-term relationship with your company.

Successful companies embrace integration as the theme in orienting new employees. Managers provide new hires with an understanding of the whole organization, and emphasize how valuable the employee’s role is in meeting company goals. They give new hires the tools and strategies necessary to be successful almost immediately. An orientation that focuses on integration includes:

  • meeting co-workers, supervisors and company leaders

  • learning the company mission and goals and how their responsibilities contribute to them

  • exploring customer profiles, demographics, goals and expectations plus company policies and procedures

  • learning performance expectations, evaluation procedures and training requirements

  • obtaining on-the-job training necessary to successfully perform the job

  • learning where to find answers to questions that may arise

The Ritz-Carlton hotel empire, well known for its extensive employee training program and excellent customer service ratings, requires new employees to spend 21 days in orientation. New hires are introduced to the company’s mission, goals, performance standards, policies and procedures in great depth. This training prevents them from being the cause of errors, slower service and incomplete tasks. New employees are empowered, seamlessly integrated members of a team so their first day on the job is productive and successful.

Tips for Integrating Employees

To successfully integrate new employees, follow these suggestions.

  • Avoid overwhelming new hires with too many unrelated facts and figures.

  • Get rid of boring videos and lengthy lectures.

  • Hold a party or get everyone together at lunch to meet new employees.

  • Be prepared to provide new hires with whatever they need to start their jobs.

  • Set goals for the orientation and be prepared to meet them.

Regular Performance Analysis

Much like the initial exercise testing that new members receive, a performance analysis provides information about your organization’s current level of function as it compares to its standards, goals and expectations. This information lets you see how your employees affect each customer’s experience and, ultimately, your facility’s bottom line.

You can use any of these methods to complete a performance analysis:

Interviews. Ask members about their experiences in your facility. Their impressions and level of satisfaction with your staff, program offerings, equipment, customer service, billing and even cleanliness can be valuable. Interview your staff as well. Listen to what they believe is working and what can be improved. Find out why they stay with or leave the company. As the front-line soldiers of your organization, they can provide valuable insight.

Observation. How often do you walk through your facility and scrutinize all operational aspects? From child care to reception to personal training, examine what is working well and what may need improvement. Are employees behaving in ways that meet or exceed standards and expectations? Do members exhibit behaviors that indicate dissatisfaction or contentment?

Document Reviews. Profit and loss statements, accident reports, personal training records and customer suggestions may shed light on areas that need attention and employees who are problematic.

Secret Shoppers. The retail industry has long used secret shoppers to gain an understanding of the customer perspective. In a fitness facility, a secret shopper can discover what new members encounter during the sales, testing and initiation processes as well as during a class or personal training session.

After a performance analysis, review your findings and compile them into a spreadsheet or written report. This documentation will serve several functions. First, you can identify common weaknesses across departments. Second, you can present your report to supervisors or investors who may question the cost of time for training. You also can give results to training participants as evidence of the need for training. Finally, you can use these findings as baseline data to evaluate the effectiveness of future training.

When reviewing the findings from the performance analysis, determine whether areas of concern are method problems versus people problems. For example, if questionnaires reveal that members are unhappy because they have to wait in long lines at the front desk, it may be due either to ineffective procedures or poor performance by the employee. Training may help employees with weak communication and customer service skills; but if they have too many tasks or inadequate tools to complete tasks, training will not help. In some cases, employees may be behaving at or above performance expectations, but business practices do not allow them to meet customer needs. Training can’t cure a lack of resources or poor methods. Simple improvements in practices and methods may rule out the need for training in given areas.

Tips for Conducting an Analysis

Use these suggestions to make performance analysis a controlled, concise process so that you can immediately pinpoint training needs.

  • Determine methods in advance. Consistently employ a few methods and gain information from a large sample at various times during the day and week.

  • Script your questions so you are consistent in your wording when interviewing more than one member or employee. Scripting ensures you’re not leading people’s responses in a certain direction.

  • Conduct a performance analysis regularly. Some organizations perform them annually, while others do so quarterly.

  • Use the information from the analysis when you conduct employee performance reviews. While the analysis provides information about facility operations, it may also provide insight into the performance of individual employees.

Targeted Performance Objectives

Once the performance analysis is complete, compare findings to your organization’s missions, objectives, profitability goals and performance expectations. You can improve identifiable areas of weakness by then creating specific performance objectives. Use the SMART principle to create objectives that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and tangible.

Sample objectives include:

  • “Membership sales employees will perform three follow-up phone calls to all potential new members within 10 days of their first visit.”

  • “Front desk employees will address each member by name.”

  • “Floor staff will assist all members who exhibit less-than-optimal exercise techniques on the training floor.”

Tips for Writing Objectives

These suggestions will help you create objectives that are tied to the goals and mission of your organization.

  • Include answers to “who,” “where,” “when” and “why” in each training objective and make sure each objective defines a specific result.

  • Write each objective so it is clear when the objective is met and when it is not.

  • Prioritize and organize completed training objectives according to the mission and goal of your organization. Make top-priority-training objectives the focus of your training plan.

Designing and Implementing a Training Plan

From your list of high-priority training objectives, determine the type of training that will improve performance for each objective. Do employees need training in sales, customer service, leadership and management, telephone skills or exercise science to improve performance? Review your list to find common training needs. Quite often one or two training efforts can reach many objectives. For example, sales training that includes suggestive selling, overcoming customer objections and improving telephone skills can meet sales objectives for the sales department, front desk employees and personal trainers.

Once you’ve determined the type of training you need, research options for providing it. Outside consultants, seminars, trade shows, audio/video education programs or experts within your facility may be able to provide effective, cost-efficient training.

Tips on Executing Successful Training

To make the most out of training, utilize these tips.

  • Explain the Benefits to Employees. People may be initially resistant to training if they don’t realize the benefits immediately. Be able to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Consider creating contests or incentive programs for training or making training an employment requirement.

  • Make Training Fun. Hire educators who are enthusiastic, animated and can make the learning process enjoyable. Training that involves traveling to trade shows or participating in active learning programs, such as ropes courses, can also be productive and enjoyable.

  • Obtain Feedback. Ask your employees to rate speakers, classes and events to determine what they find effective and enjoyable. This information will help you make future training decisions.

  • Keep in Mind the Orientation Process. Identify themes, practices or skills learned in training that you want to include in the orientation process. Training new workers in key areas can help prevent poor performances and reduce the need for subsequent training.

Evaluation and Repetition

Evaluating performance after training can be the most helpful step in the entire training system. Evaluations provide you with information about training effectiveness and value as it relates to your company goals.

The easiest way to evaluate training is to test your performance objectives. Use the tools from your performance analysis (interviews, questionnaires, documentation) to target the specific skills, practices and behaviors you focused on in the training system. For example, if a survey indicated that customers were dissatisfied with the friendliness of front desk employees, conduct that survey again.

Tips for Effective Evaluations

To maximize the evaluation process, employ the following actions.

  • Communicate Results. Provide the results of the training evaluation to employees and their supervisors. When employees learn how their performances improved, they understand the significance of their roles and the value of training is reinforced.

  • Reward Improved Performance. Reward and recognition are important tools in any successful employee performance program. Develop creative, cost-effective ways to make employees feel appreciated. Consider giving gift certificates for personal training or massage, free child care, increased vacation time or paid time off, movie tickets or restaurant gift certificates.

Training is an effective tool when used to systematically improve employee performance. Keep progressing your training system so you can continue to experience the positive financial results from improved employee performance. Helpful training resources include:

American Society for Training and Development

Training Magazine

The New Corporate University Review


Imperato, G. 1997. Harley shifts gears. Fast Company (June), 104-105.

Garry, M. 1987. The Trainer’s Handbook: The AMA Guide to Effective Training. New York, NY: AMACOM.

Robinson, D., & Robinson, J. 1998. Moving

From Training to Performance. San Francisco, CA: Barrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

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About the Author

Tracy Morgan-Handzel IDEA Author/Presenter

Tracy Morgan-Handzel, CSCS, has coached athletes of all levels for more than 10 years. Currently she is the executive director of Train for the Game in Atlanta, where she trains elite junior athletes....